Art for Water explores new ways to spread its message

When Harrisville artist Christine Destrempes first became really aware of the impending world water crisis in 2002, she decided to spread her awareness through art. But Destrempes’ artistic style wasn’t allowing her to say everything she wanted, she explained in an interview Thursday.

“My work is very contemplative and non-representational, and I couldn’t communicate what I wanted to say with my art,” she explained.

So she began working on a more concrete representation: An art piece that includes 13,699 water bottle caps hanging from filament wire, with each cap representing a person that dies every day from lack of clean water.

During the creation of the piece, Destrempes was visiting schools and allowed students to help her string the caps. That was her first forray into public participation art installations, and it became the basis of her nonprofit Art for Water.

Destrempes travels to communities and schools to talk about local water issues and connect them to larger global ones, and then has the public participate in an art installation about water.

Within 11 years, the world’s demand for clean water will outstrip its supply by over 50 percent, said Destrempes. It’s not an issue people in New England really consider, because they are surrounded by clean water, said Destrempes. Art for Water attempts to change that consciousness and make people aware of the larger global issue, by bringing the discussion home in smaller ways.

“What I’m really trying to do is plant the seed, so they realize that it’s something they have to start thinking about,” said Destrempes. “Water is one of the things we take for granted, we don’t realize what’s going on with the rest of the world.”

One of Destrempes’ common installations is the “Stream of Conscience,” where participants write on strips of paper why water is important, or a memory of water, and those pieces of paper are constructed into a display resembling a stream. Destrempes explained that Art for Water is currently trying to reach out to a more global audience with that installation, by designing a virtual version that people all over the world can access and contribute to. “It’s too expensive, cumbersome and difficult to take this project overseas,” said Destrempes.

Art for Water recently ran an Indiegogo campaign to raise funds for the virtual version, but is still short of the goal, said Destrempes.

Art for Water is also in the process of obtaining its own 501-c3 status, and that will be under the name “Art in Dialogue.” Though the importance of water will always be an element of what Art in Dialogue does, Destrempes said she does not want to eliminate any of the other issues that public participation art can bring awareness to.

For example, Destrempes has led public art projects at Franklin Pierce University about respect. That’s one of the many discussions that can be started with public participation art.

“There are so many topics that are worthy of engagement. I don’t want to limit what we can do,” said Destrempes.

Art for Water is growing in other ways, too, said Destrempes. Recently, the nonprofit contracted a Francestown resident, Amanda Gagnon, to serve as an assistant director for the project. Destrempes said she hopes to be able to make the position a full-time one once Art for Water gains 501-c3 status.

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