Milwaukee: Hidden Water Stories

On November 7th, 2017, artist Jill Sebastian and Environmental engineer Justin Hegarty lead a walk through Walker's Square in Milwaukee as a part of Mary Miss / CALL's WaterMarks project.

Jill Sebastian updates us on what happened:

In the heavily reshaped environ of Walker's Square, "Hidden Water Stories" explored the disjuncture between the historic natural water pathways and the legacy of industry and infrastructure on our current perceptions. Beginning with buried water in the small community park, following storm drainage to a man-made canal sculpted from a land-filled Menomonee Valley, we circled the massive I-94 interchange considering both environmental and social impacts on the neighborhood. Cement dominates our area, burying from view the presence of birds seeking sanctuary among the ruins of factories. Our schools are becoming sites of responsibly reclaiming green space from pavement. We wondered, how can the ample water resources that were exploited in the late 19th and early 20th century be revealed to enhance our densely populated urban-scape? How might we live more responsibly here?

As an artist who generally works in public space, I had exempted myself from doing projects where I live. Having been attracted by the diversity and grittiness of Walker's Point, I admit to rather liking it the way it is. However, that is changing around me and like my neighbors, I am challenged by questions of gentrification. As I do with projects I have done elsewhere, I complimented my direct observations, in this case over 25 years, with research that filled out the questions I ruminate upon - things that catch and hold my curiosity. How has what we see come into being? What forces, commerce and habitation, formed the unique character of how we live here?  The environmental engineering perspective that Justin Hegarty provided deepened my understanding of what we cannot see and what we might do.