Virtual concert bonds communities through stories of "Drought and Flood"
Artists, storytellers, and scientists from all over the world shared their insights and talent in a unique virtual concert showcasing the impacts of our changing climate.
Organized, directed, and produced by a team of American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science & Technology Policy Fellows (STPF) representing both the Water Affinity Group and the Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics Team (STEAM) Affinity Group, Drought and Flood: An Artistic Contemplation premiered on YouTube Live on June 30, 2022 to an international audience. Listen to the concert recording here.
Drought and Flood featured audiovisual works by six singers, songwriters, dancers, and activists, as well as science stories from STPF fellows and community members about their lived experiences interacting with water. Together, the art spoke to the force of water to bind communities from around the world together, invoke a sense of place, and act as a rallying call for change.
Uniting global communities
The artists and communities showcased in the concert spanned the globe from Washington DC to Colombia and Charleston SC to northwest Kenya.
Climate Focus worked with Sinfonía Trópico, a Colombian arts and science collaborative created in 2014 that uses diverse forms of artistic expression to share stories about conservation and biodiversity. They facilitate workshops in different parts of Colombia, bringing together local teenagers and talented national and international artists to educate about the environment. Creíamos que iba a llover pero no llovió, the piece they performed for this concert, was recorded at the Festival of Peace and Biodiversity in Maure (Cesar), Colombia in April 2022. As part of the Festival, Sinfonía Trópico led local teenagers – some of whom came from a nearby ex-guerilla community – in workshops on photography, muralism, performance, podcast production, and botanical illustration.
In Washington, Company E uses dance as an educational and diplomatic tool to convey scientific concepts for international audiences of all ages. Company E works with U.S. Embassies and Foreign Missions around the world, leveraging dance to enhance cross-cultural dialogue and engagement. A movement from their work To Sail Around the Sun (originally commissioned by the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in 2017) was showcased in Drought and Flood. The work is an exploration of an interconnected Earth as seen through the eyes of a child, and a reminder of our responsibility to protect it.
Water and place
Both our artists and our storytellers commemorate water as a way of connecting to place, to spirit, and to ancestral heritage.
Benny Starr, inaugural artist in residence for the U.S. Water Alliance, uses his particular blend of hip-hop, gospel, blues, and jazz to highlight the depth of history that ties water to his hometown of Pineville SC. His contribution to Drought and Flood, Nostalgia, uses water as a metaphor “to speak to the connection between us and our ancestors.” For Benny, this sense of connection is transformational, given his experience as a Black person living in the United States. As he says in his recording, “water is the life force. It’s rebirth and renewal.” He recorded Nostalgia and the rest of The Water Album with his bandmates The Four20s at Charleston Music Hall in June 2019.
Many of the stories shared in Drought and Flood come from the “We Are Water” project. The online collaborative based out of the University of Colorado shares stories about what water means to communities across the Southwest United States. One of the most poignant stories featured in the concert is Reflections from a Hopi Farmer, an interview with Michael Kotutwa Johnson, a Hopi traditional farmer living in Arizona. For Michael, dryland agriculture – the type of farming that his people practices – is a spiritual discipline that ties people to the water they rely on for survival. As he says, without that connection, “what would we pray for?”
Being an “artivist”
DC resident singer-songwriter Emma G believes in using art as a conduit to make the world a better place. Her climate anthem, Unity in Devastation, was commissioned specially for Drought and Flood. For Emma, writing it felt like coming full-circle.
She recalls meeting renowned blues musician Midge Marsden in her native New Zealand when she was a child. “Midge and my mum became good friends,” she recalls, “and I subsequently heard a lot of his music, including his song Burning Rain, all about acid rain and pollution. I was fascinated with environmentally aware music, and ended up writing, recording, and releasing an environmentally aware song myself several years earlier: Look Around.” That song won her national acclaim, as well as the chance to represent New Zealand youth at an international youth summit in Disneyworld, Florida.
Twenty years later, Emma wrote Unity in Devastation in response to personal stories shared by STPF fellows highlighting the common enemy of drought faced by communities around the world. In this song, she provides the tools of hope and unity that we need to face the challenges created by our changing climate.
The power of science storytelling
The relationship between science and art is a personal one for many STPF fellows, as shown through their multiple contributions of science, stories, and art throughout Drought and Flood. Fellows shared stories of their lived experiences interacting with water including workshops that they conducted, data that they processed and visualized, and stories about working on farms in California at the height of wildfire season and rescuing baby sloths in Panama.
Fellow Sam Marshall is a mechanical engineer placed at the State Department and a talented choreographer and dancer. She appreciated participating in Drought and Flood because “it gave [her] the opportunity to turn to [her] creative side while still engaging with other fellows.” Her contribution to this concert, Apres Moi le Deluge, was an homage to the destructive power of water, a testament to the devastation left behind in New Orleans, LA by Hurricane Katerina. Sam “particularly enjoyed being able to use the virtual medium to bring actual water and rain into the piece.”
STPF Judicial Fellow Reshmina William, one of the co-directors of Drought and Flood, also contributed a song that she wrote and performed. She has been blending her loves for the environment and music since she was a child, and enjoyed getting to incorporate her artistic vision into her Fellowship program. It Rises is her acknowledgement of the tipping point that humanity faces as it confronts the climate challenge – a balance between despair and hope in human ingenuity and innovation.
The artists who contributed to Drought and Flood all agree on the need for a deeper exploration of the connections between art and science. "I work to create a world in which we recognize the necessity and the presence of art in all that we do,” said Benny Starr. Emma G agrees. She sees art as important because of its power to translate dry scientific and technical concepts to a wide range of audiences. It lets us “hit them in the feels,” she said eloquently.
Drought and Flood: An Artistic Contemplation showcases the types of stories that inspire the work of scientists, artists, and activists around the world. Art – and stories more specifically – are important because they help to ground us in community, but also unify us across borders and discipline. As Starr put it, art helps “tether us to our feelings of deep love, empathy, justice, and acknowledgment of this universal human experience.” Stories allow us to share science and spirituality, hope and despair. They ground us in community and help elevate our ideas, providing us as scientists a north star to help us shape a better future for our world.
Watch Drought and Flood:An Artistic Contemplation on YouTube at https://youtu.be/zzmPAoptWqo.