Students of the Art, Action and the Environment Honors course at the University of Utah have an important message to share about Red Butte Creek, a natural watershed that runs through Red Butte Canyon and under the University itself: humans affect nature through their actions, no matter how big or small.
An exhibit on display in the ART building was created by the course and aims to bring awareness to the watershed. Turning into the exhibit’s hallway felt like walking along the creek. Stark white pages cascaded down the dark, wood-paneled wall imitating the shape of Red Butte Creek with little blue “currents” tacked among the students’ works to further the effect. Before reading any of the letters plastered throughout, their arrangement is enough to stop students scurrying by.
Letters typed on crisp, white paper mingle with pages torn from notebooks personalized with different handwriting, doodles and sketchbook pages painted with trees on the creek bank. Each details facts, figures and feelings about the importance of the little-known watershed while painted pages beg students to “NOTICE.”
Poems, letters and drawings that were longer than a page eddied from one end of the paper creek to the other like leaves on water. The anonymity of many of the artists made each work a collective work, but also an individual understanding of the watershed and the canyon. One artist distinguished only by the letter “K” had several pages describing different aspects of the watershed that made the reader feel like a friend they were sharing secrets with.
“There is something about [natural water features] that eases the pain of our society,” K said on one page of their letter. “RED BUTTE CREEK is a sanctuary for me.”
Other experiences are also intimate or quirky, making getting to know each student and hearing their perspective interesting.
One letter explained, “For awhile I was able to forget about all my stress and responsibilities,” while another wanted to “tell you about DUCKS.”
Each student invested in this exhibit as they explained the very real problem the creek has experienced with pollution in the past, like when 33,000 gallons of petroleum was dumped in the 154 year-old creek in June 2010. They warned of what would happen if the watershed were to be forgotten.
A page torn from a notebook with a drawing of an alien snake named Gerald states that he could die from the pollution, but that need not happen if people remember he is there.
The most important message to take away from the Watershed Awareness Project is, “Don’t leave me / Don’t pollute me / Don’t forget I exist.”