Using art to highlight Eastie climate change

At library, ribbons show potential sea level rise

Carolina Aragón of UMass Amherst, and Maria de la Luz Lobos, with the Friends of the Mary Ellen Welch Greenway, working on their art installation in East Boston. (Photo by Matthew J. Conti)

IT’S AN UNUSUAL SIGHT: Colored ribbons 18-feet-long stretched taut over steel bars, melting into brightly colored duct tape clinging to pavement outside the East Boston Public Library.

The creators of the collaborative art installation, called “RisingEMOTIONS,” say it visualizes the public’s emotional state about flooding due to sea level rise. The project is led by Carolina Aragón, a public artist and assistant professor of landscape architecture & regional planning at UMass Amherst, and Narges Mahyar, assistant professor in the school’s college of information and computer sciences, and their team of students.

The art installation is based on data collected from an online survey filled out by over 150 East Boston residents. The survey, conducted in English and Spanish, tried to tease out feelings about climate change and its impact on East Boston neighborhoods.

The RisingEMOTIONS project visually displays projected flood levels and people’s emotions about climate change. (Photo by Matthew J. Conti)

Respondents could answer with five emotions: concerned, optimistic, angry, sad, and other. They were also asked to leave comments explaining their specific emotion. Each emotion gets a colored band, and the bans are placed 3.7 feet above the ground, the height of the projected 1 percent annual chance flood for 2070 in front of the East Boston Public Library.

The comments of survey participants were hand-drawn on to the bands. “I am afraid my home will flood, and I’ll lose my life’s savings,” said one. “I’m afraid the city will care less because we are a less affluent community,” said another. Others said “I want to know what the government is doing and what steps they are taking to address this” and “I hope we can slow it down.”

The steel bars over which the ribbons are stretched are electrical conduits from hardware stores, The long nylon ribbons were cut by hand from rolls of fabric with X-Acto knives.

Aragón says the project is a continuation of last year’s public art installation in East Boston called AGUAfuturas (future waters,) which demonstrated what flooding levels would look like in a hundred-year-storm if Boston’s climate ready report is correct.

She hopes the installation will encourage residents to take part in local planning efforts by the Boston Planning & Development Agency, the city’s Environment Department, and the work of nonprofits around climate change.

“At the end of the survey, we asked if you want to be more involved or know more, and that’s how we linked people into Climate Ready Boston efforts. We serve as a point of entry so this doesn’t end with the piece of art,” Aragón said.

The gradations of blue in the map show how the 1% annual chance flood extent changes as sea levels rise. The
colors do not indicate depth of flooding. The arrows show the flood entry points and pathways with current sea
levels, 9 inches of sea level rise (2030s), and 36 inches of sea level rise (2070s).(Photo from the 2017 Coastal Resilience Solutions for East Boston and Charlestown Report)

RisingEMOTIONS was partially funded by a $6,000 Barr Foundation grant to the Friends of the Mary Ellen Welch Greenway, and was developed in collaboration with the Boston Society of Landscape Architects. The project got approval from the seven-member Boston Art Commission, which votes on all public art installations on public land, in November.

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