Word Above the Street: The Water Tank Project is Refreshing the NYC Skyline


Ah, our beautiful NYC water towers. They're iconic. They're ubiquitous, with somewhere around 17,000 of them dotting our skyline. Beginning right now and extending for the next 12 weeks through the fall, more than 100 water towers throughout the city will be covered in art. It's called the Water Tank Project: Word Above the Street, and not only is it just a cool idea for a public art exhibition on a grand scale, there's also a serious purpose at work here.


From Street Art to Fine Art

Mary Jordan, the creative director and driving force behind the project explains, the two-fold goal of the Water Tank Project (beyond engaging all of us with interesting art in unusual places) is to raise awareness about the tens of millions of people worldwide without ready access to clean water. Just as important is the effort to encourage us New Yorkers, who can enjoy free-flowing, fresh and tasty water at a moment's notice, to actually drink the stuff, instead of buying in plastic bottles. Jordan and her team of curators enlisted an all-star lineup that runs the gamut from world-famous contemporary artists you might see hanging at MoMA, or on sale at Sotheby's; to renowned graffiti and street artists you might see all over town if you know where to look; to NYC public school kids. There are water tanks wrapped in work by the likes of Ed Ruscha, Maya Lin, Jeff Koons, Catherine Opie, John Baldessari, and Edward Burtynsky. Street artists–or, at least, artists who got their start in the street–such as Icy and Sot, Fab 5 Freddy, and Barry McGee are also represented. 


Creating an Awareness for Water-Wellness

One of Jordan's main motivators for doing a project about the scarcity of clean water in many parts of the world came when she contracted a terrifying water-borne illness in Ethiopia, and was saved by a (shoeless, hungry) teenage girl who pushed her in a wheelbarrow to the next town for a dosage of "white dots", which were likely antibiotics. Once her fever broke and she was getting ready to return to America, Jordan says her teen savior entreated to her "do something" about the water. And so in addition to the art itself, the Water Tower Project will organize workshops and symposiums on a range of water-related issues. Among the easiest to grasp: NYC has some of the cleanest, best-tasting water on the planet pouring from our taps. Why would we ever buy water in a plastic bottle which, even if recycled, still requires energy to produce and package and ship and then haul to the recycling plant once done, only to start the process over again. 

seen from Union SquareThe Water Tank Project: Word Above the Street has started already with a few tanks wrapped; expect many more to come soon. It runs for approximately three months. There's no map of all the tanks as of yet, but that only adds a welcome degree of serendipity to the event.

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