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Public Engagement on Climate Change through Waterlicht

Artistic expression that heeds the call to action
blue water presentation

Most of us are aware that sea-levels around the globe are rising due to climate change, but did you know that climate change has a dramatic impact on our fresh water as well? Climate scientists are predicting that we will begin to see more extreme weather patterns with greater frequency. In Toronto, this could mean stronger storms, sudden downpours, and increased occurrences of flooding. This prediction should ring true to many Torontonians considering recent weather events such as the 2017 flooding of the Toronto islands or the flash flood we experienced in August, 2018 when more than a month’s worth of rain fell in a matter of hours.

In order to call attention to how Toronto’s shoreline is being affected by climate change and other human activities, Urban Water TMU and several other partners (including the Consulate-General of the Netherlands, the University of Toronto's New College, and the Ontario College of Art and Design) partnered with The Bentway Conservancy to put on a massive public art installation called “Waterlicht” from October 12th to October 14th, 2018.

Created by Dutch artist Daan Roosegaardehis, this 3D exhibit used light and smoke to produce a visually stunning and emotionally sobering simulated flood. The site-wide display created a tangible representation of the impact of climate change and allowed the people of Toronto to glimpse what the future may hold if we do not take action today.

Chair of Toronto Metropolitan University’s School of Professional Communication and Urban Water TMU member, Dr. John Shiga, collaborated on this project and assisted in the recruitment of student volunteers from an array of programs to act as Water Ambassadors for “Waterlicht”. The Water Ambassadors applied their communications skills to start important conversations with members of the public at the exhibit about the impact of climate change on Lake Ontario. Director of Programming at The Bentway Conservancy, Ilana Altman, reported an extremely positive public response to the event. An estimated 25,000-30,000 people visited the installation over the weekend and Ms. Altman states that “many of them took the piece’s message to heart and are eager to continue the conversation about climate change and its impact on our city”.

Written by Lauren Kirby, ProCom Student (Toronto Metropolitan University)

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