As heat waves hit almost every corner of the globe, Dr. William O’Brien and other members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is calling attention to water resources and climate change in a uniquely expressive way.  

Situated the intersection of art and science, Drought & Flood: An Artistic Contemplation is a virtual concert organized by the AAAS STEAM and Water Affinity Groups, two groups who have “a shared goal of science communication through art.”

The concert is a compilation of music, visual art, recorded professional narratives which highlights how climate change has affected the way we perceive water. From a contemporary repertory dance company, Company E, to hiphop artist Benny Starr, each collaboration offers a unique interpretation of water and the artist’s experience with it.

Michael Kotutwa Johnson, a Hopi farmer from the Little Colorado Plateau in Arizona, describes the importance of water conservation in an area that receives only 6-10 inches of water each year. “All of our techniques are designed to conserve soil moisture.  And, of course, moisture comes from water; it comes from precipitation. In all forms. Not only does it come in rainfall- the most important is how much snow we get per year, because that sits on the ground and it soaks down through the different layers of soil, and the seeds and the crops are able to thrive on that…It has a spiritual aspect to it, you know, it’s almost like, it’s who we are.” Visitors to the farms tell them that it would be much simpler, and a better crop would yield if the community would irrigate. “But then what would we pray for? …Our faith is tied directly to our water. And so everything we do out here is based on faith.”

Catalina Garzon-Galvis, an immigrant from Bogota describes a recent trip to her great grandmother’s hometown of Suesca, a small Columbian town known for rock climbing and flower farms. They visit Laguna de Suesca, a lake outside of the town which feeds the farms, and the extreme drought and over-consumption of the water is evident in the lake’s water level. “It looks more like a big puddle,” the narrator’s aunt remarks. Garzon-Galvis describes the scene, and the community’s use of water: “What is left of the lake is surrounded by cattle ranches, mining operations and flower farms that consume water in this area at a faster rate than the rain can replenish it. Most of Columbia’s fresh cut flowers are grown in the Sabana de Bogota region, making the country the second largest flower exporter in the world.” The flowers are sold in the United States, including San Francisco, where Garzon-Galvis lives. Seeing “Made in Columbia” on the floral arrangements in markets, she has mixed feelings. “I know these vendors, like the young women who work for low wages and long hours on Columbia’s flower farms, are just making a living. But at what cost? The amount of water used daily to grow flowers in this region is equivalent to what nearly 600,000 of its residents consume in a day. While flower farms soak up dwindling water supplies, neighborhoods where their workers live face chronic water shut-offs.” Her culture has ingrained in her a deep respect for the water. “As my ancestors did, we leave a small offering to thank what remains of the water, not knowing if it will still exist the next time I return.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Benny Starr grew up in South Carolina, an area prone to frequent flooding. A hip hop artist and musician, he created an album named “A Water Album,” where he describes the impact that water had on his upbringing. “Growing up where I grew up in Pineville, in the low country of South Carolina, water had such a profound impact on our traditions and the culture…what we ate, how we lived. Water is the life force, is rebirth and renewal. You know, it’s real spiritual. And water also takes the form that it needs to take in order to do what it’s purposed to do. And I’m here in Charleston, in a city that’s literally under water, a city that in many ways has been the gateway to the black experience in America, with so many of its people still under the thumb of oppression, there is no more perfect metaphor.”

The virtual concert aired on June 30, 2022, and is available in its entirety on YouTube.