Location: Boston, MA, United States
Completion date: 2019
Lead Artist, Assistant Professor Landscape Architecture
University of Massachusetts Amherst
Assistant Professor Computer Science
University of Massachusetts Amherst
Gilmore Landscape Architecture
RisingEMOTIONS was a collaborative art project that piloted the integration of digital technologies and public art to create a highly local art piece visualizing the public’s emotion related to flooding due to sea level rise. The artwork made use of a custom easily accessible online survey to gather information about how residents of East Boston felt about the effects of sea level rise in their neighborhood. Their responses and emotions were visualized and transformed into an art installation that used bands of color to represent the future levels of flooding against the backdrop of the East Boston Branch of the Boston Public Library. Participants of the online survey were encouraged to connect to ongoing governmental and grassroots efforts around resilience. The project sought to pilot a new hybrid model that combines art and social technologies for data collection and visualization by which to promote equitable resilience and inclusive planning through increased public engagement.
The installation consisted of bands of color that were set on steel frames on the grassy area in front of the East Boston Branch of the Boston Public Library. The bands were carried across the patio and upward against the building windows. The height of the frames and the lines on the building represented the height for the projected 1% annual chance flood for this specific location in 2070 (about 3.7 ft). This data was provided by the University of Massachusetts Boston Sustainable Solutions Lab.
The project asked residents how they felt about how East Boston will be significantly affected by flooding due to climate change. Their answers were color coded into five emotions: concerned, optimistic, angry, sad, and other. Concerned was expressed in teal, optimistic as yellow, angry as red, sad as dark blue, and other as green. Over 150 residents participated in the online survey during a two-week period. Their responses showed that the majority feel concerned (51%), followed by optimistic (17%), sad (14%), angry (9%) and “other” (9%). Some excerpts from the responses left by participants were transcribed by hand onto the ribbons by local students and residents.
Some sample responses include:
“Climate change needs serious attention. But I believe programs like these could help in making a change.”
“I hope we can slow it down.”
“It makes me worried since I’ve never moved in my life, and don’t know where I am going to end up in the future. Having lived here my whole life, it would be sad if something bad happened.”
“It’s easy to think that someone else will solve the problem, but everyone should step forward to solve this problem.”
“Es preocupante ver como el clima esta cambiando y no se ve que se esta haciendo al respecto!”
“I am angry that people are living in denial of this crisis.”
“I am afraid that my home will flood, and I’ll lose my life savings. I’m afraid the city will care less because we are not an affluent community.”
“It’s just a hoax.”
“I want to know what the government is doing and what steps they are taking to address this.”
The goals were to create an accessible way to communicate issues of sea level rise to the local community. To achieve this, the artist and her team worked closely with community organizations and the staff of the library to create opportunities for using the library as the setting of the installation but also as a place where the community could gather to contribute to its creation and to discuss the subject.
The project was led by Carolina Aragón, in collaboration with Narges Mahyar, assistant professor in the College of Information and Computer Sciences, and their team of UMass Amherst students. The project was funded by a Barr Foundation grant to the Friends of the Mary Ellen Welch Greenway and developed in close collaboration with the Boston Society of Landscape Architects, Excel Academy, the East Boston Branch of the Boston Public Library and East Boston residents. The project was coordinated to expand the outreach of local planning efforts by the City of Boston Planning & Development Agency, the City of Boston Environment Department, and local grassroots organizations: Harborkeepers and GreenRoots.