The Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education (a 340-acre nature center in northwest Philadelphia) inspires meaningful connections between people and nature. The environmental art program here is a complement to our other educational offerings, inciting curiosity and sparking awareness of the natural environment through presentations of outdoor and indoor art. Working collaboratively, we support artistic investigations of our environments and create spaces and opportunities for artists and audiences to creatively engage in ecological issues.
In 2012-2013, our art program was engaged in a planning process (funded by the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage) to re-envision, revise, and refine our mission and activities as a locus for innovative environmental art practice. We convened an advisory team, consisting of artists and curators, to examine our program’s potential for a shift in artistic focus from exhibition to process. This process allowed us to recognize the unique potential for our site to be a home for artistic experimentation and collaboration with the science, design, and ecology worlds.
In the midst of this process, we were incredibly fortunate to receive a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to build an artwork by Stacy Levy, one of the most exciting and celebrated environmental artists working today. With Levy, we envisioned a work that would remediate stormwater runoff from our Visitor Center, while also creating a teaching space and lesson on the topic. Levy's project allowed us to test out and utilize some of the ideas generated in the process of reassessing our curatorial framework, and the support of NEA for this project launched us into a new era of our environmental art program.
Levy’s RainYard is now an interactive, innovative artwork on permanent display at the Schuylkill Center. It serves both a practical function—mitigating stormwater runoff from our building—and an interpretive function—highlighting the critical role that soil and plants play in the water cycle. Through collaboration with ecologists, engineers, designers, educators, and horticulturists, this artwork was created to engage and educate. Along with the installation is a graphic book about water, stormwater run-off, and art.
RainYard is a collaboration with the rain. It captures the rain from our visitor center’s roof and leads it to a garden to soak into the ground. Water needs time and space to soak in, but in most of our built world, we pipe it away. This artwork is making a home for the rain. Every time we get one inch of rainfall, Levy’s artwork captures and slows over 3,000 gallons of water. With the average of 40 inches of rain Philadelphia gets per year, it captures and slows nearly 100,000 gallons.
In RainYard, viewers can see every part of the rain’s journey and play with the pump and hoses to see how water filters over different surfaces. The artwork operates in service of interpretation, spurring intellectual engagement and deeper understanding of an ecological issue.
RainYard tackles stormwater runoff in a playful, aesthetically exciting way. Levy’s work is about making metaphors for people to understand how nature works, and provides a new avenue to understand environmental issues. NEA support allowed us to break new ground—both literally on-site and in advancing cutting edge contemporary environmental art for a new era of environmental challenges.