Confluence Project (Vancouver, WA)


Artist Maya Lin works on her sculptures for the Confluence Project. Photo by Betsy Henning

“How do we live with nature versus living over it?” This is the question posed by Maya Lin, an artist and architect famous for designing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. Her newest conquest is a massive undertaking, creating seven works of art that use text, cultural histories, and the environment of the Columbia River Basin–– where native tribes united at the confluence of rivers––to tell the story of the Lewis and Clark expedition and its effect on the Native Americans they encountered on their journey.

In FY 2007, the Confluence Project received an NEA Access to Artistic Excellence grant of $25,000 to assist this colossal task. The project has been ongoing since late 1999, but will not be completed until 2010. The Sacajawea State Park, in particular, was a focus for this grant. Lin’s pieces for this site are “story circles.” The artwork will consist of text etched into seven circles, some raised above and some lowered into the ground. The text comes from tribal stories, Lewis and Clark’s journals, Yakama elder and Sahaptin speaker Virginia Beavert, and the natural history of this site.

Jane Jacobsen, executive director of the Confluence Project said, “The name ‘confluence’ means so much more than rivers coming together. It’s the confluence of people, ideas, and the confluence of time.” Lin’s juxtaposition of text, which retells the stories, with the sparseness of her designs “causes one to reflect on how the past merges with the present and the present with the future. It’s about what was and what’s next,” explained Jacobsen.

Over the next ten years, more than 5 million people are expected to visit the Confluence artworks. The positive effect on tourism is a byproduct of this important art project. Said Vancouver Mayor Royce Pollard, “This is an icon we have in our community. It’s a statement about who we are, who we were, and where we’re going together. People will come from all over the world to see this.”

(From the NEA 2007 Annual Report)