Raising AWAREness

More than 1,500 pounds of trash is currently sitting on the third floor of Rod Library. It isn't in trash bags, it's not littered in recycling bins, it's actually on display, but you may have a hard time finding it. The trash is in the form of three sculptures on display as a part of the exhibit "Riverse: The Art of Project A.W.A.R.E."

Project AWARE
"Riverse: The Art of Project A.W.A.R.E." is located on the third floor of Rod Library.

The exhibit is a part of Iowa Project A.W.A.R.E. (A Watershed Awareness River Expedition), an annual weeklong event where community members work together to help clean up the rivers of Iowa. Riverse is an extension of that project, where items found in the rivers are turned into sculptures by Ogden artist David Williamson. The sculptures will be at Rod Library until mid-October.

According to UNI's sustainability coordinator, Eric O'Brien, Riverse came about because Project A.W.A.R.E. organizers wanted to extend their reach beyond the one-week river cleanup. "They really figured out that not only can we make a difference during that one week, but we need to tell our story." Each sculpture is accompanied by poems and song lyrics written by Williamson, using words and phrases from actual Project A.W.A.R.E. volunteers.

It was these aspects of storytelling that caused O'Brien, who helped bring these sculptures to campus, to reach out to Rod Library as the host of this exhibit. "That's exactly what this artwork is," he said. "It's nature, science, poetry and art coming together to tell a really wonderful story."

The Project A.W.A.R.E. story is an interesting one. Launched at UNI in 2003 by alumnus Brian Soenen, in partnership with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the project has been a massive success. In addition to removing close to 300 tons of trash from Iowa rivers during the project's 11 years, Project A.W.A.R.E. has also experienced a growth in volunteerism. Participation has gone from 90 volunteers in 2003 to more than 400 this year. The project has also received many regional and national awards.

Project AWARE
UNI's Outdoor Recreation program has acted as a sponsor and donated canoes to Project A.W.A.R.E.

According to Soenen, "My UNI experiences absolutely influenced the direction that led me down this path. The education provided me with the foundation I needed for engaging the general public in this type of environmental education and stewardship project."

UNI is involved in other ways. UNI's Outdoor Recreation program and Integrated Roadside Vegetation Management program have both acted as sponsors, with UNI Outdoors donating canoes to the project. With the recent addition of the Riverse art exhibit at the library, the UNI connection seems to have come full circle.

"To see UNI support a worthy cause like Project A.W.A.R.E. by displaying this artwork and sponsoring the event itself definitely makes me proud to be a Panther," said Soenen.

While Soenen hopes the art will help raise awareness of environmental issues and promote Project A.W.A.R.E., he encourages students to look at the broader message. "By working together, volunteers turned an ugly situation into a beautiful statement," he said. "Maybe that philosophy would apply to more than just river cleanup?"

O'Brien shares this sentiment. "This started from a handful of people that said, 'We want to try to make a difference,' and they set their minds to it and they accomplished it," he said. "I want to show students that if you want to make a change on your campus, if you want to make a change in your community, you can do that and beautiful things will come out of it."

David Williamson, the artist who worked on the sculptures for Project A.W.A.R.E., will join Lynette Seigley, director of Iowa Project A.W.A.R.E., to discuss the program and the art it produced at 7 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 8, on the third floor of Rod Library. For information, contact Christopher Cox, dean of Library Services, at 319-273-2737 or chris.cox@uni.edu.