FLOW Tuscaloosa merges currents of art, history and ecological concerns


The name FLOW Tuscaloosa can stand on many levels. In its most direct sense, as an interdisciplinary group inspiring the appreciation and protection of the Black Warrior River and its tributaries, this literal flow refers to the movement of energies or matter through currents.

Flow can also refer to constant change, progress; a movement of people working towards a common goal. It can refer to quantity or suggest cause to effect. In psychological terms, the flow state indicates being fully engaged, energized, hyper-focused; in the zone.

Over the three years of FLOW Tuscaloosa’s existence, the group of artists, historians, conservationists, activists, educators and other advisers have dug deep, with growing efforts this spring and this summer.

On May 21, a resplendent array of lights shining through colored papers—guided and shaped by FLOW Tuscaloosa’s school and public workshops over the past several months—created a parade of kaleidoscopic lanterns along the Riverwalk, glowing at through the green in artificial visions never seen since the holiday-themed Tinsel Trail moved to Government Plaza last year.

FLOW Tuscaloosa, an interdisciplinary group seeking to inspire the maintenance of the Black Warrior River and other waterways through art projects, held a number of paper lantern-making workshops, leading up to the parade of May 21 lanterns along the Riverwalk.

The symbolism was intentional and direct, said FLOW co-founder Julia Brock, assistant professor of history at the University of Alabama.

“Through a kind of participatory art-making, we’re asking people to see places in a new light,” she said, “to pay attention to places a little differently.”

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Her FLOW partner, artist and educator Jamey Grimes, has led workshops at the Dinah Washington Cultural Arts Center, the Druid City Arts Festival, and public and private, city and county schools, guiding attendees to symbolize the history and ecology of Tuscaloosa’s waterways.

People notice dramatic sunsets or thunderstorms, because of their stark contrasts, Grimes said, but FLOW hopes to draw attention to calmer times and places.

“If you notice certain patterns of beauty in an instant, we kind of train the eye to find it,” said Grimes, who teaches sculpture and museum studies at UA.

“I think of the time we spend staring at our phones, instead of looking at the sky; but all those elements of beauty that you can find even on a really calm day.”

With the lantern parade, FLOW hoped to create “…a kind of magical experience that captures people’s imaginations,” he said.

June 3, 2022;  Tuscaloosa, AL, USA;  Patrons review the Flow exhibit at the Dinah Washington Cultural Arts Center on Greensboro Ave.  in Tuscaloosa.  Gary Cosby Jr.-The Tuscaloosa News

The lantern parade led to a reception at the Mildred Westervelt Warner Transportation Museum, built around the “Swimming Together” exhibit, a collaboration between the museum and FLOW.

“Swimming Together” explores the history of public swimming in Tuscaloosa, in an ideal location as the site was built as the Queen City Pool and Bathhouse, one of Frank Lloyd’s apprentice’s most extravagant explorations Wright Don Buel Schuyler of the Art Deco style in Tuscaloosa. The federal dollars made it possible to renovate the facilities, after many years of fallow land, and to create the museum, even if the swimming pool has long been filled in and covered.

During the recent First Friday Art Walk, June 3, a pair of exhibits titled “Flow” opened downtown in the Paul R. Jones Gallery and a few blocks away in the Gallery of the University of Alabama at the Dinah Washington Cultural Arts Center. This contains works by Tony Bigham, Boo Gilder, Michi Meko, and Kelly Taylor Mitchell, interpreting and examining the history of Tuscaloosa’s waterways.

Grow with FLOW

FLOW was born out of a fusion of concerns about our history and environment, where we should focus, how we should team up and combine our efforts. Grimes and Brock met as fellows of AU’s Collaborative Arts Research Initiative (CARI), a faculty-led interdisciplinary arts-focused search engine, an offshoot of the defunct Creative Campus Initiative, which helped created DCAF more than ten years ago. They bonded on common ground, just as the banks of rivers nest in the earth.

“I’m constantly trying, as an artist, to figure out how to engage my audience, my viewers, my audience, my whatever,” Grimes said. “All of these terms carry a certain weight, like I’m the performative element, and they just pop up and look at things.”

He would rather engage with others in more active creative roles, as seen in the workshops leading up to the lanterns.

“It’s the idea that we can all build something together,” Grimes said. “These are the bones of how the community can function.”

As a native of Tuscaloosa, Grimes grew up near Hurricane Creek. FLOW was partly inspired by the successes of John Wathen, the Stream Keeper, whose stewardship helped keep the park clean, its bends, whitewaters, pools and falls, and helped ensure that regulations have been complied with, as well as to anticipate the need for further action. .

“There’s a lot of danger to an environment like Hurricane Creek, and it would be very easy in Alabama to not maintain it, to let it slip away,” Grimes said. “Not to see him get worse, but to see him improve, it makes me feel good to move on.

“We wanted to create a positive force around this kind of champion moment and promote what’s happening here. A lot of people aren’t aware of our beautiful parks and diverse ecosystems.”

Fusing his work with the Selvage Collective, a curatorial project bringing alternative narratives to life through research, writing, and exhibitions, Brock helped find the artists to imagine the Druidic city and its surroundings for the double exposure. Flow”. She was also responsible for social media engagement, which exceeded expectations.

“We thought we’d find maybe 50 with similar interests, but about 1,500 people engaged with us, one way or another,” she said.

Build momentum

Another barometer of FLOW’s forward movement can be seen in its partnerships with UA Museums, CARI, City of Tuscaloosa, Friends of Hurricane Creek, Black Warrior Riverkeeper and others. They landed an NEA Our Town grant, intended to boost community engagement; such prestige helps legitimize the group and attract more attention.

Once people join in, whether by building a lantern, sharing a story about swimming experiences growing up, or visiting and viewing FLOW’s other offerings, Grimes and Brock hope to lead them to the next ones. steps, towards positive action.

“What we want to achieve is a sense of momentum, a forward entropy that makes people in the community feel like they can be part of something,” Grimes said. “When we get there, we have that tool for more pointed conservation and stewardship successes. We’re sort of the cheerleaders for those causes.”

June 3, 2022;  Tuscaloosa, AL, USA;  Michelle Bordner and her children Avery and Rowan review the Flow exhibit at the Dinah Washington Cultural Arts Center on Greensboro Ave.  in Tuscaloosa.  Gary Cosby Jr.-The Tuscaloosa News

Involvement in a cause stems from awareness of need, Brock said.

“We’re asking them to step up, sign up for cleanup days, find out who their stewards are, and become stewards themselves,” she said.

Inspired by the success of the Wathen agency that sparked the transformation, Brock and Grimes reflect on what FLOW does by instilling a philosophy of sustaining places that is both environmental and historic.

Although he’s used to falling into the minority led by the other, Grimes said, he thinks FLOW can find ways to reach wider.

FLOW Tuscaloosa led a parade of paper lanterns hung along the Riverwalk on May 21.  That night, the arts/environment group also held an opening for the exhibition

“We need more ‘good weird’ in Tuscaloosa,” he said. “I really want to be a better listener. I don’t want to start a conversation already with an idea of ​​what a win would be like.

“I want this to be a conversation with Tuscaloosa, not a single conversation.”

To learn more, visit www.flowtuscaloosa.com. The “Swimming Together” exhibit remains on display at MWWTM until August 27. To learn more, visit www.transportation.museums.ua.edu/swimmingtogether.


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