The Cleveland Foundation Presents Creative Fusion: No Matter How Divergent Our Perspective

At a time when we have more ways to connect than ever before, it feels like we are all starting to understand just a little less about one another. Sometimes it seems that the breadth of our context is getting narrower, while the need for more perspective continues to grow. The belief that bringing together diverse voices can galvanize a community is what brought PechaKucha Night to Cleveland ten years ago, and what got the PKN Cleveland team excited about being a part of this year’s Cleveland Foundation Creative Fusion program Waterways to Waterways.

In June we marked the fiftieth year since the last time industrial pollution caused a US freshwater river to catch fire. This blaze on the Cuyahoga River triggered a national reckoning on water policy and led to the establishment of the predecessor organizations to the US Environmental Protection Agency. This historic moment when local action led to national policy and international influence was an inspiring example of the progress that is possible when people speak out and people listen. Yet here we sit fifty years later, and we haven’t yet been able to aggregate our shared narrative to establish a harmonious relationship with the world’s most precious natural resource: water.

The Creative Fusion Waterways to Waterways cohort sought to bring together a diverse set of voices and perspectives from around the world, hoping to highlight and chart paths toward solving some of the world’s more pressing water quality, pollution, access, and control issues. The dialog of ideas plays out in the work of several arts, education, and planning organizations. Our colleagues in the Waterways to Waterways dialog included the Cleveland Institute of Art, which worked on designs for sustainable bulkheads that will help naturalize the river even as it flows through Cleveland’s industrial valley; and Praxis Fiber Studio, which created enormous banners to show how locally-grown natural dye can be used instead of toxic commercial dyes, which find their way into waterway systems. Ongoing work from both of those projects is explored on the following pages. Our other colleagues included the Cleveland Print Room, which used photography and a ritual walk to show us the river as we have never seen it before; LAND studio, which used the occasion to envision new ways people living along the banks of the Cuyahoga can re-animate their Riverview Community Center; and The Kent State University Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative, which renewed attention to the subway level of the Detroit-Superior Bridge, giving visitors a magnificent perspective on our relationship to the river and lake.

Kicking off the weekend of events, PechaKucha invited water experts and advocates from all over the world to voice their perspectives on the challenges, hopes, and concerns, and to share their work tackling some of the water-related issues people struggle with around the globe. The goal was to generate a meaningful, new narrative about the ancient, vital interconnections we humans share with our waterways. International speakers would provide perspective from areas of the world that most Clevelanders do not get to engage with at a personal level. National and regional speakers would provide local context. All would demonstrate that while we may be literally separated by oceans, we are at the same time bound together by them. Our narratives are much more similar than we may realize. The perspectives from each presenter varied: some have a spiritual relationship to water, some have spent their lives walking miles to get it, some have businesses that depend on it, some are fighting for the right for access to water, some are designing ways to breathe life into it, and some started fighting decades ago to save it. What connected all these stories wasn’t the lens from which each presenter saw their relationship with water, but the certainty that they were all fighting the same fight. No individual story was more important than any other, and the power of the narrative was in the combination of perspectives. We are all part of the story, and only if each of us plays our part can any of us achieve an equitable and sustainable relationship with water.

And that is the true power of pulling people together: to be inspired to action by someone they’ve never met, to learn something new, and to discover how we are all connected to a shared context no matter how divergent our perspectives.

—Michael Christoff

Japanese for “the sound of conversation,” PechaKucha is an event that features a rapid succession of eight to ten speakers, each sharing ideas by showing twenty slides and speaking for twenty seconds on each.

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