Tag: Marcia Shiffman

An Interview with Windows of Understanding artist Marcia Shiffman

Interview by Stacey Nunda, LRWP Spring 2021 Raritan Scholar

In December 2020 I had the opportunity to speak with Marcia Shiffman, the LRWP’s 2021 Windows of Understanding partner artist. I learned about Marcia’s work, how she became involved with the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership, and how the LRWP’s October 2020 Environmental Justice listening session helped Marcia shape the collages she created for installation as part of the 2021 Windows of Understanding program.

How did you decide on the medium for the artwork you produce?

I would have loved to have done a print but I really couldn’t so I started out by doing sketches and using photographs. I went out with Heather to see her do water quality testing one day, and I took a lot of pictures. Originally I did a sketch based on the photos and took the sketch and created it as a digital image. As I worked through the sketch I decided I wanted to use the photographs more directly, so I took them and modified them. I put them together similar to the sketch but then it got developed into a collage where it combined the photos. When I finished that I decided I would look at creating it as a digital print, so I photographed it then I worked on it a lot in terms of sketching on top of the image and making the collaged photos fit together more smoothly.

What prompted you to incorporate environmental themes in your work?

I’m working with the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership which is an environmental organization. I looked at an important part of their work. I reviewed their website which is pretty amazing. I tried to show different elements of how the Raritan is used and how access is important. I wanted to tell a story.

How did those environmental themes motivate you to include social and environmental justice, along with environmental equity themes?

Public access to open space is really important and making sure it’s available. That was something that came out strongly in the discussion with the group. Environmental justice, access to clean water…it all ties in. I thought about that when I was doing the images. I remember one of the people at our meeting talked about the need for more trees and more greenery in the city. The need for better access to the park as well, so it was something I thought about when I was putting together the images.

In what ways did you first engage with the work of the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership?

I was coordinating with Heather, the board president. We set up a zoom meeting which was made available to anybody who was on their list to join us to talk about the project and what they felt was important to be considered. Heather had done a really interesting presentation to start the process. I had provided sketches and then I met with Heather and another volunteer. We went to two testing sites and then I visited other sites myself which was really fun. I hadn’t known about some of these parks in Edison and Sayreville. After that I put together the sketches with the photos and sent them to Heather who distributed them to the Partnership for comment.

Your piece “Along the Raritan” showcases the many possibilities for engagement along the river. Which activities would you say have helped you form a personal connection with the Raritan in your own life?

I live in Highland Park so with Covid I’ve walked a lot and a number of them have been at Donaldson Park which is along the Raritan. I think with Covid and lockdown that makes one more aware of the beauty of the river and the need to protect it. You’re really limited where you can go and how you can access things. Mental health is a real issue for a lot of people, especially when you’re isolated or live at home by yourself. Having access, it makes you aware how important open space is.

What feelings or motives do you hope your pieces will evoke in the viewers who see it?

I think one thing is understanding the importance of the Raritan Watershed and how it’s important for everyone in this environment. It does provide, especially along the Raritan, so much open space and options for recreation, for food, for fishing…just enjoying outdoor areas. I think it highlights that. Maybe people may not be aware of how important it is. There’s a need to keep the waterways clean. I hope people will understand that and engage with the Partnership.

I did not know about the Partnership before so I’m really pleased to know about it and I’d like to get more active. I spoke to Heather and I’ve offered to donate my work to get auctioned for the Partnership. I’m very pleased to have been part of this process.

For more about Marcia Shiffman and her work, visit her website at Marcia Shiffman Art.

Please join the LRWP’s mailing list to find out more about how you can participate in the auction for Marcia’s work!

Lower Raritan Pathogen Results for 10.15.2020

The LRWP and Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Middlesex County monitor for Fecal Coliform and Enterococcus at six non-swimming public beach access sites along the Lower Raritan during the warmer summer months. Fecal Coliform and Enterococcus are indicators of disease-causing bacteria in our waterways.

The EPA recommends that a single Enterococcus sample be less than 110 Colony Forming Units (CFU)/100mL for primary contact. Enterococci levels are used as indicators of the possible presence of disease-causing bacteria in recreational waters. Such pathogens may pose health risks to people fishing and swimming in a water body. Sources of bacteria include Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs), improperly functioning wastewater treatment plants, stormwater runoff, leaking septic systems, animal carcasses, and runoff from manure storage areas. Enterococci levels are often high after heavy or consistent rainfall.

Below are our pathogens results for October 15, 2020.

Field notes for 10.15.2020

What a beautiful day for monitoring! Americorps Watershed Ambassador Caitlin DiCara helped us out with monitoring. We were also joined at our Piscataway and New Brunswick sites by our Windows of Understanding 2021 artist Marcia Shiffman. Marcia’s work for 2021 will focus on communicating the “hidden” social justice issue of inequitable access to nature.

Caitlin DiCara and Marcia Shiffman at our Riverside Park (Piscataway) site

We talked with Marcia and Caitlin about social barriers and physical obstacles to enjoyment of blue or green spaces or parks. In preparation for our listening session on Social Justice and Access to Nature, we identified a number of barriers to accessing nature. All of the below we observe as issues at non-bathing public access beach pathogens monitoring sites. These include:

-Difficulty in accessing green/blue or park space because of landscape design

-Difficulty in accessing green/blue or park space because of cost

-Not feeling welcome in a natural blue/green space or park because of economic status, or ethnic or cultural difference

-Cultural and/or language restriction present other barriers to enjoyment of time in natural spaces

-Bullying behaviors or material obstacles limit enjoyment of time in natural spaces for persons with disabilities

-Fear, anxiety, or feelings of helplessness in the face of crime limits time in natural spaces

What obstacles or barriers have we missed?

Our Thursday “regulars” fishing at the Edison Boat Launch
Not much tugging at these poles, Edison Boat Launch 10.15.2020

Listening Session: Social Justice and Access to Nature

In February 2021, the LRWP will join the New Brunswick Community Arts Council and others for “Windows of Understanding,” in which local non-profits partner with artists to transform main street spaces into “windows of understanding” art installments. Through these art installations the community can learn about social justice issues that don’t make daily headlines.

For 2021 the LRWP is thrilled to partner with Highland Park resident Marcia Shiffman. This year Marcia will help us communicate the “hidden” social justice issue of inequitable access to nature.

Please join us for a Webex listening session on Thursday October 15 from 5:30-6:30 pm to share your concerns, observations, and thoughts related to social justice and access to nature. Your participation will help us better understand the issues, and will help us in the work of communicating these issues through art.

This listening session is free, however pre-registration is required. You will receive a Webex registration link before the event start.

While the COVID-19 quarantine has encouraged people to get a healthy dose of the out-of-doors to breathe fresh air, strengthen immune systems, exercise, and destress, we know that accessing clean, safe, green and blue spaces is much harder for our low socio economic status urban communities. Residents from these communities often don’t have transportation or resources for a visit the Jersey shore or a hike in our state or national parks.

This social justice issue motivates the work of the LRWP in monitoring pathogens at non-swimming public access beaches along the Lower Raritan. We have chosen sites where our State and County Public Health Departments do not monitor water conditions, yet where our most vulnerable residents regularly fish, swim, and otherwise recreate in the water.

We will start the listening session with a brief overview of equitable access concerns in the Lower Raritan, including data from our Summer 2020 pathogens monitoring work.

Want to learn more about Social Justice and Access to Nature? The Children & Nature Network developed a brief literature review on “Equitable Access to Nature’s Benefits“.