Summit Right Brain: Erin Sotak uses her art to engage people on water issues |

Summit Right Brain: Erin Sotak uses her art to engage people on water issues

Erin Sotak has been biking around Breckenridge to engage with people about water issues, as part of her project My Your Our Water.
Special to the Daily |


What: WAVE: Light + Water + Sound

When: June 2-5; 5-11 p.m.

Where: Blue River Plaza, downtown Breckenridge

Erin Sotak’s light-up sign will be in the Dredge Pond throughout the week, and she will be riding her tricycle in the area talking to people about water issues

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Clad in a stark white jumpsuit, complete with an Evel Knievel helmet, artist Erin V. Sotak has been riding her blue tricycle up and down the Blue River recpath in Breckenridge over the past couple weeks. Mounted on the back wheels of her bike, a large sign displays “MY YOUR OUR WATER.” She bikes slowly, hoping her distinct outfit will draw passerby attention. She’s not selling anything but engaging with residents and visitors about their thoughts on water issues.

Sotak has been in Breckenridge since May 14 as an artist-in-residence with Breckenridge Creative Arts. She is also a featured artist at the 2016 WAVE festival that will take over the town June 2-5.

She started the My Your Our Water project in Scotsdale, Arizona, where she is from. The project is in collaboration with Salt River Project (SRP) and Scotsdale Public Art. SRP, which manages and delivers a vast majority of water to the metropolitan area of Phoenix, asked Sotak to highlight the fact that it delivers the water, as most people in that area only know it as an electric company. For her residency with SRP, she attended a water school, and the conversation was always about water rights and following flow of water, and what stuck with her from that training is that this is actually all the same water.

“It’s my water, and it’s your water, and it’s our water, and that whatever the problem is, we are in this together, and we need to come to a point where we can figure it out as a whole as opposed to individuals,” she said. “Whether or not you are watering your lawn, washing down your driveway or giving your child a bath, the water all comes from the same place through the evaporative process. It comes back down, goes through the watershed, it all just sort of circles the globe. What happens in Mexico City you may think is super far away, but it’s connected.”

There are five components to the My Your Our Water project, including her tricycle, the sign, a daily blog, the project website and a community Facebook page. The Facebook page gives people access to news articles on current water issues.

Besides Breckenridge, she has also taken the project to Grand Rapids, Michigan, traveling through 11 states looking at various waterways along the way.

Her light-up sign will be in the Dredge Pond throughout the week of the WAVE Festival, and Sotak will be on her tricycle, ready to talk more about water.

Summit Daily News: Tell me about the project and what you are trying to accomplish.

Erin Sotak: I created this tricked-out tricycle because there’s 131 miles of canal pathways. So the way the water works in Arizona with SRP, is it comes from the reservoirs, and it goes through the canal system, and it eventually goes to water treatment. But the canal systems, it’s an open canal, and it goes through the city. The canal banks are used as a multi-purpose trail way system. I created this tricycle to ride along the canal system because people use it for jogging and biking … and that was the best way I figured to engage with people about water. I trike along the canal in this really spectacular tricycle, and I have a little suit. … The idea was to be exaggerated enough or spectacle enough that people would be like, “What is this? I need to stop this woman and ask.” I don’t necessarily stop someone; I ride slowly enough, so they can engage with me because I figure it’s more comfortable for people if they want to approach me rather than me approach them and them feeling uncomfortable. It works, people run up to you. … Kids think I’m selling water, but adults immediately go to water rights. …

It started with me in Arizona, just trying to bring awareness to the fact that open waterway is actually our drinking water. … In doing that, the conversation very quickly expanded from local water issues of maybe drought or conservation to statewide issues to Western water worries. That was when the drought in California was really finally making news, so that conversation expanded, but, as it’s grown, it became really obvious to me that it was this global issue, a global conversation. And we can address it from the individual, to local community, to national to the global, and that they are all related. But you easily become overwhelmed, and you get a sense of feeling almost helpless. Like this problem is so big, what can I possibly do? This project has sort of shifted in a way to become a conversation that allows you to voice your concerns or experiences or direct you to something you can possibly do to affect change. The website has links to more information about your local water issues … and ways you can possibly do something, so that you can feel that your participating. And whether it is ways to decrease your personal water footprint or ways to sign petitions or ways to help keep water in the Colorado.

SDN: What have been the results so far from your work in Breckenridge?

ES: It’s very interesting being here basically at the headwaters to the Colorado. There are three main points that the conversation has come about, and that is about the Colorado River. Water rights, and then issues of mining and water quality, have been the three areas. Coming from a state that has no water, and it’s a desert, it’s interesting that there is more conversation here in Colorado about water than there is in Arizona. It’s sort of something that is kept on the down low, not only with different cities, but state government really likes … to continue to say we have plenty of water, and it’s not an issue, and part of that is that we don’t want to stop people from moving in out of fear that there is no water in this state. … Whereas here, it is very on the forefront of everyone’s mind.

SDN: How did you first get into this kind of art?

ES: I’m trained in photography, so my work over the years has really transitioned from a studio process with a lot of installation and performance into a shared public experience. … It went from what people consider an artist doing studio practice to it being in the public sphere. A lot of times in collaboration with public art entities. … It went from maybe being in a residency with an open studio policy, engaging with people and talking about it and suddenly realizing that we are all in this together. This process is a shared process, and I really believe that we can create a better day-to-day life quality together.

SDN: What inspires you when it comes to this kind of work?

ES: I really enjoy engaging with other people and hearing their stories, and I find that I actually, through this process, have learned so much from the conversations with people. … I find that my information bank has been filled by engaging with people. And then just their personal stories, too.

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