The Water Tank Project

There are approximately 17,000 water tanks sitting above the busy streets of Manhattan in New York City. Silently – and largely unnoticed – these iconic structures pump water into homes all around the borough, allowing people to get on with their everyday lives without ever having to think twice about running a bath, flushing the loo, making a cup of coffee.
Until now that is. The Water Tank Project, which is the brainchild of filmmaker Mary Jordan, is transforming the skyline of Manhattan. Part exhibition, part awareness, the scheme has just launched, with four tanks showcasing works by artists Laurie Simmons, Lorenzo Petrantoni, Sigrid Calon, and Odili Donald Odita.
It is hoped that this will eventually run into the hundreds throughout the city – who knows, thousands even, if they are feeling ambitious – offering New Yorkers a decidedly different rooftop vista when out and about. Water is the theme that binds them.
“For the duration of the project, art above will be complemented by action on the ground through educational programs, public tours, social media activities and a symposium dedicated to inspiring fresh views on global water issues,” the team behind the initiative explain on the official website.
“Our aim is to produce art as social intervention, to inspire awe and joy, to educate, and to alter attitudes and habits among those who experience The Water Tank Project, ultimately creating meaningful and long-lasting change.”
The idea for it ultimately began in 2007. Ms Jordan was making a documentary in Ethiopia. She fell ill in a remote village in the country, but luckily was taken in by its women who nursed her back to health.
In return, the promo video for the project notes, they asked for one thing: “That she makes a promise to tell the world about their biggest problem – water. About how it is so scarce, women and children sometimes spend eight hours a day collecting it, about how it is often so contaminated it ends up doing more harm than good.”
The data is alarming. Nearly one billion people around the world do not have access to clean water and approximately 2.5 billion people do not have access to adequate sanitation. The organisation charity: water explains that “diseases from unsafe water and lack of basis sanitation kill more people every year than all forms of violence, including war”.
It is a crisis that needs to be addressed, yet as the team behind the Water Tank Project have highlighted, too few of us know of it. We don’t often hear politicians discussing policies to tackle water shortages and stories about it appear rarely in the popular press.
The scheme, in part, seeks to address this apparent gap through the power of art, which will help – as the tagline of the project states – Put Water Above All. Art has always had the power to do more than offer humanity something beautiful, moving and poetic. It has always inspired, held people and ideas to account, revealed hidden truths. Art can change the world.
Cadogan Tate specialises in art transportation, fine art storage and art logistics, helping galleries, museums and collectors manage their collections.