A Bit of Reflection

This is a music composition I created for this project. Treat it as a bit of a mood setter for reading this blog 🙂

In our quest to enlighten the Austin community about the environment around us, my hope is that we’re able to present its sustainability through a medium that people want to see and listen to. As creatives, I feel like we have an obligation to use our talents to share stories and influence positive change to the rest of the world. Our Waller Creek Earth Day project seeks to do this, and I hope our audience develops a deeper awareness of the environment and how we can maintain it together.

To begin our research for this project, our team met with members of UT’s Sustainability Office to discuss the interaction of the human world with the creatures of Austin, like our Creek Monster. As we’re going through life, sometimes we get caught up and can focus too much on ourselves that we forget to inspire others alongside us. The way we take care of our environment effects all of us.

Assembling the sound equipment for the installation

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we were unable to launch our physical installation on the UT campus for Earth Day 50. Fortunately, we quickly adapted and transitioned our project online, focusing on celebrating the environment through social media. Via mostly Instagram and Facebook, we highlighted members of the Austin community who are putting their heart and soul in sustaining our environment. We call it our local heroes segment, and I just absolutely love that. Check us out @texasappliedarts .

A glance of our social media presence

We also took initiative in creating a sound log of a cumulation of Earth Day promises. We asked our friends, family, and communities to call in and make promises on ways they can help the environment. I’m so thankful for the amount of calls we got, and it sparks hope in knowing that we are not alone in this.

The biggest thing I’ve learned during this project is self-awareness. I’ve gotten into the habit of asking myself every day what I can do in that moment to help my environment. It started from taking much shorter showers to having deep conversations with my family, who have never paid any attention to environmental sustainability.

The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic and our transition online has resulted in many impacts on our environment. The scarcity of air travel has caused a great drop in air pollution. The lack of boat traffic has also lowered air pollution, but it further allowed sediments to set and cleared up the water for our aquatic friends. I can only imagine how our Creek Monster enjoying the water. However, I’m in no way saying this pandemic was a good thing, but rather, I would argue that it’s a wakeup call to the world. With all this time in quarantine, I hope that our project has given food for thought to how much we can accomplish together in the little actions we do.

I’m so glad I had the opportunity to make new connections within my team and thankful for the Green Fund grant for providing the freedom to be a part of art like this. Look out for the Waller Creek Earth Day installation coming Earth Day 2021!

Waller Creek: The End For Me But Not For You

This semester was an interesting one. Never would I have imagined that a nationwide pandemic would force us to stay home, effectively stopping the Waller Creek Earth Day Project in its tracks. All the work that we had done as a class just negated, meaningless. I’m graduating, so I won’t even be able to see the end of the project. So, what’s the point now? What can I do?

It’s easy to get caught up in this kind of negative thinking, so let’s not do that. Let’s instead focus on the good that we have done, and are continuing to do despite our situations. Firstly, we are still accomplishing our goal of raising awareness for Waller Creek. Every student in this class has been working hard to expand our project to social medias since we can’t physically finish it.

A social media flier created by Laura Godinez to help continue our Earth Day Project

We’ve been reaching out to people, to get their voices heard, to channel the voice of Waller Creek through them.

Second, we’ve been writing about everything we did earlier this semester in detail. Just because it didn’t happen this year, doesn’t mean it won’t happen ever. I actually have a feeling that by next year, when we have a better grip on this virus, Waller Creek will still be calling, and it will be louder than ever. And even though I won’t personally be there to listen to its call, others will. So that’s why we’ve written down everything we’ve done, from all the little details that seem trivial to the bigger ones that seem so daunting, so that the people who pick up this project will be able to do all that we did, and more. I might not be there physically to help, but I will be there spiritually. So, this might be the end of my journey with Waller Creek, but it’s far from the end for Waller Creek. As long as it calls, people will listen.

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Earth Day Course Review

The story for this project begins with Karen Maness and Texas Performing Arts being presented with an opportunity to participate in the Waterloo Greenway 2019 Creek Show by creating a site specific art installation. 

This opportunity led to the formation of a course in the Fall which designed and realized a Creek Monster Habitat over the course of the semester which was experienced by 60,000 people during the Creek Show. (That’s the photo Below.) The project is still ongoing and we’ve been working this semester to bring an iteration of the installation to UT campus for a celebration of Earth Day 50. 

Our focus through all of this has been on engaging the public in natural urban spaces, revealing aspects of our riparian habitats and that often go unnoticed, and all while taking into account sustainable design and fabrication methodologies. 

I’d like to mention here that this work is a reality because of a collaboration with the Sustainability Office and support through the Green Fund.

The first and most central goal we have is to raise awareness of the environment and our responsibility to it. As storytellers our approach has been to empathize with the creek ecosystem and use the installation as a space to bring people into connection with the spirit of the creek. We want to create caring connections across our community; for ecosystems and critters, for ourselves and our mental wellbeing; all the while connecting with the researchers and organizations on campus that are working for a sustainable present. We believe art is a powerful means to bring compelling new perspectives to light that can bring about healthy change and community action.

Community engagement is at the heart of this project and over the course of the last year we have had the opportunity to collaborate with a diverse set of people and organizations. 

We’ve gotten to learn about and share work being done by researchers and student groups across campus and even beyond UT. 

The physical creation of installation has necessitated and allowed for guest artists and experts to come and engage with the courses to help realize the vision. Creating new connections and opportunities for students. 

All aspects of the work have been dreamed up and created by students from a diverse set of departments and colleges.

I’d like to share with you a little of what we had planned for our Earth Day installation, which would be up and glowing on 24th and San Jacinto along Waller Creek right now. We have three main areas of engagement we are working with.

Our installation team has been working to create physical manifestations through lighting and sculpture in order to express the story of the creek and  to generate curiosity from passing pedestrians.

The social media team is working to spread the word by gathering stories from our local heroes, making infographics, and by creating fun filters for social media platforms. 

The mental wellness team has been in charge of putting together activities that engage the community in positive practices.

Like all events… we’ve had to put a pause on our physical encounters for the time being, but we plan on bringing the installation back next Year! Luckily, social media has been a part of our plan from the beginning so we are now focusing on sharing the stories of sustainability and growth we’ve gathered from students and local heros. We’d love your help and voices in amplifying the Call of Waller Creek. If you are interested in participating the sustainability office, on their website, has shared the call we are putting out to gather personal stories and testimonies of sustainability being done throughout our community.  

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Monster In the Mirror

Now that the semester is nearing a close, we can now proudly stand back and observe our journey and the progress we have made so far. In the beginning, we set out to fabricate an experience with the purpose of promoting the public’s learning and engagement of urban ecology and environmentalism as a whole, through the exhibit centered around Waller Creek and its interactions with the city of Austin. As far as the UT community goes, we hoped that people would come out of the experience with more knowledge about Waller Creek and it’s role in our urban ecosystem, as well as new, imaginative ideas on all the ways one may change their lifestyle in order to be more environmentally sustainable. In addition, the exhibit would have emphasized the importance of mental wellness and how benefits can be found even in the simplest of things, whether it be taking a yoga class, or even taking a moment to listen to the surrounding environment.

Throughout the project, we hoped our work would bring a change, no matter how big or small, to everyone that participated in the experience. For example, most people don’t even realize Waller Creek has a name or even exists on campus, and how important it is to the wildlife around the area. Just bringing more publicity to the creek is enough. Usually the saying goes that people don’t usually care unless it involves them. Once people make the connection between themselves and Waller Creek and the surrounding environment, this serves as the catalyst for change, whether it be a small change in mindset or a massive call to action. Through the support of the Office of Sustainability, and many others, we were able to work as effectively as possible with our stakeholders and collaborators in order to achieve our goal.

It’s impossible to talk about our experience and not mention the sudden halt to our affairs right before we were able to reach our peak. However through the hard work and dedication of the Social Engagement team, we were able to translate our message from the physical exhibit and experience into the online one. From the character of the monster we fabricated, we were able to effectively promote interest in our message, as the slogan “Waller Creek is Calling” resonates through the minds of the curious.

With our caricature of the monster, throughout the whole experience, I have learned that everything, no matter how small, whether it be the smallest rain puddle,the creek, the albino squirrels, to the cars commuting every day, all play an important role in Austin’s urban ecology and we must promote it to our best ability. Even through the smallest of lifestyle changes, we can all take a stand and see the effects that an increase in sustainability may have on the world around us, and on those who live in it, like the monster of Waller Creek.

The monster we have created is very real; all you have to do is look in the mirror. For this place is our home, and we should do the best to take care of it.

Looking Back: the Creek Monster Habitat Project

The Creek Monster Habitat Project was created with the intended goal of promoting sustainable environmental practices, appreciation of our natural environments and the 50th anniversary of Earth Day through the use of art. All was in place for a successful completion of the project through the first days of March—before the start of the quarantine period due to Covid-19, at which point we started to look for other ways to fulfill our mission.

Our strategy had to change, but that didn’t mean the impact of our message had to. We started to look at ways in which to use the quarantine period as a way to promote reconnecting with our natural environment—by taking time to walk outside or to”dig our feet in the dirt” as Karen Maness would say.

And so we decided to look within our UT community for help by featuring Local Heroes, local figures who actively work for a sustainable future, and other community members through a video selfie challenge to share how they view this important topic. We received video responses from numerous UT faculty, staff and students describing their work and why they do what they do—videos which can be seen at Texas Applied Arts’ Facebook and Instagram page.

Pre-Covid-19 post draft. Research by Andrea Pantoja, design by Laura Godinez and Terry Nguyen.

We also shifted our focus to documenting this semester’s work so that a future iteration of this project can pick up where we left off—this includes social media strategies, installation blueprints, sound files, etc.

It was plenty of fun working on this project but also quite eye-opening. The amount of work that needs to be done for a sustainable future is one that can only be done by joining together for the cause of an environmentally safe Earth.

Battle of Waller Creek image, more found on Texas Applied Arts’ Facebook and Instagram page. Research by Ramiro Caballero and design by Laura Godinez.
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Waller Creek Project Reflection

Desired Outcomes

As part of the Waller Creek Monster Project, I believe we aimed to provide the central Texas community with learning outcomes that encompass three main themes. These include:

  • Sustainability: For the celebration of Earth Month, this project aimed to emphasize the need to take action with the onset of Climate Change through the collaborative creation of a Sustainability Roadmap, which shows clear ways to help the environment in our very own community.
  • Research: This project aimed to promote the ecological research being done in our very own Waller Creek at the heart of the UT campus, asserting that our urban environments are just as essential for our understanding of how to care for the planet as the Amazon rainforest.
  • Mental Health: This project aimed to highlight the benefits urban nature found right on campus can provide a plethora of mental benefits for student stress and anxiety, and provided this with the creation of a relaxing soundscape, yoga classes, and many other relaxing activities.

Stakeholders and Collaborators

Our main stakeholders are the Office of Sustainability, who were generous enough to fund our project through their Green Fund grant. Kristin Phillips, the office Communications Coordinator, was very involved in our project, often attending our class to provide us with feedback and helping out in any way she was able.

The most prominent collaborator of the Social Engagement team, which I was a part of, would certainly be Lauren McKinney, a Junior Sustainability Studies student who researched and organized the content for our Sustainability Roadmap. Her hard work was transformed into an interactive PDF that would allow a user to choose how they would “take action” out of a wide degree of options ranging from simple tasks such as signing a petition, to more complicated undertakings such as doing ecological research with a faculty member.

Making the Invisible Visible

One of the most gratifying elements of our Earth Day project was its goal to make urban nature such as our own Waller Creek more visible to the public eye. This stream that runs through the heart of campus is more often than not ignored by the public. Even worse, some wouldn’t even consider this creek “real nature” given its seeming lack of pristine beauty. The Sound team did a wonderful job of affirming that the benefits of being in nature are found on campus and waiting for someone to indulge in them. The Social Engagement team’s signage really served to underscore Waller Creek as a significant site of research for the effects of Urbanization and Climate Change in ecosystems. Overall, I believe our project would have been successful in making the invisible visible.

Discovering Sustainability

Given my background in researching urban environments for the Freshman Research Initiative, I assumed there wouldn’t be much left for me to learn regarding sustainability, but I was very wrong. I knew sustainability was a multifaceted subject that was gaining relevance with the effects of Climate Change which we have already begun to see. What I didn’t know was that the burden of these changes have been placed on the average consumer for decades, and that only recently have people taken on the large corporations who are mostly to blame. No matter how successful these sustainability movements are in these ventures, I find assurance in the fact that change starts with people, and it can start now with the promotion of caring for our urban nature with our Earth Day installation. This project served to strengthen my belief that urban nature is just as valid as nature that is yet to see the effects of human activity, and positive change will come when the general public finds this to be true, as well. Hopefully the Waller Creek Monster project will help make that happen.

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Reflecting on Waller Creek

Even though our project will not completely launch this year, it has already begun to impact our community. Students and faculty at our university have already begun to think more conservatively and notice our beautiful creek. People are taking note of their actions and are thinking more green. I hope people continue to notice the environment around them and realize we need to take care of our wonderful planet. Recycling, watching where you throw your trash, and even something so easily as walking to school can truly make a difference! Sitting by a creek and taking a moment to relax can also affect your mood in a more positive way. If our project is starting to affect people now, I cannot wait until next year when it is in full effect!

One of the groups our team worked closely with was the members of the MindBody Lab. This group taught us more on the importance of mental wellness and how to take care of it. It was interesting to learn exactly wich sounds and music styles can help to benefit a person mentally. It was also fun developing my skills as a composer and sound designer more. Using what we have learned we were able to write three songs each with differing style but equally calming. We made sure to implant these methods in our soundscape and activities such as yoga. Yoga can be helpful by letting you take a moment to focus on just breathing instead of your surroundings.

It is hard sometimes remaining calm in stressful times, but with the right help you can at least feel a little better. It is especially important during times like these to take a moment to check on yourself. We have made our music public so that people may take time to relax to it if they wish. I will leave a link to mine below! We want to do all we can to help people struggling, so we hope that our music can give some relief. Remember to practice self care: listen to some calming music, do some yoga at home, or sit down and take a moment to reflect. Also make sure talk to those around you if you are having a hard time.

Next year when this project starts up again I want to be a part of it. I believe it is important to teach our community on the importance of sustainability and mental wellness. We worked hard planning the soundscape and the yoga classes, and I am excited to see our plans come to fruition next year! Hopefully other members of the project will rejoin next year as well. This project has turned out to be bigger than I could have ever imagined! No matter what happens I cannot wait until next year to see little creek monster come to life!

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Looking Back on 2020’s Waller Creek Project

Early brainstorming for the Waller Creek Earth Day Project, taken in January.

What a year these past few weeks have been. Gatherings like the one pictured above feel like a distant memory at this point.

I had initially gone into this project just hoping to get some audio hardware experience under my belt, but quickly found myself becoming invested and excited to share the creek with the rest of the campus. Creating student relaxation areas from the creek’s natural ambience as well as efforts to lead creek clean-ups were constantly at the front of my mind. I was eager to make the UT community more cognizant of Waller Creek and for the physical area to become a small hotspot for the student body. The prospect of the physical soundscape becoming a more permanent installment in the future was even more exciting!

As March began to barrel down at us and news of a virus on the other side of the world closed in on us though, my enthusiasm admittedly gave way to resignation. First, our additional in-person events were cancelled; next, our main Earth Day events. Finally, the soundscape itself fell through the cracks as the campus was closed to non-essential bodies. It would be hard for someone not to throw their hands up into the air and leave the project on the cutting room floor. The rest of my classmates marched on though, and I was compelled to do the same. Now that we’re in the midst of creating production books that will allow future classes to finish what we’ve started, it’s given me time to reflect on what exactly I was hoping to accomplish with the Waller Creek Project.

What I became most excited for with this project was the prototyping of a future outdoor student relaxation area via the soundscape. Being able to have a hand in creating an environment that can give back to the student body would have been wonderful. After learning about the various contaminants in the creek, I was also hoping to help educate the campus on the impact and ways they could get involved in cleanup. This project has opened my eyes to the plethora of organizations, services, and classes that UT houses dealing with the various facets of environmental wellbeing. Sharing this awareness is something I hope the project has still achieved, even in its entirely digital form. As a quick aside, I applaud all my classmates for the hard work they’ve put into this project since day one and for adapting so quickly to the project’s new form. There was also a surprising intersection with mental wellbeing, and I deeply appreciate now being aware of these materials and services such as the MindBody Labs.

I hope that once this project is seen through to completion, the student body at UT becomes more conscious and conscientious of the very land we learn on, as working on the project has done for me.

Reflections on the Creek Monster & Other Thoughts

Everything’s weird, everything has been weird lately– especially the Creek Monster Project– as a result of the virus. I joined the class thinking I would get away from the normal routine of sitting in front of a computer all day long but when the project started I immediately went back to my roots and chose to join the team focused on the internet! That’s okay though. It’s what I do best, and it feels good when I’m able to contribute meaningfully.

After everything, I hope the UT community has a better outlook on precisely how much they can do to help things. Everyone is so concerned about not making a difference, but according to every time travel movie, book, and story, the characters are so afraid of doing one tiny thing that causes massive change for the future (I’m looking at you, The Sound of Thunder…). The best day to plant a tree was twenty years ago but the second best day is today! People can individually plant trees, mind their waste, *and* go out to tell off those enormous companies that pour poison directly into the mouths of fish in the river.

(Side note: Austrian Wine Poisoning of the 1980s; wine manufacturers were putting in chemicals in their wine that made it taste sweeter, but caused paralysis and brain damage in people. When the scandal started surfacing, they got rid of the wine by pouring it into the river, destroying all life there, and subsequently outed themselves. This really isn’t anything new, and it’s one of the few that are actually publicized)

I hope people understand the magnitude, the scope of what they can do. I know everyone already knows about it, but so much life has returned to our planet now that people aren’t emitting as much pollution by being out. I know people have family to take care of and bills to pay, there’s a delicate balance that needs to be struck. But at least we know now that it’s more than possible. There’s a lot at stake, but they aren’t immediately visible. It’s the long term effects of what we do to the planet. I’m not worried about us ruining the Earth yet, but I believe more in the eventual purge of humans if we keep this up. One day the Earth says, “I’ve had enough” and out we go.

The Creek Monster is fun, it’s imaginary. It confronts people non-threateningly, and that works for a lot of people. Some people however have to be confronted less gently. I guess this is our little niche in the activism front, and I think that’s perfectly fine. Before the project I was aware of the situation, but was passive in its action. It feels good, it feels relieving to think that I helped out, even a little. I think it’s given me more confidence in being more outspoken about the matter. I’m not going to be selfish and not care because it really doesn’t affect me, but it will affect the people I love that live in a later time than me. It’s a source of empathy.

Waller Creek Build

I believe that working on the Creek Monster Habitat project has been a very fulfilling experience. This project has given me the opportunity to step away from the typical number-crunching engineering courses and allowed me to be creative and be a part of something significant. Initially, I was put in charge of the lantern aspect of our project. Our plan was to make lanterns using plastic bottles and letting people decorate them and encourage them to bring them along during the procession; however, due to some concerns of not being able to recycle the plastic after they were decorated, we decided to get rid of this idea. Thus, I began helping others with whatever they needed. The very first thing we did was assemble the nest which surprisingly did not take very long. Next, I helped make the signs for our installation. This was a very fun process since I enjoy doing hands-on work. I mainly cut down the pieces of wood to the appropriate dimensions and began assembling the frames for the small signs. 

            

I also contributed to the project by collecting the Arundo which we were going to use to dress the nest. That morning was quite eventful since we managed to get the UT truck, which we had borrowed to collect the material, stuck in the mud. 

Our goal for our Earth Day Project is to create awareness about the impact our actions can have on the environment. We also want to instill a sense of appreciation for nature and the animals that rely on it to survive. Unfortunately, one of the biggest obstacles we’ve faced in this project is the current pandemic situation. The University has closed and as a result, we are no longer able to work on the physical aspects of our project. Moving forward, we will be helping out the social media team to create some sort of content. 

#CreekMonster

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