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January - April, 2018

Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education, Philadelphia, PA

Featured artists: Camp Little Hope (Walker Tuefts, Aislinn Pentecost-Farren), Matthew Friday, Dylan Gauthier, Ana Berta Hernandez, Mare Liberum, Sandy Sorlien, Danielle, Toronyi

“Names are the way we humans build relationship, not only with each other but with the living world.”


-Robin Wall Kimmerer

What’s in a name? It’s one of the first things we ask someone when we meet them, yet often quickly forgotten. It’s often something given to us by others, yet expected to serve as a distillation of our identity. Who gets to decide a name is often a question layered with power dynamics, whether it be a people, places, organisms, ecosystems.

Yet, despite these complexities, in a 2017 New York Times op-ed, from which the title of this show is taken, Akiko Busch writes, “Giving something a name is the first step in taking care of it.” Thinking of bodies of water, a name is an opening, a prelude, a microcosm, a way to be known – a first step on the pathway to meaningful connections between people and nature.  This exhibition is guided by this question: how can art help us to know a river’s name, to not only value it but know it, and therefore to seek to steward it?  With a focus on waterbodies in the Mid-Atlantic region, seven artists explore rivers and streams that are neighbors to the Schuylkill Center — the Schuylkill, Delaware, Brandywine, and Hudson Rivers.

Learn a River’s Name consists of artworks and art investigations that provide inroads to getting to know our rivers.  It includes projects that incorporated deep and focused engagement with a particular river, watershed, or stream.  Featured alongside final products are relics from artistic processes by which an artist got to know a river in ways that might feel a lot like how we might get to know a person.  Learn a River’s Name also includes art works that reveal something unseen about a water body’s characteristics, its essential nature.

Wendell Berry wrote, “People exploit what they have merely concluded to be of value, but they defend what they love, and to defend what we love we need a particularizing language, for we love what we particularly know.” Learn a River’s Name is an invitation to us to better know a river near us, a call to action to know not just its name, but its features, its needs, and how we can be a good neighbor to it.

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