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Photos: Hiromi Okumura, Courtney Surmanek & Emma Hultin. Artwork: “Saving the World with Bluehead Chub” by Hiromi Okumura

SciArt Collaboration: Ecosystem Engineers in Freshwater Ecosystems


Collaborator with: Emmanuel Frimpong, Eugene Maurakis, and Hiromi Okumura. Supported by: The Center for Communicating Science’s SciArt Initiative. 


The vision for our interdisciplinary “SciArt” collaboration is to enhance the public’s appreciation and awareness of Deerfield Trail, freshwater ecosystems, and the remarkable life of freshwater nest building fishes. Specifically, we seek to highlight the unique story of the Bluehead chub, a freshwater fish that builds its nests one pebble at a time with its mouth.

Through arts-based experiences, the team is broadening understanding of the unique opportunities and challenges that lie ahead in protecting our freshwater ecosystems. Storytelling and story sharing on the bluehead chub, a recognizable and vital -- though too often overlooked -- fish will inspire recognition, appreciation, and ultimately stewardship of and advocacy for our freshwater ecosystems.


Project Highlights: 

  1. Science and art-based workshop with the general public
    Presented the first in 18 months in-person Science on Tap NRV event at Heritage Park in Blacksburg on July 28, 2021. The workshop was attended by about 50 people of a wide range of ages from toddlers to elders. 

  2. An Audio-Visual Exploration of Deerfield Trail
    Developing a 4-minute AV tour for visitors to Deerfield Trail in Blacksburg, VA. The video invites community members to learn about the integral role of the Bluehead chub in Toms Creek, the biodiversity in Deerfield Park and along the trail, and inspires a new relationship to freshwater ecosystems. 

  3. Ecosystem Engineers: A Nighttime Creative Exploration of Deerfield Trail 
    Developing a concept for a community-engaged encounter at Deerfield Trail combining projections and embodied engagement. The AV Exploration will kick off the on-site engagement. Deerfield Trail visitors will witness the activity abound under Toms Creek’s surface through site-responsive projections capturing the life and activity of Bluehead chubs. We are considering what the walk to the projections will look like, outreach, and creative ways to engage people as they make their journey to/from the projection sites. Guides will support and encourage visitors to activate their senses and observation skills through an artistic approach to discovery.

  4. Arts-based Workshops with Community Partners
    Piloted an arts-inspired workshop with the New River Valley Master Naturalists on October 18, 2021. The pilot featured storytelling and embodied exercises that support people of all ages in remembering and creatively engaging with science. By learning, moving, and making together, participants understand the unique opportunities and challenges that lie ahead in protecting our freshwater ecosystems. Storytelling and story sharing on the bluehead chub, a recognizable and vital--though too often overlooked--fish will inspire recognition, appreciation, and ultimately stewardship of and advocacy for our freshwater ecosystems.