Saving Rivers by Turning Toxins Into Art!

Posted on January 30, 2017 by Liesl Ulrich-Verderber

How can art help the environment recover from disaster?

We have all heard of the power art can help to heal people, but can it also work to heal ecosystems? Maybe we underestimate how powerful creativity can be when it is combined with science and a mission.

Image: Beautiful circle of swirling colors
Source: Chroma S4 Chimaera courtesy of John Sabraw (Copyright John Sabraw)

Rivers and streams across the world face massive amounts of pollution from mining, industry, and improperly treated sewage. Though they are the veins and arteries that carry life-giving water, they are constantly under threat.

In America’s abandoned centers of industry, long ago deserted mines are leaching toxins into rivers and streams. As they enter the waterways they turn them violent shades of yellow, orange, and red betraying their contamination.

In a seemingly unlikely collaboration, two professors at Ohio University, Guy Riefler and John Sabraw, are teaming up to combat river pollution and educate people about its impacts. Riefler is a civil engineer and Sabraw is an artist, and their work is just one of the many incredible examples of what can happen when science and art collide!

Here’s Great Big Story with more.

Painting with toxic sludge to change hearts, minds, and rivers.

I wanted to share one more video with you today. I love this video because it pinpoints why this kind of collaboration works. And really, why we need more innovation like this that looks past traditional academic boundaries and sees the potential in the places in between!


Though I love and adore science and art equally, I had never thought of the observation that Sabraw shared,

“Scientist and artists share two critical aspects: curiosity and failure…

The artist, like the scientist, has a crucial role to perform in our society: to see things differently, to act on this vision, and to report on successes and failures to the public.”

What a true statement.

We so often think of science as the antithesis of art, when in actuality they are compliments to one another, each sharing fundamental values.

This remarkable collaboration perfectly illustrates the monumental potential for innovation that is waiting out there as we choose to see the world in terms of its connections and not its differences.

Though we may not all be artists or scientists, the same is true for us as well. When we make an effort to see connection around us and refuse to be defined by one label of interest or identity we are afforded a view of our world filled with potential.

Stay beautiful & keep laughing!



There are threads of connection to be had everywhere and we love to celebrate them at EWC. So, if you want to dive in for yourself give our Surprise Me button a try! You’ll be sure to find something that sparks a little inspiration or wonder!

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