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Public Art and the Beauty of Sewage Treatment

Most of us have a love-hate relationship with mandatory public art funding. Sometimes the results are seriously wonderful and sometimes they’re seriously silly…money well-spent, or money mis-spent.

Wooden walkway, mountains and outfall: Image of the San Jose/Santa Clara Water Pollution control plant by photographer-in-residence Robert Dawson (Robert Dawson via mercurynews.com)

This public art project in my view is seriously wonderful. Noted environmental photographer Robert Dawson has spent the past year as the “photographer-in-residence” at the San Jose/Santa Clara sewage treatment plant, a $65,000 project made possible by a city public art ordinance which sets aside 1% funding of selected capital improvement projects for public art.

This is a fantastic proposition as this plant, one of the largest such facilities in California, serves 1.5 million people who’d probably like to have a look at they’ve paid for, as well as what they will be paying for over the next couple decades as the facility embarks on a major 15-year renovation.

A strange conundrum for those who must convince the public to fund large water projects is the fact that most of the infrastructure is invisible to the public (until a pipe bursts). Out of sight, out of mind. Public art is a wonderful way to illustrate that there’s a lot more involved in this process after the dirty water goes down one’s drain.

Many believe that what’s needed to fix crumbling water infrastructure is more money and more engineering. For starters, I think we could use more artists.

Read more about this project and view more photos at mercurynews.com, via Aquafornia
See more of Robert Dawson’s portfolio, which includes the fantastic Global Water Project and Water in the West.