Water Is Life Art Exhibit Series – Full Project Gallery


Thunderbird Woman by Isaac Murdoch

At Raíces Cultural Center, the EcoCulture crew believes that time has run out, and we must all make changes, take action, and seek alternatives and solutions, when it comes to the environment. We owe it to our lands, our waters, our air, our planet, our home, our children, and the children to come to become eco warriors – water protectors and land protectors alike – and to take action to ensure a more sustainable, resilient, just future for the earth and all her creatures.

Through all the work we have done in our own community, we can see and sense that many are blind to the fact that there is no time to wait, no time for small steps and minor victories. We must be the ones to make the change, it starts with us, and we must do it together. For us, it is one of the most pressing issues of the day.

We have continued to work in our community, and in our own personal lives, to raise awareness, make the necessary changes, and seek solutions to adapt and evolve with the changes we are experiencing in our natural world. We have continued to raise awareness and to call for all to come together as earth protectors to give us, our children, and those to come a chance for a better future.


In 2017, we extended our Eco-advocacy into the arts, working in collaboration with over a dozen community partners to launch the Water Is Life Art Exhibit Series in Downtown Highland Park. This project featured visual, performing and cultural arts to stimulate awareness about protecting our natural resources and the environment, especially in terms of water. The idea was to spread the message about the need for protection of and reverence to nature and the environment through the arts. Members of our community who might not be as likely to attend a workshop or lecture, watch documentaries or read books and articles about environmental destruction and activism, or participate in environmental programs might be inspired and stimulated by art to reflect on the protection of natural resources and our role in doing so.

Thunderbird Woman Flat Bag by Julia Marden

We started off with a pre-exhibit effort to clean up a small portion of the banks of the Raritan and turn the litter we collected into sculptures, and ended with a series of art exhibits featuring over 50 local and international artists and eco warriors inspired by the Water Is Life movement. From paintings to photographs, sculptures to handcrafts, collages and paper cut-outs to a model of an indigenous sailing vessel, each submission we received was special and gave us the opportunity to connect with artists and eco-warriors from as close as our hometown to as far away as Bucharest. This project was a true community effort and international cultural exchange, and we are grateful and thankful to all the water and earth protectors who were involved in this initiative in some way.


On October 7, 2017, Red Bank Artist Lisa Bagwell led a River Clean Up and EcoArt Workshop as part of the Raíces Cultural Center Water Is Life Project. Although a beautiful group of about 20 eco-warriors came together that day to tackle the litter problem on just a small section of the banks of the Raritan River, it would be incorrect to say it was a great day, or a fun day, or a successful day. Really, the day was heartbreaking, and we experienced wave after wave of sadness as we gathered yet another bag of garbage from our local river’s banks. The feelings I felt would only be explained later through the storytelling reflections on the project by our director, and my friend, Francisco G. Gómez.

The heartbreak we felt during this project for the true ecological catastrophe we were witness to as we removed as much plastic, foam, and other debris from the banks of the Raritan River as we could was alleviated just a little bit by the positive energy of the volunteers who came out and the willingness to work together on a project meant to raise awareness within our wider community. The river fish that were created with the art collected are currently hanging on the awning of Blank Space Highland Park and will remain there until spring of 2018.

Thanks to artist Lisa Bagwell, Middlesex County Conservation Corps coordinator Griffith Boyd, and all of the volunteers, friends and community members who came out to lend a helping hand, to each and every one of you who shared to help spread the word about this project, and to the very many members of our community who do the endless work of water protectors and earth protectors every day.


A dozen community groups, organizations, businesses and HP borough commissions were involved in the preparation, promotion and presentation of this project. Additional helping hands were provided by over 25 volunteers from the Highland Park and surrounding communities who were involved in the different programs, including the Water Is Life river clean up and the opening reception of the exhibit series. It was an exciting couple of months after we put out the call for art for the exhibit series. Every submission and artwork delivery built up our anticipation for the opening reception event, as we saw the exhibit coming together. It was in the weeks leading to the exhibit opening


Before the reception began, some of the visiting and local artists, co-sponsors, organizers and volunteers gathered at the Water Is Life electronic sign, to stand together for the earth. It kicked off the gathering of eco-warriors. We wish to thank the Highland Park Police Department supporting for the local arts by promoting the exhibit information and for sharing the message that Water Is Life on their electric message board.

The opening reception event for the Water Is Life Project included exhibit openings in three locations and three storefront windows, a cultural presentation by Raíces Cultural Center, and storytelling by Raíces director Fransisco G. Gómez as well as visiting artists Christi Belcourt and Isaac Murdoch. There were over 50 artists represented in the exhibit series, both local, national and international, with artists traveling from as far away as Canada, Vermont, Michigan and Oregon to participate in the opening reception or coming later in the exhibit to view the shows and pick up their artwork. Raíces wishes to thank all of the co-sponsors, artists, culture bearers, volunteers, business owners, supporters, photographers and community members that were a part of this project. This was a true community effort and international cultural exchange.


Lisa Bagwell was one of the featured artists in the Water Is Life Art Exhibit Series and was one of our most involved collaborators on the project. Lisa held her second annual EcoArt Solo Exhibit with Raíces as part of this project, highlighting the problem of plastic in the waters with sculptures made entirely from plastic refuse.

As part of this project, Lisa also led the Raritan River clean up event followed by an EcoArt workshop where over 20 community volunteers collected hundreds of pounds of litter from the banks of the Raritan and used a portion of it to create three new river fish sculptures (scroll up for the full album). These river fish sculptures and Lisa’s solo exhibit were on display in Blank Space Highland Park from October 28-December 13, allowing it to impact thousands of community members who use the space for co-working and programming, as well as those who pass by the storefront every day and see the river fish awning display. The river fish will remain on display on the awning storefront until the spring, when they will be moved to the Eugene Young Environmental Education Center on River Rd for the remainder of 2018.

Check out more of Lisa’s work on her website and her artist Facebook page and Instagram account.


At Chamber 43, 50 prints of artwork by indigenous artists and eco-warriors Christi Belcourt and Isaac Murdoch were on display. Isaac Murdoch’s “Thunderbird Woman” doodle was the inspiration behind the group exhibit, and both Christi and Isaac gave us their blessings to feature and share their artwork in one of the exhibits in the series. They also joined us for the opening on their Sacred Earth Tour. It was a pleasure to meet, share, and break bread with them and we continue to follow their work with the Onamam Collective and their language and culture camp Nimkii Aazhibikoong.


After the opening reception, the vaka remained on display in the windows of 431 Raritan and the group exhibit moved to Tiger Arts Supply so it could be publicly accessible during the shop’s open hours until the show came down. Tiger Arts Supply owner Veronica Winford loved having the exhibit in her store so much, she asked for it to be extended until Christmas.



While the Water Is Life Art Exhibit Series has passed, we have more media and info coming soon for you. What else is to come?

  • Water Is Life Digital Archive Exhibit on the Raíces Digital Archive, launching in February of 2018. This exhibit will also include all digital submissions we received during the course of this project.
  • Artist page with full listing of artists and links to their bios and art pages, as well as social media profiles.
  • Film screening of We the 7th by Seth Sutton and We the 7th Collective and Elizabeth LaPensée’s animation Thunderbird Strike.
  • Videos taken during the opening reception by artists and attendees.



This program is made possible in part by funds from the Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders/Office of Culture & Heritage and the NJ State Council on the Arts/Department of State.

Additional financial and in-kind support was provided by a dozen community co-sponsors, as well as individual donations to the Raíces EcoCulture Program. Special thanks goes to our community co-sponsors: the Highland Park Arts Commission, NJ Food and Water Watch, Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership, Sustainable Highland Park, Who Is My Neighbor?, Inc., the Highland Park High School Environmental Club, Middlesex County Conservation Corps, Modern Art Solutions, Tiger Art Supply, Blank Space Highland Park, Chamber 43, Okeanos Foundation for the Sea, Rutgers University Students for Environmental Awareness, Through the Moongate and Over the Moon Toys and the Highland Park Ecology and Environmental Group.

Special thanks to all of the photographers who helped to document and record all the aspects of this program and allowed us to share them with our followers: Gabriel Gómez, Dexter Herman, Francisco G. Gómez, Nicole Wines, Veronica Winford and Irene Marx.

Most importantly, special thanks to YOU, our community members, neighbors, friends and supporters, for helping us to make this happen! We couldn’t do it without you!