Sewer District welcomes artist-in-residence

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nipinet landsem selected to build a program including art, outreach and events to support conversations about water, water stewardship

MADISON — Local tattoo artist, illustrator and community educator nipinet landsem has been selected to serve as Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District’s first Artist in Residence. Through this one-year residency, landsem is charged with designing a program of art, outreach and events to connect the community through conversations about water and build an understanding of the essential role water plays for us all.

“Much of the wastewater process is unseen and often taken for granted,” says Michael Mucha, chief engineer and director of the District. “We look forward to the work nipinet will do to help the District engage the community in creative ways to inspire water stewardship.”

Landsem is an Indigequeer Anishinaabe and Michif artist currently based in Madison. They are a descendant of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa and are deeply drawn to the history of the lakes and prairies they grew up on. Landsem is passionate about using art to tell contemporary Indigenous stories. They have been telling these stories with their tattoo clients for four years and are co-owner of giige, an Indigenous and queer-owned and focused artist collective.

Landsem is also a catalyst for water protection, both locally and throughout the nation, particularly indigenous lands. For instance, they led Madison’s Walk for Water in May 2021 to raise awareness for water protection and the effects of Line 5 on Indigenous communities in Michigan.

“I aim to use this residency to create an interface connecting the Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District’s wealth of knowledge and educational resources to the wider Madison community,” says landsem. “Through art, beauty and a celebration of diversity and culture, this residency will explore themes of water as a living part of the community, traditional Indigenous and other cultural methods of creating relationships with water, and how diversity of experience informs each community members’ personal connection to the water they use every day.”

Through this residency, landsem’s work will elevate and educate the community on the “One Water” message: The water we have is finite — we can’t create more — and must work to respect every drop.

“We can’t create more water; what we have is all we’ll ever have,” says Catherine Harris, a pollution prevention specialist with the District who has been leading the work to develop this residency program. “By changing how we think about and use this critical resource, we can improve quality of life for us all. The task of this residency, with nipinet and future residents, is to share the message far and wide and strengthen community water connections.”

The catalyst for this residency is the District’s Shop One, a historic building and community space on the Nine Springs Wastewater Treatment Plant campus. The mission of Shop One is to provide the community with opportunities for hands-on interaction, exploration and experience with water and the One Water message.

landsem was selected for the residency through a deliberate yet competitive application process. The District brought together community, cultural and artist advisors to develop a strategy and a program that equitably centers the artist and community. More than 20 initial applications by highly qualified local artists and educators were received, and four finalists were invited to develop full proposals. It was further supported by a U.S. Water Alliance Arts Accelerator grant.

“As an Indigenous person engaged in my culture, I have a responsibility to the water. Indigenous people are protectors of the water,” says landsem. “Water brings people together. I will celebrate this connecting flow, utilizing my experience as an Indigenous community educator, activist and artist to bring together our shared water community with events and public arts practice.”

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