Sewer District’s second educator/artist in residence to focus on water outreach with local youth

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Charles Payne is a local storyteller, advocate and social artist

MADISON — Charles Payne, a self-taught social artist who uses his creative skills to spark change, has been selected as Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District’s second Educator/Artist in Residence. Through this one-year residency, Payne will connect with community members, focusing on youth, through outreach and education activities to elevate 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 Charles will do to help the District engage the community in creative ways to inspire water stewardship.”

In addition to being a social change artist, Payne is a certified teacher, storyteller, writer and advocate for community change and community-based organizations. He uses his creative skill and platform to help lift the voices of underserved communities, elevate important issues, and forge connections between the two. Originally from Michigan, as a child, Payne loved hearing the sound of Paul Harvey’s voice and his innate ability to describe every intricate detail; Harvey inspired him to become a storyteller.

Payne will bring elements of both his storytelling and community work to the residency. His goal is to connect youth with a water advocacy curriculum that allows them to take ownership of water issues important to them and encourage their participation in water advocacy events.

“I aim to use my residency to create community advocates that interface with the Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District’s wealth of knowledge and educational resources,” says Payne. “Through newsletters and storytelling events, I hope to explore different themes of water advocacy. Water makes a big difference in people’s wellness. Along with Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District, I will be working to support parks, schools, public transit, etc., to make water more accessible to people and support other initiatives related to water advocacy.”

Through this residency, Payne’s work will educate youth in the community on the “One Water” concept, which reflects that all 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 manages the residency program. “By changing how we think about and use this critical resource, we can improve the quality of life for us all. The task of this residency is to share the message far and wide and strengthen community water connections.”

Payne looks forward to sharing the story of the Nine Springs Wastewater Treatment Plant and helping local residents forge connections between their actions and our shared water resources.

“When I toured the plant, it really opened my eyes,” says Payne. “This is not something I knew about growing up, and I want other kids of color to have that same experience and see how important it is to protect all our water resources.”

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More about Charles Payne

A 2022 The Magnetic Theatre New Play Development Playwright, the play Payne wrote, “Da Classroom Ain’t Enuf,” was an American Players Theatre New Voices: Creating the Classics of Tomorrow semi-finalist and a Wisconsin Wrights 2022 New Play Development project finalist. The play was workshopped and staged in summer 2022 with the help of a grant from Clemson University Theatre Department and The Magnetic Theatre for its June 2023 debut.

He is also a contributor to Isthmus and Madison Magazine. In addition, he is the Arts+Literature Laboratory’s inaugural ALL Originals Prize winner, won the Moth’s Inaugural Central GrandSLAM storytelling competition, and recently qualified and competed in the Madison and Milwaukee GrandSlams.

Payne was a runner-up in the Button Poetry video contest, is an alumnus of The Social Distancing Festival, and a Monologue and Poetry Film Festival winner for best poetry pro short.

In his full-time position as a career pathways coordinator, Payne works with diverse organizations to expose individuals to health care careers while benefiting the community. For example, in Summer 2022, Payne guided nearly 30 virtual high school interns to write, design, and present water access advocacy projects in collaboration with UW Health (Healthy Kids Collaborative & Career Pathways); Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District; Sidekick Education (Chatbot); Wisconsin Alliance For Women’s Health (PATCH); Sustain Dane (Water Stewards Program); Centro Hispano (The Escalera Program); Urban League of Greater Madison (Project Reach Program), and; the Boys & Girls Club (AVID TOPS Program). In addition, Summer 2021, he guided over 50 paid and unpaid virtual high school interns to complete a Students For Streets Mobility Justice Photo Mapping Project to help create safer, more equitable access sidewalks, crosswalks and pathways for individuals of all abilities. The group presented its finding to the City of Madison, which acted on several recommended improvements.