Water tanks are one of the most identifiable landmarks in the New York City skyline. When artist, filmmaker, and activist Mary Jordan returned from Ethiopia in 2007, she saw the tanks not just as symbols of the city but as monuments to the abundant access to clean water that Americans take for granted.
Jordan had fallen ill and been nursed back to health during her travels. The women who cared for her asked her to repay them with a promise: to raise awareness about water scarcity and contamination in a world where 1 billion people still do not have access to clean water.
She founded the nonprofit Word Above the Street, whose mission is to foster environmental awareness, education, and social advocacy through large-scale public art projects. And she decided to turn those symbolic water tanks into billboards for the cause.
Brining that vision to life has taken several years, but at the end of August, her long-planned Water Tank Project finally launched. Several tanks in downtown Manhattan are currently wrapped in works of temporary art by Laurie Simmons (Lena Dunham’s mother), Odili Donald Odita, Sigrid Calon, Lorenzo Petrantoni, Tessa Traeger, and Jordi Forniés.
The artwork was installed by Isseks Brothers, one of a handful of family-run, generations-old businesses that constructs and maintains the city’s water tanks.
“I am so grateful that, with the help of so many people, I am able to say that I have fulfilled the promise I made seven years ago to the tribe in Africa that saved my life,” said Jordan in a press release. “We are creating symbols of water abundance and raising awareness about our global water issue, one tank at a time.”
The artworks will stay up through the end of October. A map on the project website includes locations of tanks as they are wrapped.
Correction, Sept. 11, 2014: The fourth photo’s caption originally misidentified the water tank’s artist and location. It is by Jordi Forniés, not Tessa Traeger, and it is located at 123 E. 15th St., not 110 Fulton St.