This is one of the more worthwhile things I’ve done with my life. Before I took this class, I knew almost nothing about water or the life of a city worker. And those may sound like obscure things, but water is essential to everyone’s survival, and we shouldn’t neglect those who relentlessly serve us in society.
On the first day of fieldwork, I felt insanely uncomfortable and out of place. Which is really good. The guys quickly took me under their wing and opened up, even though I was an annoying outsider taking notes on everything they said. I took tours of the plants and learned about the ridiculously complicated and dense process of creating a clean glass of water.
But as I started to understand the basics of their job, I got to understand who the guys were. I worked with Jimmy, Sebby, Frank, and Mike throughout the art-making process, and they operate the Higby & John S Roth Treatment Plants. Four guys for two entire plants the whole city depends on. It blew my mind.
They all resisted the artmaking process throughout our time together, but they still agreed to perform at Feet to the Fire. It was out of their comfort zone. “That’s why we’re plant operators,” they said. But they still performed wonderfully, and had many fans approach them after the show.
This class has made me ask the question, “What is the value of creativity?” We encourage our kids to be creative. The government will write grants to put projects like this on. Art and culture itself is one of the more widely consumed things in America, especially by those in power.
But what is the lasting value of creativity in this situation? What is the sustainability of our project? Sure, the process was amazing and a worthwhile endeavor within itself, but what will last when we leave? Many of the guys will say their view of their job might change, or their bonds within the workplace have been strengthened. But what changes will occur institutionally because of this?
This is why I find it imperative for these kinds of classes to be taught at colleges. University students, upon graduation, will enter the world and fill leadership positions because of their degree and expertise. But who do you want to be in charge? Someone with an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality, or someone who has engaged for months with city workers and understands the different spheres of life? Someone in it for the money, or someone who values communication and creativity because it fosters a healthier community? The answer is pretty clear.