Coming back to Austin after my first year away at Wesleyan University, Forklift granted me the opportunity to look at my hometown through a new lens. I learned a lot about community organizing as I conducted initial research for Forklift’s upcoming multi-year project with the city’s Aquatics program. Austin is currently creating the city’s first ever master plan for pools, and I went to all of the community meetings centered on public pools and talked to numerous stakeholders, including neighborhood leaders and activists, lifeguards, city planning staff, and longtime pool users.
After spending the summer with Allison, Krissie and the Forklift team, I’ve come to the conclusion that well-informed community-based art is an ideal method to engage with a city and build bridges between divided communities. It’s fun, and it allows people to tap into their creative sides. Watching how the city redesigns the aquatics system in Austin will be interesting, but regardless of what happens, Forklift will be there to make a dance about it.
In an age of technology addiction and disconnectivity, public parks and pools are one of the last public spaces where we are encouraged to unplug and come together as people. There is a rich, unnoticed culture that takes place. There are many unique relationships and dynamics between lifeguards and swimmers, and all people—old and the young, black, white, Latino and Asian—come together for the love of water and escape from the heat.
I took a lot of photographs during my summer at a lot of different pools in Austin. Shooting swimmers in the water was very enriching for me artistically, and it will hopefully provide some groundwork and context for future fieldwork ahead!
Words and photos by Julian Johnson, Wesleyan University ’19