With help of NAU experts, ‘Parched’ documentary brings urgency to Southwest water crisis

Experts looking at the effects of drought in the Southwest

Water in the Southwest has been a source of conflict for many years. To highlight the urgency of addressing water problems, the Flagstaff Arts Council is hosting the Parched Documentary Film Premiere online from 5-7 p.m. on Dec. 10. The documentary goes behind-the-scenes of the art installation, “Parched: The Art of Water in the Southwest” to show how it was created.

The art installation, which opened on Sept. 11 at the Coconino Center for the Arts, was created by eight Arizona-based artists and explores the complexity of water in the face of climate change and increasing populations. It is a combination of art and science with urgency at its core, tapping into emotions and asking viewers to pull meaning from the science and reflect their responses to the water crisis.

The documentary, along with a virtual exhibit launching this week, was developed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic as a way for people to engage with the artists and their work from home, expanding the outreach of the exhibit beyond the gallery walls. The documentary provides an inside look on the art exhibit, which allows artists to voice their thoughts on the crisis and share the inspiration for their pieces.

“We wanted ‘Parched’ not only to educate, but to offer people an emotional connection to water,” said Jane Marks, a producer and professor of biological sciences and researcher at the Center for Ecosystem Science and Society (Ecoss) at NAU. “Water in the Southwest has long been a source of concern and conflict. Understanding these tradeoffs and conflicts requires people to appreciate multiple aspects of water.”

‘Parched’ also illuminates the deep inequities and injustices in the ways that water is managed and used.

“Although much of Colorado River’s watershed includes Native lands, 30 percent of people on the reservations don’t have safe drinking water,” Marks said.

Many of the artists wanted to emphasize the perspectives of the Native communities to bring more awareness to the environmental injustices they face. The documentary discusses the conflicting uses of water for agriculture, recreation, households and nature and how current water policies manifest social and cultural inequities. Above all, it demands that water needs to be treated with more respect.

‘Parched’ was produced by Ecoss in collaboration with the Flagstaff Arts Council and funded by The National Endowment for the Arts, National Science Foundation and Arizona Humanities. Marks; Joshua Biggs, marketing manager of the Marketing Department; Neal Galloway; lecturer in the School of Art; Debra Edgerton, assistant professor in the School of Art; and Jani Ingram, professor of chemistry and biochemistry all contributed to the project.