Larimer is one of Pittsburgh's lesser known neighborhoods, but New York artist Betsy Damon discovered it during a lengthy stay in Pittsburgh preparing for the ongoing show "Feminist and..." at the Mattress Factory in the Central North Side.
A shallow pool of water in sand nearly fills the lower-level room in which Ms. Damon's work, "Water Rules -- Life, Pittsburgh: Seeking Lost Rivers, Living Waters of Larimer," is staged. Stepping stones lead viewers to the back of the room, where a topographic model shows Larimer sitting on a plateau surrounded by large strips of roadway while a short video plays. Sandbags are stacked on each side of the pool. Two catchment structures are stacked to create a waterfall that trickles into the pool.
The pool itself does not say "Larimer" any more than it says any place. As Ms. Damon states on her website, keepersofthewaters.org, all water is connected in a life-sustaining loop. A stream that runs to the Monongahela River runs to the Ohio River that runs to the Mississippi River that flows down to New Orleans and out into the Gulf Of Mexico.
Larimer just happens to be a terrific site for water retention. It sits above Negley Run Road and Washington Boulevard and has a significant grass-roots "green" plan that calls for a water collection project that would keep rain in the neighborhood from flowing out.
"Every drop," said Bob Bingham, an environmental artist who teaches at Carnegie Mellon University. He drove Ms. Damon around the area of the August 2011 deadly flooding on Washington Boulevard.
Mr. Bingham is writing a grant application for funds that would cover more than half of the $1.5 million cost of creating a conveyance system in Larimer to capture rain water and divert it to wetland demonstrations, to cisterns for reuse in the community garden, to an irrigation demonstration, an aquaponics greenhouse and a water park.
Ms. Damon and Mr. Bingham are collaborating on the project with the Larimer Green Team, the Kingsley Association and the Larimer Consensus Group.
"We are on a plateau, and also there is a lot of vacant land and condemned property in Larimer," said Albert Pantone, a manager of the Larimer Community Garden. "The time couldn't be more perfect to change the infrastructure to retain the water. We need green infrastructure, and if everybody got on board, the city would have less flooding and we would keep a natural resource" instead of letting it flow away.
Like Mr. Pantone, Deborah Jones is among several residents featured in the video in the Mattress Factory installation. She said residents are just as important to Larimer's revitalization as are the city and the Urban Redevelopment Authority.
"The community belongs to the people," she said.
During her time here, Ms. Damon met with groups to talk about hydraulic fracturing, visited Alcosan and sought out activist residents.
Water and environmental issues have been at the core of her own activism and art.
She hadn't done an installation in years, but the show's curator, Hilary Robinson, an art professor at Carnegie Mellon University, invited her to do one here, said Owen Smith, exhibits manager at the Mattress Factory.
Ms. Damon founded Keepers of the Waters in 1991 and has been using her vision, according to the Mattress Factory's website, to "inspire and promote projects that combine art, science, and community involvement to restore, preserve and remediate water sources."
The title of the show, for which Ms. Robinson chose six feminist artists, signifies that feminists aren't confined to so-called feminist issues.
"Feminist and ..." runs through May 26, 2013, at the Mattress Factory, which is located at 500 Sampsonia Way with its public entrance on Jacksonia Street.