June 24, 2018

River Art: Exploring the Jordan River through three-year art project

|||||| |||||| ||||||

By Van Hoover

I didn’t fall in love with the Jordan River on the first date. It was more like the 500th date. Originally it was the backdrop of my bike commute. An unimpressive “bottom of the water shed” kind of river that seemed like it had been treated like a canal over the years rather than a real river.

I grew up poking around the Provo and Weber Rivers, trout fishing and catching snakes along the clear mountain streams. The murky nature of the Jordan didn’t do a whole lot for me in comparison.

Biking was my initial endeavor. I wondered if I could bike the river trail from Midvale to Salt Lake to get to school and work. The endeavor took over two hours initially, but it was exciting to get a workout and avoid driving my car. I started to ride the trail in all four seasons and began to log hundreds of hours on the trail each year.

I began noticing beautiful things: on cold mornings in the winter, water vapor rises off the river and into the light peaking over the Wasatch. The pelican’s arrival in the late spring. The yearly arrival of the same Bald Eagle to the same Cottonwood tree each January. Noticing a Kestrel Falcon drop out of the sky and come up with a mouse. It seemed like, as I started to pay attention to the space around me, the more I noticed these awesome things happening. I was starting to connect with the river and all the life that it attracted.

I decided to get more involved. The Jordan River Community Initiative is a project that resulted from attending the West Side Leadership Institute. I jumped into the endeavor of experiential learning and community leadership. I met other people that were passionate about the river and wanted to improve it, including Gilberto Rejon Magana, the Founder of Hartland Community 4 Youth and Family. We’ve since spent many an hour beautifying the river in different ways and engaging our different communities in river projects.

I decided to take my camera along for the ride and try to capture some of the moments that I experienced on the river. We started sharing the images on social media.

A few years ago, we pitched an idea of creating art murals on old vandalized signs to Lewis Kogan with SLC Open Space. We found funding with the help of the Jordan River Commission to create a Jordan River Art Project that engaged the community in canoeing and river art murals. The project spanned three years and engaged hundreds of community members, youth groups, local community artists, other non-profits, and property owners along the river. After three years and countless hours planning, coordinating, and executing the project, we created over 30 art pieces along the Salt Lake section of the Jordan River and got hundreds of community members involved.

Taking the Jordan River route was the catalyst for adding many valuable experiences and relationships in my life.