Ode to Estabrook Park

2018
In collaboration with Noah Monty and Professor Jasmine Benyamin

extraSTAGECRAFT is a design + build studio started with the creation of a narrative about our site along the Milwaukee River – Estabrook Dam in Shorewood, Wisconsin. The narrative and three objective terms drove the design of the film installation.

The Estabrook Dam was the subject of much controversy from the time of its completion in 1937 until its removal in 2018. Originally constructed to elevate water levels for recreational purposes, the dam did far more to obstruct water access than it did to promote it. In a sense, the dam became a dam for its own intentions, suffocating life, rather than letting it breathe. However, thanks to much public activism over the last half century, the dam was declared a public nuisance in 2012, paving the path towards its recent removal in Spring of 2018.

Now gone, water levels are expected to stabilize. The algae that once exhausted the river of its oxygen will return to normal levels. The fish will come back, reports say, as will their predators, and so on, and so forth. While change is not expected to occur overnight, one thing is certain: the future is looking bright for Estabrook Park, and the Milwaukee River it occupies. The presence of the dam bred improper waste drainage, severely polluting the water and making it unsafe for consumption. Now, the river will undergo a cleansing process- an act of starting over.

However, just because the ecology will improve, things will not just go back to how they used to be. The dam has forever altered the site, leaving behind scars and stains. Therefore, the purpose of the installation is to evoke a meditative reflection on the past, the present, and the invisible story. We can forget our history, but the past cannot go away. It is a part of us, just as the dam will forever be a part of Estabrook Park. The Benjamin Church House, the Milwaukee Cement Mill, and the Native American burial mounds these are all a part of the site’s invisible history and identity. They can be felt even when they cannot be seen. The importance of showing the occupant of the installation the past is to make the invisible, visible. It is meant to remind the viewer that we cannot change the past, but we can make the future better; therefore, it is up to us to do what we can to leave behind the best possible legacy for the next generation.

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