As attendees entered Cantor auditorium for the last Water Bar session, they were greeted by water bartenders who stood behind tables with numbered cups of water. The interactive Water Bar exhibit set up stations where water-tenders served attendees samples of tap water from different sources, such as San Jose, Stanford and Oakland, and conversed about topics related to water.
According to Julie Delliquanti, director of education at Cantor, Water Bar attracted an estimated 200 attendees each day it was open. Although scheduled to take place over six Saturdays in Cantor’s inner courtyard, two days were cancelled due to rain and the last water bar was moved to the auditorium.
Water-tenders – consisting of students, faculty or representatives of public organizations that share an interest in water – fostered dialogue with attendees and encouraged them to characterize how each sample tasted.
“You can definitely tell that Three [San Jose] is a different water source from what we have here,” said Alexandria Boehm, a professor of civil and environmental engineering who attended the event and sampled each water.
Delliquanti suggested that Water Bar can enhance the way attendees experience art in the museum.
“We’re hoping that when people come to Water Bar, they will slow down, have a conversation with a stranger, learn to talk a little bit and use some words and descriptors, and learn about an organization that they might not know about, and then go back into the galleries and apply that … to looking at paintings and sculptures,” Delliquanti said.
Water Bar accompanied the exhibition “California: The Art of Water,” an examination of California’s relationship with water that will close on Nov. 28. The exhibition of paintings and photography contrasts the portrayal of California as a resource-rich paradise with depictions of the changes wrought by human environmental manipulation.
“‘California: The Art of Water” is an exhibition that seemed to naturally be a good fit for some sort of public engagement program,” Delliquanti said. “Everybody can identify with something that happens with water; you have a swimming pool, you went to the beach, you drink water every day.”
The original Water Bar project was created by Works Progress Studio, a Minneapolis-based studio that links creative expression and community engagement. Cantor brought Colin Kloecker, one of the leaders of Works Progress Studio, for a weeklong residency at Stanford to discuss his work and help launch the first Water Bar at Cantor.
According to Delliquanti, Kloecken’s main request was for attendees to be greeted with “Welcome to Water Bar. Water is all we have,” a slogan which refers both to the fact that the bar serves only water and, more fundamentally, that water is central to all aspects of life.
At Cantor, Water Bar conveyed this centrality by bringing in community groups whose work is rooted in understanding water, such as San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory (SFBBO), a nonprofit committed to conservation of birds and their habitats.
Eric Lynch, a seasonal ecologist on the habitats team at SFBBO, said that he hoped water-tending would raise community awareness of the baylands and promote SFBBO’s restoration efforts.
“We try to raise awareness of the baylands as much as possible, especially with rising sea levels, which is something we believe will affect people more and more as time goes on,” Lynch said.
According to Delliquanti, Cantor and organizations such as SFBBO serve the common purpose of benefiting the entire community.
“We can put artwork on the walls and open the doors, but without the public, we’re just a space that houses things,” Delliquanti said. “We’re just a repository. The museum comes alive when the public comes in. Water Bar comes to life when the public comes in.”