We all need water. Fifty to sixty-five percent of our bodies are made up of the substance. Historically, access to fresh water served as a catalyst in the development of civilization. Water irrigation helped agricultural systems to flourish, in turn supplying a key component in the development of larger, more centralized communities. Civilization’s relationship with water also expanded access to other parts of the world, resulting in a global economy. Trans-continental shipping channels were created, serving as trade routes for food, clothing, electronics, and other consumer goods that shape the way we live.
Baltimore’s close proximity to water has played an integral role in the city’s development over the past three centuries. Similar to other port cities in the United States, Baltimore’s fisheries and shipping, manufacturing, and trade industries have provided abundant access to a burgeoning supply of consumer goods. But this progress comes with a cost, and concerned activists, scientists, artists, politicians, and other community members have voiced concerns about the environmental impact generated by such mass consumption. The impact is multi-faceted and, at this point, extends into economic, scientific, sociological, and even historical realms.
Synergy presents unique and multi-faceted artistic perspectives on water and consumer waste. Photographer Max Shuster, designer/environmentalist Bridget Parlato, and sculptors Brent Crothers and Leonard Streckfus have lived and worked in Baltimore City and have firsthand knowledge of how excess consumer waste affects local waters systems. With this in mind, they repurpose everyday materials, which have been removed from the waste stream, to create works of art.
The artwork is accompanied by a series of complementary essays, written by Johns Hopkins’ students Hannah Farkas (Economics and Global Environmental Change and Sustainability, 2017) and Justin Falcone (, 2015), that investigate topics such as environmental justice in Baltimore, water quality of the Inner Harbor, and impacts of research done on water systems here at Johns Hopkins University (JHU). Additional educational outreach to local primary schools and neighborhoods surrounding the JHU’s Homewood campus is activated through the River of Recyclables project, a community generated temporary sculptural installation and educational initiative. This project hopes to inspire discourse about problems and potential solutions with one-time use containers that are used to package the food and beverages we consume.
The design for Synergy was developed and executed with principles of sustainability in mind. The bases for Brent Crother’s work were reused from prior exhibitions at Maryland Institute College of Art. Other furniture and signage was built using reclaimed wood collected over the past year from other exhibition projects. All of Synergy’s display elements are designed to have a low impact to Gallery Q’s walls and floors. Equal attention will be given to the restoration of the exhibition space as was given to its production. Mindfulness of resources used, with an eye on reducing the exhibition’s consumption of non-essential building materials, creates a sustainable environment that others can use for years to come.