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Watershed Education is a Ball

Sorlien_1When our own educator and photographer Sandy Sorlien began rowing the Schuylkill River, she was struck by its natural beauty, plentiful wildlife and raw power. But her camera lens drew her to something else, something more mysterious.

“I noticed numerous balls floating down the river and stuck in bushes. Soccer balls, kick balls, baseballs, basketballs – you name it,” said Sorlien, who has taught photography at several universities and earned three fellowships from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. “I began shooting them, and collecting them. Eventually, the collection became more interesting than the photos.”

These balls are the product of stormwater runoff, and Sorlien saw them as an opportunity to teach local families about the importance of urban watershed management. She earned a $1,000 grant from The Awesome Foundation to participate in Art in the Open, the annual arts festival along the Schuylkill Banks. The idea: engage families visually through “Rescue H2O,” using magnets to connect the balls and create what appear to be colorful water molecules.

“It was very popular,” said Sorlien, who is also an expert in urban zoning and planning. “The balls with magnets were attracted to each other and clumped together. Sometimes they made H2O (one large Oxygen ball and two smaller Hydrogen balls) and sometimes they didn’t, similar to atoms randomly forming molecules. The real education began when people started asking where the balls came from.”