After last Tuesday’s class I could not stop thinking about the Fairmount Water Works and their recent flooding incident. This is not totally surprising– I was commissioned to create a participatory piece for their FLOW (For the Love of Water) festival in September about (drum roll) flood memories. The FWW staff had some of the most vivid memories to share– oral history clips about the visuals left in the minds of those staff members included computers floating in a pool of water.
So, in light of our class conversation about considering a disaster plan for an archive or space that speaks to the possible problems the space could encounter, I am thinking, how does FWW deal with disaster planning? Situated on a gorgeous perch along the Schuylkill River behind the Philadelphia Art Museum on Kelly Drive, FWW is a lovely destination, but it is also in the perfect place to flood, on repeat, ad nauseum, forever.
I was told that the exhibition section of the interpretation center is disaster-proof in that it is designed to raise upward in the case of flooding (and that this happened during the 2014 flood). I would surmise the institutional archive of FWW is kept with the City and therefore possibly off site, but even still, the contemporary memory of this institution was certainly housed within the technology lost in the May flood. How can an institution like FWW, who thrives because of its location and is in its location because of its purpose, protect itself in the face of the inevitable? I imagine there are other such places, some national parks for sure, that must embrace their purpose and place with the risk of loss. I think, at the end of the day, what matters most is that the institution remain accessible and embrace what it does. If disaster becomes part of the story– if a certain amount of institutional material is lost at some point because of the environment of daily operations– I suppose that risk is simply par for the course. But it certainly is not easy to settle that in my stomach.