The Living Barge Project was a large-scale, temporary public art installation created in collaboration with Nicole Kistler. We filled an industrial barge with native plants, creating a temporary floating island full of ferns, shrubs and small trees that was moored on Seattle’s Duwamish River during April 2006.

Photo by Mark Sullo

We wanted to create a visual symbol of the history and future of the Duwamish, to raise people’s awareness of the Duwamish (which is polluted from decades of industrial use and undergoing Superfund cleanup), and to create positive change in the community around it.

We took these goals seriously, and worked with a large array of partners for about two years to create events celebrating the Barge, the Duwamish River, and the adjacent South Park neighborhood.

The Duwamish Shipyard (now sadly defunct) donated the Barge and the union labor to help us build it, and Western Towboat tugged it into its display location at Slip 4.

Events included neighborhood walking tours, an art walk, an opening day celebration, boat tours, a tile making workshop (tiles were used in a neighborhood park), multiple evening events, and an Earth Day river cleanup. Project brochures were printed in English, Spanish and Vietnamese, the three dominant languages spoken in the neighborhood. We worked with youth at two local schools, Aviation High School and Concord Elementary, to explore environmental art and facilitate the creation of the students’ own environmental art projects.

At the end of the project, volunteers planted the plants from the Living Barge at Cesar Chavez Park in South Park.

Years later, neighborhood activists and residents still appreciate the Barge’s contributions to the community and the dialogue that resulted.