Dealing with the deluge

BY STEFAN JURAN | JUNE 13, 2013 5:00 AM

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Summer in Iowa City has the potential to be nothing short of spectacular, from the soothing sounds of concerts and festivals to the beautiful scenery downtown. But when the seemingly annual threat of flooding rears its head, things can change drastically for the worse.

This year, the image of giant sand walls, the sounds of loud dump trucks, and the sudden isolation of streets and buildings are just some of the things that have replaced the once calming atmosphere of Iowa City, almost transforming it into a place in preparation for war. But these precautions are a small price to pay for protection against a flood, which has caused extensive damage to the Iowa City area in the last 20 years.

The new project, Living with Floods, has sought to combine flood prevention with a somewhat prettier sound. With the combined efforts of several University of Iowa and community groups, Living with Floods seeks to raise awareness about flood and disaster relief while entertaining people with a performance by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band on the Pentacrest on June 16.

Living with Floods community project

The flood of 2008 has had one of the largest impacts on the UI’s art community of any natural disaster, not only leading to the closure of Hancher but damaging the art, music, and theater facilities as well. To show that groups such these are able to bounce back from tragedies, Hancher representatives decided to join forces with the UI College of Engineering to educate the younger generation about the disaster and what can be done in the future to prevent it from happening again.

“We at Hancher are always looking for ways in which our art perspective can team up with other groups around campus and use art as an educational tool for the community,” said Chuck Swanson, the executive director of Hancher.

The initiative, titled Living with Floods, raises awareness of the local art scene among Iowa youth as well as teaching the technicalities of flood prevention. The project set up an Iowa tour to seven different communities that were affected by the floods in the last couple of years.

“The chance we had to team up with Hancher and other university groups came at a perfect time,” said Greg Carmichael, an associate dean of engineering school. “Our program was highly involved in the past floods, so we knew we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to educate students around the state.”

In the last year and a half, Hancher and the engineering school have worked with more than five other groups in Iowa, including the College of Education and the Iowa Flood Center, to help train elementary- and middle-school teachers.

The groups have worked together and created several new types of curricula that focus on the ideas of flood prevention, causes of floods, and land use change over time.

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) festivals around Iowa have partnered with the Living with Floods project as well and have adapted their presentations and activities to give students a more visual aspect to the idea of how floods are created and how their negative effect can be decreased.

“We wanted the STEM programs to further engage teachers with students,” Carmichael said. “Each community put their own touches on the presentations, and their ability to work together was highlighted throughout the entire process.”

In the 2008 flood, the UI Voxman Music Building was one of the many that were destroyed. Some of the music professors who were at the university before and after the flood said they feel like these new teaching curricula implemented by Living with Floods will not only be beneficial to younger students but to the university faculty as a whole.

“The majority of campus that was affected from the floods in 2008 has come together in order to learn, prepare, and inform," said Associate Director of Bands Kevin Kastens. “Programs like Living with Floods allow us to help one another while also figuring out what we can do better in the future.”

Preservation Hall celebration

To put an exclamation point on the efforts of the Living with Floods project, the organization is celebrating with a performance by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, a group formed in 1961.

Hailing from New Orleans, the band has been no stranger to natural disasters. Because it has been a part of rebuilding efforts as large and challenging as Hurricane Katrina, Carmichael believes that the members’ musical message can send a moving inspiration to Iowa communities.

“We are looking forward to the idea of this iconic American band because they have lived through disasters like us,” he said. “It will bring a sense of togetherness to the performances.”

The concert will hold special significance for Hancher representatives. This past year marked the 40th anniversary of Hancher, which opened its doors to the public for the first time in 1972 with a performance by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Although the band members and venues have changed over time, Swanson said, he is confident Preservation Hall Jazz Band will bring the same fiery sound and upbeat atmosphere that it did 40 years ago.

“Their music is so uplifting,” he said. “The performance will be a great way to put an end to the Living with Floods project on a positive note, and it will give the audience a chance to see how they have grown as a community.”

Community impact

While flooding can be — at the least — disheartening, Living with Floods organizers said they have worked to combine arts, math, and science to give community members a way to reminisce about the past, prepare for the coming years, and celebrate the present.

“We will have to live with the floods — there is no doubt about that,” Carmichael said. “But events like this can help the community plan for the future and think of positive ways to grow.”

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