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Betsy Damon: Defender of Water

The last time Betsy Damon, director of Keepers of the Waters, was interviewed for the Minnesota Women’s Press, she was working on documenting the upland water cultures of tribes in Tibet, as well as lecturing and working with various exhibitions and workshops about the environment, bringing people’s attention to different water issues.

“Water issues are finally attracting a lot of attention. But everyone is still embedded in the false idea that they will always have access to lots of water. The privatization of water has proceeded at a horrifying pace. The number of people in the world without access to clean water has increased greatly,” Damon says. “Many cities have crumbling water infrastructure and are in danger of running out. Toxic materials from extraction have spread, from fracking and mining. Dire situations like Flint have yet to be addressed, even when it would be easy to address them.”

Damon says her goals have always been to “raise the consciousness of the vital importance of water, and that water is the container in which we live. Water is the medium upon which all life depends. It is the message that aliveness is important. Water is the consciousness embedded in all life.”

Her book, “Water Talkswill be published soon and covers her more than 40 years of working for and with water. Damon says that our collective refusal to lessen the use of fossil fuels, the desperate final quest of corporations to expand and extract, is challenging us to speak out loudly and persistently.

“People are organizing globally to counter this seemingly endless destruction. As an activist-artist, I balance my time between making visual art in my studio and building multidisciplinary projects for water throughout the world. As a humble body of water myself, I can’t do anything but try to bring art, organizing, and activism together,” she says. “COVID-19 has given us a huge warning. I am organizing for a World Water Law, helping to build networks of activists to support each other. We cannot be successful without forming vast collaborations.”

Damon emphasizes that there are two aspects of her work that often are not talked about: funding and the building of relationships. Another, she admits, is her decision to keep her work in the community, not in museums or galleries.

“The economic imperative that insists on galleries, price tags, etc., forces artists to create separately from the surrounding community — to work separated from the societal context they’re supposedly responding to. I would like to talk about the importance of being in and with the community, allowing community voices to come forward,” she says. “I think it’s time for museums to stop being a repository of history and instead become active participants in saving our earth. Museums should turn themselves inside out. They should return what they stole from other cultures, and use their large budgets for this earth.”

Not only is community important to Damon, but she says it is where everyone is able to start to help make a difference.

“You can organize your own communities, understand where your water comes from, where it’s going, how to collect rainwater effectively, and begin to advocate bans on the use of toxic chemicals, all of which end up back in our water systems. Our health and the health of the planet depends on quality water,” she says.

Which is why Damon is so focused on defending water. “Water is a humble, most common liquid, upon which all life depends. It is the sculptor of all forms. We need it every day to be alive,” she says.

Details: Keepers of the Waters