A sneak peek at Manayunk’s elaborate water art exhibit

A little more than a week before the Manayunk Arts Festival takes over Main Street, a new art installation will be debuted along the Manayunk Canal towpath. 

The Manaunk Development Corporation partnered with the Phildelphia Mural Arts Program on the creative project, entitled “Escaped Infrastructure,” which will be officially unveiled to the public at 5 p.m. tonight. 

The interactive exhibit consists of five sump pumps encased in what artist Robert Gay described as a “lobster cage” type of metal box extending from under the towpath. Motion detectors activate the pump as people pass by and water is pumped through clear PVC pipes connected to the pumps.

If a person were walking in one direction past the exhibit, the five pumps would activate in succession.

“The idea is that the water sort of follows you along,” added Gay. 

Gay and Lucy Beg, members of Thoughtbarn, a design duo based out of Texas, said that much of their inspiration is site specific. In this case, Gay said, the artists were interested in showing the quality of the water as part of the art exhibit. He asked of himself, “How are you going to get people to think of the towpath environmentally, recreationally?” he said.

“There was an idea of bringing the water literally up to eye level,” said Begg. Main Street is always busy because it is clearly visible, but the towpath is often looked over. Gay and Begg set out to change that.

Begg and Gay’s design was chosen out of nearly 100 proposals submitted for the project. Jane Lipton, executive director of the Manayunk Development Corporation, said a team effort was responsible for the selection. “Literally, it was democracy in action,” said Lipton. “They voted.”

Jane Golden, head of the Mural Arts Project, said the artists were also chosen as much for their artistic vision as for their ideology. “They’re artists that think about humanity,” she said. “We’re philosophically aligned.”

Lipton said that the exhibit will be showcased at the Manayunk Arts Festival next weekend. “We’ll have signage out on the street,” she said. “I think people who are inquisitive about this type of thing are going to find it.”

“Escaped Infrastructures” is one of three projects funded by the Manayunk Special Services District. Turtle crosswalks and 30 paintings around Manayunk are the other two.

Art by third, fifth and eighth grade students from Dobson Elementary School is also displayed on banners around the canal which hang behind businesses.

The exhibit will remain on display until July 29.

Golden doesn’t want to see the exhibit go, but she’s enthusiastic about the future. “There’s more to come,” she said. “There’s always more to come.”

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