In the News: Forward Thinking

Catalyzing Newport would like to thank reporter Sean Flynn at the Newport Daily News for his wonderful article about our initiative and upcoming events for Jake Dunagan’s residency June 16 – 21 in Newport. Readers can access the direct link to the article here.

By Sean Flynn

Aim of initiative is to raise awareness of effects of rising sea levels

Inside Neill Coffey’s former garage at the site of the city’s historic spring is a red stripe around the walls of the service area that looks like a hydrological line to Nick De Pace, who teaches architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design.

Coincidentally, it turns out the stripe is about the height of flood waters if sea levels were to rise a projected 5 feet, combined with a storm surge similar to the one that hit the city in 2012 during Superstorm Sandy, and a high tide.

De Pace is leading a design team to create a pop-up exhibit at the garage called “Mayor’s Office, 2061,” which will be open to the public on Saturdayfrom 6-8 p.m., and on Sunday from 2-6 p.m.

The exhibit will illustrate a piece written by a visiting futurist, Jake Dunagan, who lives in Austin, Texas, and teaches at the California College of Art. He explores what Newport might be like to live and work in 45 years from now, in the year 2061. He places himself in the future and looks back.

“Back in 2016, Newporters were acutely aware that humanity was hurtling toward an environmental and social abyss,” Dunagan wrote. “In fact, in February 2016, global temperatures reached 2˚ Celsius above average, a mark not expected to be neared for decades. While Trump and Clinton sparred over trivialities, those with a close eye on the long-termsystems dynamics knew the landing from the excesses of the industrial age was going to be painful, if not catastrophic.”

While in the city later this week and early next week, Dunagan will talk about concepts for thinking more effectively about the future, and the need for raising our collective foresight capacity. Human civilization will be dealing with unprecedented volatility and complexity during the coming generations, he says.

He will give a lecture with the title, “The Future as Cognitive Prosthetic,” at Rosecliff, 548 Bellevue Ave., on Monday from 4—6 p.m. Seating is limited, so attendees must respond to to reserve a spot.

The exhibit at Coffey’s garage andDunagan’s short-term residency here, Thursday through Tuesday, is being sponsored by Catalyzing Newport, an initiative overseen by the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities and funded by a grant from the van Beuren Charitable Foundation.

The Catalyzing Newport steering committee includes Salve Regina University, the Preservation Society of Newport County, the Newport Art Museum, the Rhode Island Historical Society, the Redwood Library and Athenaeum, the Newport Restoration Foundation and the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

SueEllen Kroll, director of grants and strategic partnerships at the Council for the Humanities, said the purpose of the initiative is to bring local organizations together so they can work on problems facing the community.

For example, Catalyzing Newport was behind the “First Light Funeral” held at the Newport Art Museum on April 14 to draw attention to the plight of Newport’s beech trees, which are dying of old age and disease and being felled. A large beech tree at the museum had to be removed.

The Newport Spring Leadership Committee, which purchased the garage site to preserve the area around the historic spring as public open space, gave permission to the groups to use it for the pop-up exhibit.

De Pace’s design team working on Coffey’s garage includes designer Chantal Birdsong; Jeremy Radtke, a digital content producer for the RISD Museum; Jed Hancock-Brainerd, a theater artist; Rupert Nesbitt, artist; and builder Kelly Orr.

They are converting former owner Neil Coffey’s office into a mayor’s office from 2061, which is imagined as a mobile unit. The former garage area will have a “hydrometer” that will show on 1-foot marks which buildings and landmarks in the city would be flooded as the sea and storm surges rise to those levels.

De Pace met with MelissaBarker, the city’s geographical information systems coordinator, to illustrate the different levels based on Federal Emergency Management Agency flood plain maps. Currently, a location is in the federal flood plane if it is 18 feet above mean sea level, or lower.

The red stripe inside the garage is about 4½ feet above the floor and could have been where wainscoting previously protected the walls from grease and grime. Waters would have to rise to 34 feet above sea level to reach the red line, so there would have to be the combination of storm surge and tide with projected sea-level rise to reach that level.

At the Seamen’s Church Institute next to Bowen’s Wharf, that flood level would reach to the frescoes in the chapel on the second floor, De Pace said.

“We are not saying it is going to happen,” De Pace said. “There could be decisions made and a series of actions taken to prevent that scenario.”

Poet Kate Schapira and artist Adeline Mitchell worked with students at Rogers High School to create terrariums that will act as a biological library of forms chosen to preserve in the possible future. Students also created other “artifacts” from 2016, such as poems, writings and dioramas.

Organizers have begun constructing inside the garage a wooden structure with box areas for the different exhibit items.

“As you move through the installation and take in all of its elements, artifacts and relics, take note of your reactions,” a posting at the beginning of the exhibit will say. “Are you fearful? Hopeful? Confused? Amused? What headlines would you like to read about Newport 45 years from now? What would you like to see preserved for future generations?”

What Dunagan has written has a serious message, but it reads like science fiction, since it is written from the perspective of the future.

“After the 54th straight warmest month in history occurred in December 2048 (with Newport’s own Kyle Farmer winning his third straight North Pole yacht race), another superstorm was bearing down on the Northeast,” Dunagan wrote.

After a future “Hurricane Iridiana” pushes the permanent water line all the way up to Thames Street by 2061, “another 27 buildings were designated for ‘underwater preservation’ protection,” he wrote.

“Luckily, Newport’s reclamation techniques and underwater preservationists were considered the best in the world. Experts came from all corners of the globe to learn the latest science for preserving the planet’s drowning heritage (and marketing strategies for drawing tourists).”