Phase 3a – Reference II: The Water Tank Project



The Water Tank Project is a landmark public art intervention that will the transform New York’ skyline. It’s an initiative of Word Above the Street, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting environmental awareness and social defense through art and technology.

In the Spring of 2014, rooftop tanks in New York City will be transformed into works of art by established and emerging figures in art, music, science and New York City public school students.

For the duration of the project, this intervention will be complemented by educational programs, public tours, social media activities and a conferences dedicated to inspiring fresh views on global water issues.

This production will redefine the skyline across all five neighborhoods and reach millions around the world through the super technology of Apps, social networking and online multimedia tools. Their aim is to produce art as social intervention, to inspire wonder and joy, to educate, and to alter attitudes and habits.




New York is the most populous city in the United States, a global power city, New York exerts a significant impact upon commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and entertainment. The home of the United Nations Headquarters, New York is an important center for international diplomacy and has been described as the cultural capital of the world.

Located on one of the world’s largest natural harbors, New York City consists of five boroughs, each of which is a county of New York State. The five boroughs—The Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island—were consolidated into a single city in 1898. With a census-estimated 2012 population of 8,336,697 distributed over a land area of just 783.8 km2,New York is the most densely populated major city in the United States. As many as 800 languages are spoken in New York, making it the most linguistically diverse city in the world.



Like phone booths, water towers are a ubiquitous yet oft-ignored element of New York’s urban fabric, with around 10,000 tanks dispersed throughout the five boroughs and suspended out of sight and out of mind. The water tower has been a part of this landscape for over 100 years with a sustained relevance to the city’s infrastructure.

Water tanks were vital in the early twentieth century, as the city grew skyward. They’re the way many of the city’s older buildings get their water supply, and have enough water stored to feed the sprinklers if there’s a fire.



Water scarcity

With less than 1% of all fresh water on Earth safe for human consumption—around 200,000 km3 of water—the truth about the world’s available supply is frightening.

Besides, 783 million people without access to safe drinking water and the 2.5 billion without sanitation. 4,000 children under five years old who die each day from preventable causes related to poor quality water and sanitation.

The average American uses 300 – 500 liters of water per day. The average African family uses 20. Could you survive on only 20 liters a day?


Water tank as obsolete piece

It’s thought that they are out of use and it’s something from the past, but actually despite their design has changed a little in more than a century, and though they resemble a relic from a forgotten time, wooden water tanks remain a fixture of the cityscape. Besides, they are an essential part of the city’s water delivery system, which feeds water use facilities and fire protection vessels in 90 percent of structures over six floors high.

The rooftop tanks store 20.000 to 40.000 liters of water until it is needed in the building below. The upper portion of water is skimmed off the top for everyday use while the water in the bottom of the tank is held in reserve to fight fire. Fire insurance rates are normally lower in a community in which the water system has water towers.



Project Team: Teams Members + Advisors + Sustanibility advisory panel

Project Support:

Agency of Record: mcgarrybowen + Public Relations: Zeno Group

Lead support has been provided by: Agnes Gund AG Foundation; the Booth Ferris Foundation; Bettina & Donald L. Bryant, Jr; The Ford Foundation; Deutsche Bank Americas Foundation; The Rockefeller Foundation New York City Cultural Innovation Fund; Newmark Knight Frank; Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom; and Withers Bergman.

Funders: ACE Foundation; Lily Auchincloss Foundation, Inc.; Bauer Family; The Andrea & Charles Bronfman Fund at Brandeis University; Stephen and Claudine Bronfman; Goldman Sachs; the Hauptman Family Foundation; The Ronald and Jo Carole Lauder Foundation; The Lear Family Foundation; The Dorothea Leonhardt Foundation; Bobby Foshay Miller; The Jewish Federation of Cleveland, on behalf of The Toby Devan Lewis Philanthropic Fund; Michelle Smith; Solutions, A Donor Advised Fund at Aspen Community Foundation on behalf of Adam Joseph Lewis; Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors; David Teiger; and Harry Winston Inc.

Strategic alliances: Columbia Water Center (Earth Institute); NASDAQ OMX; ONE DROP; STUDIO IN A SCHOOL and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Supporters: ABC Realty; ABNY; Acumen Capital Partners; ArtBase; Bettina Equities; Brown Harris Stevens; Common Ground; Cyber City, Inc.; Duggal Visual Solutions; The Durst Organization; Fenwick Keats Realty; Forest City Ratner Companies; Amanda and Glenn Furhman; Halstead Property; Malkin Holdings; Manhattan Skyline; Manhattan Ministorage; REBNY; Rosenwach Tank Company; Jack Resnick & Sons; Rudin Management; RXR Realty; Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP and Affiliates; Time Equities Inc.; Vornado Realty Trust; Water Aid; and Waves 4 Water.

Founders circle: Bettina & Donald L. Bryant, Jr; Pippa Cohen; Agnes Gund and Will McDonough.

artists, philanthropists, scientists, educators, real estate professionals and city officials.

With participation of artists such as Ed Ruscha, John Baldessari, Jeff Koons, Andy Goldsworthy, Carrie Mae Weems, Julie Mehretu and Lawrence Weiner; financing from the Booth Ferris Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation New York City Cultural Innovation Fund and the Agnes Gund AG Foundation; and partnerships with STUDIO IN A SCHOOL, the Columbia Water Center, the project is poised for successful execution. The curatorial committee features leading figures in the art world, including Lisa Dennison, Toby Devan Lewis and Neville Wakefield.

Children’s Movement of Creative Education: high school students



In 2010 Jordan founded and became the Creative Director of Word Above the Street. Her newest venture, ‘The Water Tank Project,’

In 2011 the Ford Foundation awarded Word Above the Street a grant to develop the Water Tank Project. In May 2011 Jordan spoke about The Water Tank Project at the Festival of Ideas.

The idea of the outdoor museum along the New York City skyline dedicated to the global water crisis has been well received by artists, philanthropists, scientists, educators, real estate professionals and city officials.

In September and October 2012, Mary Jordan curated a David Zwirner Gallery Show WATER! The Water Tank Project Student Art Exhibition with co-curators Neville Wakefield and Bettina Bryant. Presented by Word Above the Street in collaboration with STUDIO IN A SCHOOL, this exhibition is a selection of works by New York City public high school students from all five boroughs who participated in the Spring 2012 Art Competition for The Water Tank Project. The goal of the exhibition is to celebrate the achievements of these students and raise public awareness about water as the defining resource of the 21st century. The exhibition serves as a prelude to the citywide public art project.

In the Spring of 2014, rooftop tanks in New York City will be transformed into works of art and the New York City iteration of The Water Tank Project will be the drop that causes ripples worldwide.



Public art takes place outside museum and gallery walls. It is free, open 24 hours a day, and accessible to everyone.

This landmark public art initiative is the first time the city of New York has allowed anyone to alter the tanks. At 3.6 meters high and 4 meters in diameter, the tanks allow a huge surface for creative projects. They are an ideal canvas for this extraordinary event because they are visible from thousands of vantage points.

Ideally, the artwork will increase awareness about the global water crisis and it will also promote New York City’s high quality drinking water and highlight the role of the world’s major cities in leading the way to responsible stewardship of water.

The knowledge acquired through this program will give young people a foundation on which to build leadership roles and ultimately educate their communities about one of the most pressing concerns of our time.



The goal of The Water Tank Project is to produce art as social intervention and bring about changes in knowledge, attitudes, and behavior among those who experience it.

Grounded in the inspirational power of public art, TWTP sets out to transform the City and engage millions of people at home and around the world in our call to action.

The Water Tank Project will also be hosting an Open Call, fifteen water tanks will showcase work submitted. All artists are encouraged to submit their designs to be judged by TWTP’s expert Curatorial Committee.

The positive effects of this social art project will be far-reaching. Over 8.4 million NYC residents, 5 million tourists, and millions of virtual visitors will be able to see the exhibition during the summer. This may be the first time many of these people have thought about water as an important issue, and this project may inspire others to further create positive change.


  • Increased public awareness of the need to protect Water.
  • Increased appreciation of NYC’s high quality drinking water and the cost of plastic waste.
  • Public awareness of waterways open for sport and recreation.
  • Youth engagement & support for local projects.
  • Worldwide exposure for artists.
  • Increased awareness of NYC’s role as a world leader setting new standards for sustainability and environmental protection through the civic initiatives of PlaNYC.



The Water Tank Project launched a Kickstarter campaign, crowdfunding, to raise $1 million to fund this great initiative, and Whole Foods also donated 5% of all sales on March 1st towards the cause

The founds were to

  • Legally secure our “superstar tanks.” This involves calling building owners, working with lawyers on legal agreements, and speaking with co-op boards about the project
  • Survey each tank to ensure that it is suitable for installation
  • Refine the printing process and finalize the installation technique
  • Begin scanning and printing submitted artwork
  • This founding was unsuccessful, closing at 53.000$, just the 5%, besides the project is still on process and at the end $4 Million will cover the costs of all of TWTP’s components.

All the founds include:

  • All production elements
  • Paying artists an honorarium to cover the costs of the materials required to make their donated piece
  • All the educational components of the project, including school programming, our mobile media App designed by Yves Behar, public tours, and a Symposium
  • Public Events
  • Outreach
  • Designing and developing commemorative materials such as books, posters, prints, etc.



One of the most important factors to highlight of this intervention is the ability to create an identity through existing infrastructure in the city, which become landmarks.

This initiative encourages citizens to change cultural issues through art, participating both at intervening in the art production and economically. Individual collaboration will be a benefit to the community.

Also include, the use of specific locations to convey a message, where the dispersion is greater.




Slides PDF


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