UMass Amherst researchers team up on award-winning project

FutureSHORELINE, a collaborative public art and science project, recently won the “Rebecca Ballestra” Climate Change Communication Award in an international competition hosted by the Centro Euro-Mediterraneo sui Cambiamenti Climatici.


Spearheaded by Carolina Aragón, assistant professor in UMass Amherst’s Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning department, the project represents what many say is the perfect blending of art and science.

The temporary water- and land-based art installation in Fort Point, Boston, consists of two sculptures created from used lobster traps: one floating in Fort Point channel in Boston, the other installed on land nearby. By demonstrating the projected flooding for the area due to sea level rise over the next few decades, the installation aims to spur people into taking action around climate change.

“Despite all the challenges that COVID-19 threw at us with this project — and there were many — working with Carolina and the rest of the team on FutureSHORELINE has been a really rewarding experience,” says project partner and Environmental Conservation Associate Professor Ezra Markowitz.

He describes the installation as “a striking visualization of projected sea level rise in Boston due to climate change” for the years 2030, 2050 and 2070. Markowitz emphasizes the importance of the integrated social science research component to the project, which aims to examine the effect that interaction with the installation’s multiple mediums, whether in person or via video and photography, has on people.  

“Climate art installations can have significant impacts on people who never experience the artwork in person,” says Markowitz, who is collaborating on the research element with Psychological and Brain Sciences PhD student Andrea Mah. The videos they have hosted online demonstrate the powerful effects of engagement with the art and subsequent influences on people’s emotional, attitudinal, and behavioral responses. 

 “We are conducting different types of research, including surveys and experiments, to find out how people’s emotions, beliefs and behaviors are affected by viewing the artwork,” says Markowitz.

In terms of FutureSHORELINE’s larger impact on science and society, Markowitz stresses that it “simultaneously brings home the reality and implications of climate change to residents of Boston and the Commonwealth, while also providing a much-needed opportunity to study in depth how art can be a powerful tool for communicating with diverse audiences about the biggest challenge we face as a species: climate change.

He believes FutureSHORELINE can help engage diverse communities and groups of stakeholders in the difficult but critical work of preparing for a climate-changed world, one that will affect nearly every aspect of our lives. 

“Working together to build common ground and a shared language to bridge our very different ways of approaching climate change communication has been a challenge,” Markowitz says. But it’s also “an exciting opportunity to explore new ways of thinking about scholarship and practice on this critically important topic.”

You can view the installation online, or in person through the end of this year.