Catskill Waters would not have happened if the previous public project by Keiko Sono, Catskill Waters’ director, was not derailed by one of the residents who protested the project.

The original proposal for Yankeetown Pond Project called for a long-term time-lapse production, following the seasonal and year-to-year transformation of Yankeetown Pond in Bearsville, by asking visitors and residents to take photos, and gathering them together to produce a video.

Her plan was to place a platform with an interpretive sign requesting visitors to take a photo of the pond from the platform and send it to her via email or Instagram, along with any personal memories or stories they might have to share. She had contacted all the property owners around the pond, who collectively owned the parking lot where the platform was to be placed, according to the town assessor’s office.

Within several hours of placing the platform, however, it was turned upside down, with a memo demanding to “remove this eyesore.” As it turned out, the parking lot also belonged to property owners along another road running parallel to the pond, granted by an old agreement missing from the office records.

This incident forced Sono to rethink her project, and about public art in general. Since then, she and the protestor shared their thoughts with each other and came to a common acknowledgment that they are essentially on the same side, sharing the same concerns. It was made clear to Sono that this project had to be about the human landscape as well as the physical landscape if it were to be a genuine public art project. As a result, her final video was a hybrid of a nature-based art video and a documentary, with topics ranging from the pond’s history to land ownership, from beaver dam to town politics.

Along the process, she got to know many residents around the pond, much more than she would’ve done if her original idea had carried through. She also learned about her own prejudices and misconception, and how easy it is to make a misjudgment based on such blind spots.

A year later, we are in a world that is propelled by such prejudgments and misconception. It is important more than ever to listen to one another, especially with someone we disagree with. Yet it is also more difficult to do so now because of the pressure to take sides. We don’t know if Catskill Waters will take us to such a contentious realm, but our hope is to stay focused on our common love of our land, and the ability of art to transcend us beyond political and philosophical differences.


Yankeetown Pond Project website

Yankeetown Pond Project video