Thinking Relationships to Lake Michigan: An Art Collage for Reflection

Posted on May 14, 2021 by

Guest Blog by Amy Heldman

As someone residing near Chicago, I often visit the lakefront whenever I am in the city. However, only recently after taking an eye-opening course, The University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) Freshwater Lab, did I begin to connect my feelings for Lake Michigan to art activism.

When I heard we had the option to do a project in any sort of medium we wanted, I immediately took the chance to unleash my love for collage making. I wanted to foster the power of storytelling to create an outline of Lake Michigan, holding inside people’s connection to the lake. I took a few trips to the lakefront and interviewed people asking them the questions, “Why do you visit the lake?” and “What do you love about Lake Michigan?” to try and inspire reflection among Chicago residents. I got many responses that were as simple as two word responses, to some that even wrote poems. Although different, each response is beautiful in its own way, because each person’s connection is unique to themselves.

I also wanted to use the power of contrast in my collage, so I made the background a series of news articles on Lake Michigan issues to sit behind people’s love for the lake to emphasize why it needs to be protected.

As a student studying urban planning, much of my undergraduate career has consisted of numerous research papers, GIS projects, and data analysis, and although they can be quite fun, the feeling of virtual school burnout hit me hard. This art collage was my way of expressing creativity and having meaningful conversations with strangers about water. A few themes that arose from my interviews were: therapy, creativity, solitude, and joy. It was inspiring to hear from so many how the lake has been helping them survive the pandemic. I spoke to one woman on her bike, and she explained how Lake Michigan reminds her of expansion. With being locked up for so long, it gave her peace of mind knowing that the world is not just in her house but it is borderless much like our water. After hearing responses like hers, I grew extremely inspired by the love Chicago residents have for Lake Michigan. Although it is usually seen as a tourist attraction, my collage amplifies the temple Lake Michigan is to Chicago residents. It is their safe place after a hard week, a place where they get their best ideas, and a place for mental clarity and reflection.

I want to thank Chicago residents for contributing to this piece, as well as the UIC Freshwater Lab for allowing me to do this. I hope that anyone who views this collage feels inspired by the significance Lake Michigan holds to its admirers and continues to advocate for protection of this life resource.


© 2022 Freshwater Future. All Rights Reserved.

Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.