Art for river’s sake: Nonprofit commissions temporary art on riverbed of once-mighty Kern

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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — That section of dry riverbed adjacent to Beach Park became a canvas of sorts for a unique work of art on Thursday. It wasn’t just art for art’s sake, either.
There was a message.

The name of the project is “Flow.”

It’s about turning bleakness into beauty — but more specifically, bringing water to the Kern River.

Once upon a time, a river ran through it. The deep, wet, sometimes wild Kern River. The stuff of poetry, as any Merle Haggard fan can tell you.

Thursday, as most days, it’s a dry riverbed. But might it ever — days of heavy rainfall or temporary spring runoff aside — run wild again, consistently? That’s the theme of the project, commissioned by a local group called Bring Back the Kern — a subcommittee of the nonprofit Kern River Parkway Foundation..
Andres Amador, an environmental artist from Northern California, created a giant 2,500-square-foot image on the riverbed floor just south of the 24th street overcrossing — best viewed from high above.

“Usually I do my work on the beach,” Amador said of his giant etchings in beach sand. “It’s very temporary, just between tides, and that’s what I’m best known for. I’ve done much bigger pieces and then it goes away, but I don’t have to gather material. There’s a different process happening here. So this is more ambitious in that sense.”

Amador traced out his work of art with an invasive bamboo-like reed called Arundo, which river advocates would like to eradicate from the Kern River anyway. So this isn’t just a temporary work of art, it’s a weeding work crew, too. They’ll haul away the Arundo in a couple of days.

Bill Cooper, who’s been a champion of the Kern River and the Kern River Parkway for fully half a century, said that every city needs a visual water element — and Bakersfield perhaps more than most.

“The river has always been kind of a no-man’s-land, an afterthought,” Cooper said. “Bakersfield doesn’t have a lot of geographical amenities, I guess you could say, and we thought, well, this is what we’ve got, we’ve got to make something of it.”

But it’s not just about recreating an amenity that would exist here had man not interfered. It’s about birds and fish and vegetation.

“They would like to see this ecosystem thrive again,” Amador said. “Water is life.”

The members of Bring Back the Kern would like the city change the diversion point for the area’s network of irrigation canals from upriver to downriver, west of the city. And this work of art of their temporary billboard.

So enjoy this project, “Flow,” today — because it may not be around in a couple of days. That’s the nature of these temporary works of art.

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