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The Sifnos Challenge

Inefficient water services and fragmented supply strategies result in low quality, high energy-consumption and unsteady water supplies. Water management efficiency could be achieved through an imaginative bridging of ancient and future technologies coupled with community engagement. In the Cyclades islands, water is a commodity under pressure: There is rapid growth of tourism progressing at a rate many times greater than the carrying capacity of each locality, and inefficient management of the existing natural reserves and resources of each island.

The area of Poulati in Sifnos is a special case for the way in which its inhabitants themselves had devised a sustainable way of managing water that goes back centuries and is part of the local tradition and heritage of the island. This heritage tends to be forgotten today. Today, the island of Sifnos does not have sufficient water supplies to meet demand, and relies on the use of water tankers and plastic drinking water bottles – at considerable cost. The projected cumulative cost of drinking water supply for the period 2041-2050 is estimated at between 0.9-1.3% of GDP (Bank of Greece, 2011). Efficient water management should require a full knowledge of existing water sources. However, given that wells, natural water sources and boreholes are private and remain undeclared, official maps are lacking. A mix of measurement data, data research and existing local knowledge is of critical importance for designing a truly integrated water resource management.

Can the practices of Poulati, unknown to the general public, be highlighted through an artistic work and become the starting point for a dialogue towards the development of new sustainable water management solutions in the era of the climate crisis? Can a participatory artistic process actively involve the inhabitants in the goal of sustainable management of the island’s water resources? Can an interactive art project provide a platform for citizens to share data and knowledge about the island’s water resources, contributing to a comprehensive mapping of the island’s water balance? Cisterns were the traditional way in which, for centuries, people collected rain water in the Mediterranean. They also embody the organic way in which humans deal with nature and the way in which communities manage a common good. Values such as good health, clean water, affordable energy and responsible consumption are only some of the SDGs that we address in this Sifnos Challenge.

By linking technology and science with art and local communities, the project «Learning from the Poulati» aims at highlighting this valuable heritage element. A water sharing system whose rules are set by the users themselves. A unique method of governance of a common good. At the same time, the final artwork produced by the invited artists uses digital technology to create interaction with locals and visitors, prompting them to contribute with data on their cisterns but also prompting the local school communities to measure storage and consumption on the island, thus enriching the currently incomplete data reserve. We aim at turning the goal of integrated water management on the island into a personal affair for the visitor, in a way that only art can accomplish.


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