2023 Artist/Educator in Residence

Charles Payne

Charles Payne was Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District’s second Artist/Educator in Residence. His residency took place throughout 2023. 

A self-taught social artist who uses his creative skills to spark change, during his residency, Charles engaged and empower water stewards by connecting with community members, focusing on youth. 

In addition to being a social change artist, Charles is also an award winning writer, playwright, storyteller and certified teacher. He uses his creative skill and platform to help lift the voices of underserved communities, elevate important issues, and forge connections between the two.

Charles Payne is a Madison transplant-originally from Michigan, as a child, Charles loved hearing the sound of Paul Harvey’s voice and his innate ability to describe every intricate detail; Harvey inspired him to become a storyteller.

“I aim to use my residency to create community advocates that interface with the Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District’s wealth of knowledge and educational resources,” says Payne. “Through newsletters and storytelling events, I hope to explore different themes of water advocacy. Water makes a big difference in people’s wellness. Along with Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District, I will be working to support parks, schools, public transit, etc., to make water more accessible to people and support other initiatives related to water advocacy.”

Residency Summary

Charles continued the trajectory of community conversations that were begun with the first resident artist, nipinet landsem, in 2022. He did this by developing a water advocacy curriculum to guide youth through steps to become water advocates. Then, he worked with the youth to publicly tell their stories of that process, at community story-slams. In addition to the public-facing community engagements, Charles also consulted with the Sewerage District ‘behind the scenes’ on ways to improve showcasing careers in wastewater treatment. 

Water Advocacy Curriculum

Five students completed the first cohort of the water advocacy curriculum in August 2023. Through the seven-step-process, as summarized in the curriculum graphic above, students went from being somewhat unaware of water issues impacting their community to active advocates. They worked with scientists along their journey to learn more about the topics that interested them, and worked towards giving a presentation of their work at the end of the session. Their learnings are summarized in the graphic notes below, by Gray Miller Creative. 

“By The Water” Story Slam 

Charles curated a story-slam and neighborhood water-related ‘show-and-tell’  in partnership with Mad City Story Slam and Marquette Neighborhood Association, all around the theme of “By the Water”.

Storytellers shared water-related stories ranging from personal health crises to family-bonding moments, historical information, to times when water taught them something, to music significant to water protection efforts. The evening showcased a diversity of different perspectives and was a heart-felt and open space that both inspired connection and reflection. 

This residency is the first of a series of Catalytic Projects for the District & Shop One. Design of this residency was supported by the US Water Alliance Arts & Culture Accelerator program. Community members served as creative collaboration advisors to guide development of this residency and other catalytic projects.