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The Detroit River and its shores are only the beginning of the network of waterways under Detroit. Ghost Waters seeks to explore the lost and buried water that still flows beneath the city. (Photo by David P. Anderson)


Ghost Waters: Matrix explores Detroit’s hidden waterways

DETROIT – It might be hard to imagine downtown Detroit as a fertile paradise, but it was. And it existed long before the area’s industrialization took place. Ghost Waters is Matrix Theatre Company’s three-year project which explores the ponds, marshes and rivers hidden beneath many of downtown’s urban structures like Cobo Hall, Comerica Park and Michigan Central Train Station and turns the findings into the creation of artistic stories, communal education activities, field trips, student showcases, workshops, street art and theatre pageants all centered on water. Activities continue with Water Fest May 15 from 11 a.m. - 3 p.m. at the Greening of Detroit Park on East Jefferson and Riopelle where special performances, music, puppet workshops, food and fun family activities will all focus on water consciousness.

A ghost water is any body of water that was buried in the name of human progress. Despite many of Detroit’s waterways being used as sewers and eventually being buried, many hidden rivers still flow beneath the City. The project examines Detroit’s water history, its current water problems and their impact on the future, and aims to serve as a vehicle to foster a renewed sense of place in Detroit’s ecosystems. It seeks to find ways to artistically reflect on humanity’s relationship to water ecosystems locally and globally. Topics include the importance of recycling, water-consciousness, its relevance to sustainability and the right of every human being to have access to clean, running water.

Participants will continue to promote water consciousness at the U.S. Social Forum, held in Detroit June 22-26, with a Procession of the Species Parade, art activities for youth and the Savoyard Creek’s River Resurgence Pageant - where all are invited to participate in creating puppets that depict the hidden Savoyard Creek, still located below Congress Street.

Thanks in part to funds received from The Erb Family Foundation, The Kresge Community Arts Foundation and The Skillman Foundation, Ghost Waters continues through summer 2012.

May Creek was buried but the phragmytes along Fort Street are a clear sign that the ghost water is six inches or less below the surface. (Photo by David P. Anderson)

At its start in early 2010, Matrix School of Theatre students began incorporating recycled puppets, environmental themes and education about the forgotten waters into their work, which was featured in a showcase on World Water Day, March 22. An April field trip to Humbug Marsh gave participants a hands-on look at what Detroit’s ecosystems used to look like.

“We are at a pivot point with young people in terms of envisioning a new future for the city. And without some deeper knowledge about what the city is beneath its mantel of industrialism we can not make an appropriate choice. People see outdoors not as nature, but as a negative - as dirty and bad. This was once a hyper-rich and productive ecosystem, but now there are 40 square-miles of vacant land in the city, but people still have trouble seeing a future,” said Dr. Shaun Nethercott, Executive Director and Co-Founder of Matrix.

Ghost Waters is a project that requires the creativity and commitment of the community to succeed. Anyone seeking to get involved in field trips, parades, puppet building projects or events should contact Matrix Theatre Company’s Volunteer Coordinator Ken Srdjak at or at 313-967-0999.

Matrix Theatre Company is a non-profit community-based theatre located in Southwest Detroit. Established in 1991, Matrix creates everything from scratch, from puppets of all sizes to over 90 original plays. Matrix Theatre Company uses the transformative power of theatre to change lives, build community and foster social justice. It creates opportunities for children, youth, adults and elders, especially those in isolated or challenged communities, to become creators, producers and audiences of original theatre. For further information or to follow Matrix on Facebook, Twitter and Blogger, go to




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