School, an exhibition spearheaded and conceptualized by artist Joseph Rossano, casts light on the diminished state of global salmon and steelhead populations. The installation features a life-size school of several hundred mirrored salmon, sculpted from molten glass by concerned glassmakers from around the world as well as first-hand video accounts from renowned scientists, artists, and native peoples.
Rossano’s project is inspired by the Skagit River, the fourth largest outflow to the Pacific Ocean in the continental United States, and its dwindling run of salmon and steelhead. Once numbering in the millions, the Skagit’s salmon stocks now number barely in the tens of thousands. Whereas the river’s steelhead population, which once numbered in the tens of thousands, now numbers only in the hundreds. Because the steelhead returns to the Skagit in the late winter when cupboards were historically bare, they once served as an important food supply to indigenous peoples. The stories of the region’s people and their use of its land over thousands of years offers captivating and actionable insights that Rossano hopes will bring disparate groups together for the benefit of these fish and those dependent on them.
In the fall of 2018, Rossano gathered with artists, scientists, and a community of the concerned at the Museum of Glass to begin creating fish for the exhibition—kicking off a series of making events at venues including Schack Art Center and Hilltop Artists. Glassmakers across the globe were invited to create fish and send them to be silvered by Rossano before joining the exhibition at Bellevue Arts Museum. Once the exhibition concludes at BAM it will travel to other regions of the globe on a circular four-year journey. On each stop of its tour, the exhibition’s narrative will expand to illuminate the particular issues faced by the region’s local fish and rivers before returning for the exhibit to the place of its spawning, Museum of Glass, in 2022.
Before the school returns to its natal river, a population of makers will strive to exceed a symbolic 2,504 fish—the lowest return of Steelhead to the Skagit River to date—in order to demonstrate how a group of concerned individuals can work together to foment recovery.