Sun Valley Art Museum takes a look at the West Dam


There’s been a lot going on lately about dams, whether it’s the plight of salmon or the plight of humans as rivers dry up across the American West.

The Sun Valley Museum of Art tackles the history of dams in the Pacific Northwest with its new project and exhibition BIG IDEA. And it will kick off a free opening celebration from 5-7 p.m. on Friday, August 26 at the Ketchum Museum.

Participating artists will speak at 6 p.m.

“DAMS: Reservoirs, Reclamation, Renewal,” as the exhibit calls it, examines the effect of dams in this region and reimagines the future of rivers and the lives that depend on them. For more than a century, dams have shaped Idaho’s landscapes and ecosystems and fueled the economy with dollars from recreation, tourism, fishing, agriculture and energy.

This exhibition coincides with the dialogue about the possibility of dam failures throughout the Columbia River Basin.

“Congressman Mike Simpson’s announcement last year that he supported removing four dams on the lower Snake River sparked much discussion in our state about the pros and cons of dams and ruptures,” said Courtney Gilbert, curator of visual arts and co-curator with former SVMoA artistic director Kristin Poole, of the exhibit. “It seems like an important time to explore the issue as a community.”

The Museum has commissioned four artists to examine local and regional dams through new bodies of work, which will be on view until November 12.

  • Caroline Caycedo conducted a site visit, visited dams, interviewed biologists, spoke with members of the Shoshone-Bannock tribes and the Nez Perce tribe and investigated their traditional fishing practices for an installation that will include a new film with a sculpture and other two and three -dimensional elements.
  • Photographer Erik Johnson has produced several works that examine where human activity and wilderness intersect, including the restoration of the Elwha River, where Glines Canyon Dam and Elwah Dam have both been removed and where the river flows freely again.
  • Artist, writer and naturalist James Proseck created a large-scale mural and several watercolors to help visitors understand the effects of dams on salmon and other Idaho fish, insects, birds, mammals, and flora.
  • Painter Rachel Teannalach recently painted landscapes of the Salmon, Snake and Columbia Rivers from the headwaters of the Salmon River just north of Ketchum to the mouth of the Columbia to illustrate the fragility of the ecosystems along these rivers. For this exhibition, she has created four large paintings of the dams along the Lower Snake that have recently been proposed for breach.

In addition to the opening celebration, the Museum has planned a series of events around DAMS:

WALK OF THE GALLERY – Friday, September 2, 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. The Museum, Ketchum. FREE


Thu September 8, 4:30 p.m. and Thu November 3, 4:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. The Museum, Ketchum. FREE, pre-registration recommended.

ARTIST TALK: Jock Reynold in conversation with artist James Prosek. Monday, August 29, 6 p.m. The Museum, Ketchum. FREE, pre-registration required.

Author David James Duncan, author of ‘The River Why’ and ‘The Brothers K’, on Dams. Marry,
August 31, 6 p.m.
Forest Service Park, Ketchum. $15 member / $25 non-member / $7 student.

CONFERENCE: Historian Bob Reinhardt, professor of history at Boise State University, will discuss “The Drowned Cities Atlas.” Thu, Sept 8, 5:30 p.m. The Museum, Ketchum. FREE, pre-registration recommended.

PANEL DISCUSSION: The future of rivers and dams in Idaho. Wed, Sep 28, 6 p.m. Sun Valley Community School auditorium. FREE, pre-registration recommended. Panelists include artist Carolina Caycedo; Nic Nelson, executive director of Idaho Rivers United; Craig Quarterman, director of agriculture and natural resources; a representative of the Shoshone-Bannock tribes.

ARTIST DISCUSSION: Carolina Caycedo: Damn you. Thu, Sep 29, 5:30 p.m. The Museum, Ketchum. FREE, pre-registration recommended. Caycedo will discuss his ongoing project investigating the impacts of dams on indigenous communities across the Americas.

FILM: return river and post-film discussion with filmmakers Jessica and Sammy Matsaw, who work with Shoshone-Bannock yuth on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. Thu, October 13, 6 p.m. The Community Library, Ketchum. FREE.

FILM: “DamNation,” which explores changing national attitudes, from pride in large dams as engineering marvels to growing awareness of unintended consequences. Thu, Nov. 3, 4:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. Magic Lantern Cinemas, Ketchum. $10 member / $12 non-member.

Whimsical felted fish with Betty Hayzlett.
Sat. Aug. 27, 9:30 a.m. – 1 p.m. Classroom Hailey, Hailey. $45/$55 non-member.

TEENAGE WORKSHOP: Fish felting fun with Betty Hayzlett (for students in grades 6 to 12). Sun. Aug. 28, 10 a.m.–1 p.m. Classroom Hailey, Hailey. $10, pre-registration required.

ADULT CLASS: Geology Outing – Field trip to the headwaters of the Salmon River and the sabotaged Sunbeam Dam with Paul Link, retired professor of geology at Idaho State University and author of 2021 Roadside Geology of Idaho. Will include mention of the Cape Horn earthquake Sat., Sept. 17, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Meet at Sun Peak and drive to the Sunbeam Dam and Yankee Fork of the Snake River. $70 / $80 non-member.

The museum, at 191 Fifth Street East in Ketchum, is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. Admission is free and private tours can be arranged at 208-726-9491.

To register for events, go to

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