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Artist Builds Waterfalls On Manhattan's East River

In New York City's urban environment, people are often surprised to see bits of nature. But the contrast has inspired artist Olafur Eliasson. He designed four massive waterfalls as public art for the city. The artist says he hopes the falls create an aesthetic experience for New Yorkers and visitors to the Big Apple. The city is banking on tourism dollars to sweeten the pot. Paige Kollock reports for VOA.

Four giant waterfalls scattered on the East River are drawing praise, criticism, but most of all, discussion in New York. And that is exactly what Olafur Eliasson had in mind. Thanks to organizations like the nonprofit Public Art Fund, the artist was able to realize his vision.

"New York is a city that takes culture very seriously, and The Public Art Fund has been able to put works of art out on the street and in buses and in subways for over 30 years," Rochelle Steiner, the fund's director, said.

Eliasson built the falls using scaffolding, a regular feature of Manhattan's skyline. The highest fall towers 36 meters above the East River. Pumps in the river suck up 132,000 liters of water a minute. It then flows from the falls right back into the river. So no water is wasted; the natural environment is unharmed.

"We went to great lengths to make sure it was constructed well, it's constructed really stably, and also to make sure that environmental issues were taken into account," Steiner said. "We wanted to make sure the fish are protected, all the aquatic life is protected, that green energy is being used."

Eliasson chose four dramatic sites for the falls, including the famous Brooklyn Bridge.

The price tag for it all - $15 million, but the city hopes the exhibit will bring in more than $55 million from tourism. The project has already attracted worldwide attention because of its ambitious scale and originality. Some tourists came all the way from California.

Responses by visitors have been mixed on how impressive the fall exhibit is.

The New York City waterfalls are visible from many places in Manhattan, but most tourists choose to see them by boat, allowing a closer look, and maybe even a spray. The exhibit runs until October.