News Article

Beyond the Mirage named winner of
$100,000 Water Consciousness Challenge

Pictured are J.D. Gibbs, Kerry Schwartz, John Booth, Cody Sheehy, Jatta Sheehy, Brittany Xiu, Dave Bogner, Sharon Megdal and Meg Hagyard.

Beyond the Mirage, a team composed of water experts, videographers and social media marketers, was announced as the winner of The New Arizona Prize: Water Consciousness Challenge at a final award ceremony held at the Phoenix Art Museum. Each of the five finalist teams presented their digital media strategies to a panel of five judges. After a brief period of deliberation, Beyond the Mirage was named the winner.

The team will receive $100,000 to implement their digital strategy to promote water consciousness by making every Arizonan a water documentarian.

“The strategy put forth by Beyond the Mirage is the perfect example of what we were hoping the winner of the Water Consciousness Challenge would be able to accomplish,” said Steve Seleznow, President & CEO of the Arizona Community Foundation. “It makes information accessible in every sense of the word. It makes it available, easy to share and deliver, and it does it with this great, engaging tool that anyone would be excited to use.”

Among the dignitaries whose remarks preceded the team presentations were Senator Jon Kyl, who appeared in a recorded video message and Amada Cruz, the Phoenix Art Museum's director.

Representatives of the organizations responsible for the Water Consciousness Challenge were on stage to announce the winning team. They are: Jerry Hirsch, President of the Lodestar Charitable Foundation; Hal Tashman, Founder of the Tashman Fund; Steve Seleznow, President & CEO of the Arizona Community Foundation; Thom Reilly, Director of the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at ASU; and Phil Boas, Editorial Page Editor at The Arizona Republic.

The event was dedicated to Sue Clark-Johnson, who passed away in January. She had been a member of the Arizona Community Foundation’s Board of Directors and was instrumental in bringing the Arizona Community Foundation, the Morrison Institute for Public Policy and Republic Media together to make The New Arizona Prize a reality.

The Prize was conceived as a philanthropic initiative to create the Arizona of tomorrow. It aligns with the Morrison Institute for Public Policy’s work and The Arizona Republic’s extended series of issues central to our state’s future. Discussion of the Prize began in August of 2014, and after meeting with leaders in government, business and Arizona communities, the Water Consciousness Challenge was identified as the first competition in The New Arizona Prize initiative.

Beyond the Mirage:

The team and their strategy

Led by Dr. Susanna Eden, Assistant Director, University of Arizona Water Resources Research Center, the Beyond the Mirage team includes: Cody Sheehy, Video Coordinator for the UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; Toby Torrey, UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; Jessica Hall, Director of Hall Consulting; Meg Hagyard, Director of Development for the UA Foundation; and John Booth, Executive Producer, Arizona Public Media (AZPM) Channel 6. The team's key advisors are: Kerry Schwartz, Director, Arizona Project WET (Water Education for Teachers) and Arizona Cooperative Extension faculty; Brittany Xiu, Water Resources Research Center outreach coordinator; and Dave Bogner, Educational and Multimedia Technologies Program Director for the UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

In their presentation titled Beyond the Mirage: Arizona’s Water Reality, the team illustrated an innovative tool at the center of their strategy. ClipStack™ will equip its users with informational video clips to edit and create their own mini-documentaries on a website that will launch in January.

Members of the Beyond the Mirage team have been gathering interview clips from Arizona’s leading experts on water issues for several months, even before the announcement of The New Arizona Prize. Completed interviews include Thomas Buschatzke from the Arizona Department of Water Resources, Tom McCann of Central Arizona Project, Sandy Bahr of the Arizona Sierra Club and Robert Glennon, author of Unquenchable. The team has several more interviews planned.

The team’s strategy is designed to maximize all channels of distribution. By combining user-generated content with true expertise on the past, present and future of Arizona’s water resources, Beyond the Mirage hopes to make education on this complex issue accessible to Arizonans of all ages. Clips will be available to educators through their online platform, PBS Learning Media, and the team hopes that journalists will be able to use the content and audio as they cover water issues in Arizona.

All teams benefited from the competition

All of the teams who participated in the Water Consciousness Challenge benefited from the feedback and expertise of the 30-plus evaluators and judges who represent a variety of organizations. In a surprise announcement, each of the other four finalist teams were told they will receive a $5,000 grant. Following the team presentations, the audience was invited to text their votes and WATER IS LIFE was voted the Audience Choice. The team will receive an additional $2,500 grant. 

The following finalist teams presented strategies to engage students, businesses, city planners and community leaders in building water consciousness:

  • WATER IS LIFE proposed a plan to build a coalition to promote water consciousness through social media, surveys and educational events.
  • The Decision Center for a Desert City at Arizona State University proposed a plan to engage middle and high school students with a water resource simulation tool to explore various change scenarios and their impact.
  • Creating Actionable Water Consciousness proposed a plan to engage city planners using an online tool that would allow them to run development scenarios as they plan for their cities’ futures.
  • The Support Our Schools AZ Collaborative proposed a “Pledge to Preserve” campaign that would provide educational materials for the classroom and gather data on how school districts’ water use changes.


LEFT: One of five judges at the event, Lisa Urias poses a follow-up question for one of the teams. On her right are Megan Brownell, Thom Reilly, and Phil Boas. MIDDLE: ACF's Chief Philanthropic Services Officer Jacky Alling was the master of ceremonies for the event. RIGHT: Approximately 150 people attended the event at the Phoenix Art Museum.


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