Thursday, October 30, 2014

Young Artists' Views of the River

5th grader Joey Jacobson's Grand Prize Caring for the River art
By Brian Goodspeed

When kids look at the Mississippi River, what do they see? Eagles make a big impression. Varied versions of our national bird popped up in all four categories of the National Park Service’s annual Big River Art Contest.

4th grader Cecilia Faust's Grand Prize Mighty Mississippi art
This year, more than 500 students and schools submitted artwork.
Judges had a tough job selecting a total of sixteen winners in four categories:  The Mighty Mississippi, Caring for the River, Big River Journey and Journey to the Falls.  Mighty Mississippi and Caring for the River categories are open to all 4th, 5th and 6th grade students. Big River Journey and Journey to the Falls categories are reserved for participants in Big River Journey and Journey to the Falls field trip programs.

Outfitted with markers, crayons, pencils and paint, the young artists depicted a curious otter, gnawing beaver, and a few self-portraits of kids spying the river through binoculars. The youthful landscapes show urban river scenes and a riverboat floating past puffy canopies of leafy trees. Some young artists drew detailed images of boats and their gizmos and gear.
5th grader Phelameena Lee's Grand Prize Big River Journey art
Other kids set down on paper their own perspectives of the river, including trash floating alongside fish, reminders to “keep it clean,” and a sweet striped map of the river’s watershed labeled, “The river is in us.”
5th grader Joey Jacobson's Grand Prize Caring for the River art
The National Park Service honored all sixteen Big River Art Contest winners at a reception aboard the Minnesota Centennial Showboat in September. Each student went up on stage and spoke about his or her work to an audience of a hundred people, including families, friends, teachers and principals.

Eventually, all the winning artwork will be on display at the Mississippi River Visitor Center, located in the lobby of the Science Museum of Minnesota in downtown St. Paul. All sixteen top artworks are also on our Facebook page.

The National Park Service honored the sixteen winners at a September reception aboard the Minnesota Centennial Showboat. Each student went up on stage and spoke about his or her work to an audience of a hundred people, including families, friends, teachers and principals.

Eventually, all the winning artwork will be on display at the Mississippi River Visitor Center. You can check out the four grand prize winning artworks here and see all sixteen top artworks at

Congratulations to all the 2014 winning artists, listed here, along with their schools and teachers.

Mighty Mississippi 
Grand Prize Cecilia Faust 4th grade Red Rock Elem/Jamie Swenson
Winner Eltaw Bwell  5th grade Como Park Elem/Laurie Halverson
Winner Sonny Czyscon 5th grade Como Park Elem/Mary Wald
Winner Rebecca Hatfull 4th grade Red Rock Elem/Jamie Swenson

Caring for the River 
Grand Prize Joey Jacobson 5th grade Sunny Hollow Montessori/ Gillett Cole
Winner Lilly Klett 5th grade Como Park Elem/Laurie Halverson
Winner T’Kai Baker  th grade Como Park Elem/Laurie Halverson
Winner Netanya Sadoff 5th grade Pinewood Community School/Jana Flanagan

Big River Journey 
Grand Prize Phelameena Lee  5th grade Como Park Elem/Laurie Halverson
Winner Dominic Guggenberger 5th grade Como Park Elem/Laurie Halverson
Winner D’Marco Anderson  5th grade Como Park Elem/Stephen Belsito
Winner Sophia Barjesten     4th grade Red Rock Elem/Jamie Swenson

Journey to the Falls
Grand Prize Emma Miller 6th grade Lake Harriet Community School/Debra Krawetz
Winner Rachel Springer 6th grade Lake Harriet Community School/Debra Krawetz
Winner Sophia Ostergren 6th grade Lake Harriet Community School/Debra Krawetz
Winner Katie Schroeer  6th grade Lake Harriet Community School/Debra Krawetz

Friday, October 24, 2014

Water is All We Have

Our River City Revue collaborators Works Progress Studio were recently selected to take part a national art exhibition at the Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, Arkansas. The project they chose to include, Water Bar, was developed here in the Twin Cities and was also part of our River City Revue program this past summer. We asked Colin and Shanai at Works Progress to write a guest blog about their Water Bar project.

Water Is All We Have
by Colin Kloecker and Shanai Matteson, Works Progress Studio

Water Bar began, as most of our projects do, with a simple question: Can we drink the Mississippi River?

The answer, of course, is that many of us already do. In Minneapolis, where we live, tap water is sourced from the Mississippi River, a fact not widely known. So one could say that we drink the river every day, with the aid of some state of the art water treatment. Our health and the health of the Mississippi are intimately linked.

Because we regularly collaborate with science professionals, simple questions like this often lead to really complex conversations and projects. In this case, a question about drinking the river led to our current obsession with tap water as an ecological, emotional, civic, and socio-economic moment - a common experience that opens space for conversation about our relationships with water and water systems. 

Tap water is one way that we literally ingest our place in the watershed. This was the spark that led to Water Bar.
As we started to develop the project, we sat down with Lark Weller, a National Park Ranger and water quality educator. We talked about all the things (threats manmade and otherwise) that should discourage one from drinking raw water from the Mississippi River, and we learned more about the ways that Lark and other educators and advocates engage people in thinking about how they can contribute positively to water quality.

We were curious what people thought of their own tap water, and if anyone knew of a map of metro drinking water sources, so Shanai posed these questions on Facebook. This led to an exchange with glacial geologist Carrie Jennings (also of Minnesota Department of Natural Resources) who introduced us to Met Council Environmental Scientist Lanya Ross. It turns out that Lanya is both a drinking water expert, and a really easy person to talk with. Generously, she agreed to meet a group of us for a tap water tasting, and over shots of Saint Paul, Minneapolis, and other local tap waters, she shared some of what she knows about water treatment systems.
We learned that tap water is a really complex undertaking, and that it’s surprisingly easy to find information about tap water if you know where to look. The problem is, most people don’t know where to look, or they may not be compelled to seek that information. And if they do, they may not easily see how it connects to their own experience.

Water Bar was created as a way to bring those different threads of conversation together, and to introduce new public audiences to people like Lark, Carrie and Lanya.

The first iteration of Water Bar was a temporary installation at Twin Cities Public Television. Carrie Jennings, Lark Weller, Pat Nunnally (River Life) and other water resource experts and advocates were on hand to serve eight local tap waters to an audience of about 150 people, who were there to watch a series of short films that we’d made about people and their connections to the Mississippi River. 
We created a simple “flight tray” and tasting card that would invite people to share notes about the waters they were sampling.What you notice right away at Water Bar is that these different municipal waters, all treated to the same public health standards, taste very different. What you experience when you compare them is the confluence of individual water sources, their treatment processes, and your individual taste preferences, often conditioned by whatever water you drink most often. The treatment process of each water is a direct reflection of the water source and its quality. When Minneapolis starts with Mississippi River water, it has to treat for everything that has washed into the river upstream of the city. This results in a very different treatment process from places that draw their water from an underground source, which have a different set of vulnerabilities.

One person remarked that although there was a bar on site serving beer and wine, Water Bar was a more popular destination. The conversations that began as a result of Water Bar were layered with personal experience, expert knowledge, stories pulled from the headlines, and emotional reactions. In short: A good example of how most of us experience connections to our environment.

We’re fortunate to live in a place where, for the most part, water flows to our taps uninterrupted, clean, and accessible. We have many people to thank for this, as well as many challenges ahead that will need to be addressed if we are to have safe and accessible drinking water in the future.

By gathering people around tap water, and offering an opportunity for the exchange of information and experience, we opened a conversation about how best to protect our water sources, and where our waters fit in the regional, national, and global trends of things like climate change, water scarcity, privatization of water, and pollution.
We continue to experiment with Water Bar locally, as well as at the national exhibition State of the Art currently on view at Crystal Bridges Museum in Arkansas. In the process, we’re finding new ways of engaging our community around one of the most important resources we share. 

Water Bar is a collaborative public art project. It is, most simply, a bar that serves local tap waters.

Water Bar was developed by artists Shanai Matteson and Colin Kloecker of Works Progress Studio, in conversation and collaboration with a community of practice that includes scientific researchers, environmental advocates, arts organizers, public employees, educators, artists, and other community residents who drink water and care about the issues it touches. 

To learn more about Water Bar and Shanai and Colin's work, visit

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Big Sit Birding

By Sharon Stiteler

White-throated Sparrow
The Big Sit is a fun and casual way to watch birds. The basic idea is that you sit in one spot for 24 hours and tally up how many different species are observed either by sight or sound.

This October 12 national park rangers Sharon Stiteler and Gordon Dietzman will host a Big Sit at Coldwater Spring from 7:30 AM – 6:30 PM using a 17-foot diameter count circle.

People are welcome to join them to help count birds or to learn more about bird identification, bird photography or birding apps. This is a low-key affair that happens to involve a little citizen science. If you want to stick out the whole day with the rangers and see every possible bird, you can be there the whole day. If you prefer to stop by for only an hour or two to see what this whole birding thing is about, that’s ok.

Snacks will be on hand, but if you plan to join the rangers all day, bring a lunch and something to drink. At the end of the day, participants are welcome to head over to Axel’s in Mendota for a Birds and Beers, an informal gathering of birders in the Twin Cities.

Here are the official Big Sit rules (which are slightly modified from the official Big Sit hosted by Bird Watcher’s Digest). If you wish to hotlink:

Bird observations can only be made from within a pre-determined 17-foot (diameter) circle.

Birds can be counted if they are seen or heard.

There's no limit to how many people can occupy one circle (other than the obvious spatial limitations). Bring a chair if you think you will be there all day.

If a bird is seen or heard from within the circle but is too distant to identify, the circle can be left to get a closer look/listen to confirm the bird's identity. However, any new bird species seen or heard while confirming the original can't be counted unless it's seen or heard from an "anchor" who stayed behind in the count circle, or is seen by you when you return to your circle.

Tally the number of species that you observe. We will submit our final totals to eBird.

Big Sit participants can work in shifts. No one person needs to be there throughout the whole Big Sit, however one park ranger will be present throughout the day of our sit. The area can be left and returned to as frequently as desired, but you must be sure to return to the exact 17-foot diameter circle each time to count the birds.

The same circle must be used for the entire Big Sit!