A New Kind of “Wealth” on the Mississippi
I’ve been in this business long enough to remember when folks interested in the Mississippi River could really gather in a not-so-big room and talk together about the work we were doing to connect the river better to our communities and our lives. The discussions crossed interest groups and sectors, included representatives from various levels of government, and often resulted in small groups or clusters breaking away to focus on getting work done on the ground.
So for me, last week marked something of a milestone: four highly distinctive, yet connected, meetings within a seven day span, all concerning the Mississippi River directly or indirectly, and with almost no overlap of participants. The rundown:
Tuesday, November 13, the National Park Service Mississippi River and Recreation Area hosts an Asian Carp forum to gather representatives from state and federal agencies, nonprofits, and legislative staff to discuss progress in the multi-faceted effort to keep destructive Asian carp out of the Mississippi River in the Twin Cities. Scientists from the University of Minnesota and from agencies were there as well. The consensus: we’ve made some progress in defining some goals and getting started in dealing with carp, but there’s a lot left to do. To learn more, start with the Park Service’s page and follow the many links.
Wednesday November 14 was the monthly “Sip of Science” program put on by the National Center for Earth-Surface Dynamics and held at the Aster Cafe on the Minneapolis central riverfront. Kate Brauman, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment gave an informative and entertaining presentation on the connections between water, land use, and vegetation management on the Big Island of Haw’aii. Her study, which used the concept of ecosystem services to get a more precise measure of the benefits accruing to a community from its ecosystem, and some of the costs should those benefits be lost through damage to the ecosystem, should be required for anyone who speaks glibly about how the Mississippi River contributes to the Twin Cities. Not that the river isn’t important, mind you; it’s just that the importance can be measured, a project which would undoubtedly make the case for investment much more strongly.
Saturday November 17 saw the closing of “shadows traces undercurrents” at the Katherine Nash Gallery at the University of Minnesota. Several of the artists who contributed to the show gathered to talk about connections that had begun to emerge from seeing their work in proximity. A strong commonality of these projects was that they “mapped/traced unseen and unacknowledged pasts that structure present-day relations.” (quotation from the introductory panel). Certainly understanding the Mississippi River in the Twin Cities can fruitfully be understood in terms of an “unseen and unacknowledged past!”
Sunday November 18 was the first field trip of the “City/Art Collaboratory project being facilitated by Public Art St. Paul. The dynamic public design studio Works Progress is also playing a strong role. The group, made up largely of public artists and people who work in the STEM disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) met at the Ford Lock and Dam to talk about Asian carp. But this conversation was quite different from Tuesday’s, largely because the discussants came from such a broad range of backgrounds and brought such divergent perspectives to the conversation. We addressed a range of topics and scales, from: “what might be the purposes and roles of public art in a situation like this” to “what does carp taste like”? All over the map.
Which brings me to my question: These meetings/discussions represent an exciting variety and wealth of insights, knowledge, perspective, energy and engagement. Should they be connected somehow? If someone were to make the effort to do some “meta connecting” (sorry, seems like the only phrase that sticks) what would be the point?
Richer public engagement makes for better planning and better projects; that is almost axiomatic. But for me, the territory charted here, with the range of voices and subjects, offers a welcome set of opportunities and challenges.
So where should the discussions go from here?