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RIVER LIFE

Walking through the Door to the “river at our doorstep”

Paddling by the SkylineSometimes it’s just plain fun to work at a place where people have lots of ideas and energy.  On Friday February 28, our “River at our Doorstep” program was exactly that:  lots of ideas and energy and a day from which to build good project ideas.

I wrote earlier about our friends at Works Progress,and particularly the blog response to our event from one of the co-principals, Shanai Matteson.  If you want a good primer on what roles the arts can play in forming community and helping us all find new ways to see differently, this post is a “must read.”

The Institute for Advanced Study, our “home base” at the University, filmed the opening remarks for the symposium.  This link contains that video, featuring Paul Labovitz from the National Park Service, Katie Nyberg from the Mississippi River Fund, and me, speaking on behalf of the River Life program.

So how did the day go, after all?  At the beginning I listed three goals for the workshop:

  • for people to become acquainted with folks they did not know before;
  • for people to see expanded possibilities for their own work;
  • for us at River Life to identify some threads and efforts that we could assist with.

According to everyone I spoke with afterwards, those goals were met, with resounding success to the tune of “we ought to do this more” or “wait, I can’t talk now because I have to go catch that person before they leave and exchange email addresses.”

There were three other clear take away messages that emerged from all of the dynamic conversations in the room.

  1. The relationship with students is a big deal.  We had a number of students there and they were nearly unanimous in their desire to learn more about the river, to engage with this corridor during their time at the University, and to do service projects with river-oriented community partners.  The community partners there also expressed a strong desire to connect to students, so that’s a set of projects waiting to happen.
  2. The arts and design can play a huge role in our University-River connection.  We had relatively few scientists in attendance, so it’s not fair to say that there’s no need for scientific investigation (far from it!).  But the rich, complex, and diverse voices of artists added a great deal to the overall mix of the day.
  3. There is still a gap between the University’s research enterprise and the knowledge needs of the community.  Sometimes the community needs something that we just don’t have; sometimes our researchers are too specialized for a public audience/collaboration; sometimes the mix just isn’t right.  But it was clear over the course of the day that disconnects between “town and gown” remain to be worked on.

Lewis Gilbert from the University’s Institute on the Environment closed our discussions with a couple of key messages.  Primary among those was the exhortation to do something worthy of the scale of the Mississippi River and the University.  We’re a big, comprehensive research, teaching, and engagement institution, and the Mississippi is one of the world’s great rivers.  Our efforts should aspire to that scale.  As Gilbert asked us,

“How does what you do here make the world a better place?”

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2 Comments

  1. Minneapolis RiverCurrent – March 19, 2014 | Folwell Neighborhood AssociationMarch 26, 2014 at 11:39 am

    […] On February 28, the River Life program conducted “The River at Our Doorstep,” a daylong workshop on University research, teaching and programs connected to the Mississippi River. Around 100 people engaged in highly energized discussions, and many ideas are already beginning to take hold and guide future program development. To learn more, and read a truly outstanding response to the day by our community partner Shanai Matteson, go to http://riverlife.umn.edu/2014/03/10/walking-through-the-door-to-the-river-at-our-doorstep/ […]

  2. Minneapolis RiverCurrent – March 19, 2014 | Webber CamdenMarch 26, 2014 at 2:04 pm

    […] On February 28, the River Life program conducted “The River at Our Doorstep,” a daylong workshop on University research, teaching and programs connected to the Mississippi River. Around 100 people engaged in highly energized discussions, and many ideas are already beginning to take hold and guide future program development. To learn more, and read a truly outstanding response to the day by our community partner Shanai Matteson, go to http://riverlife.umn.edu/2014/03/10/walking-through-the-door-to-the-river-at-our-doorstep/ […]

Contact Us!
Send us a note at rvrlife@umn.edu to make suggestions for other places we should look, media to track, and stories to tell!
River Life in Video
Come Along for a Water Walk with Kare11 and River Life, and see Gifts at Work: The Mississippi River by the University of Minnesota Foundation
Open Rivers: Rethinking the Mississippi
A joint project of River Life, the Institute for Advanced Study, and the University of Minnesota Libraries, Open Rivers is an interdisciplinary online journal that recognizes the Mississippi River as a space for timely and critical conversations about people, community, water, and place.