University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota

Open Rivers Issue 3: Water, Art, and Ecology

August 9, 2016Patrick NunnallyProgram & AnnouncementsComments Off on Open Rivers Issue 3: Water, Art, and Ecology

We are very pleased to announce that Issue 3 of our online journal Open Rivers: Rethinking the Mississippi is now available.  Read it online and/or download PDFs (either of the entire issue or of particular parts).

This issue is largely oriented around a theme of “Water, Art, and Ecology.”  A year ago, as she was finishing her term as postdoctoral fellow with our Mellon-funded grant “Making the Mississippi,” Nenette Luarca-Shoaf suggested that maybe an issue could be devoted to recent artistic expressions of water.  She was in the middle of organizing a session of the 2015 Southeastern College Art Conference on “Fluid Currents: Water, Art, and Ecology,” and she thought some of the talks might lend themselves to this format.

Indeed they do.  Articles such as Jayne Wilkinson’s “Liquid Economies: Networks of the Anthropocene” both broaden and deepen out reach.  Wilkinson’s work considers waters from across the world and places images of these waters in popular and social discourses of environmental change, concerns about catastrophic climate alteration, and urgencies for action.  People whose daily work focuses on the future(s) of the Mississippi River would do well to gain insights from thoughtful, provocative treatments of other waters and issues that are connected to ours here, even though they appear far afield.

We’d like to think of this issue of Open Rivers as defining a particular, rich spot on a spectrum of publications on water.  Many of the features are grounded in humanist intellectual and scholarly conversations, though they address much broader issues.  They are all accessible to educated, informed, laypeople, although some of the necessarily specific language can be a reach for people not working in these particular fields.  But all of these pieces inform our broad project of understanding our relationships with water much more deeply and, from those understandings, formulating more sustainable and inclusive programs, policies, and research/teaching agendas.

Happy reading!  We would love to hear comments, either through the Comments feature here or to me directly at pdn@edu.  If you have suggestions for future issues or articles, we always welcome those as well.

A Sip of Science–The St Anthony Lock Has Closed, So How Is the River Doing?

May 9, 2016Patrick NunnallyEvents, Featured, Former Featured Posts, Program & AnnouncementsComments Off on A Sip of Science–The St Anthony Lock Has Closed, So How Is the River Doing?

This Wednesday May 11, A Sip of Science will feature a University of Minnesota graduate student reporting on a nearly-complete “literature review” and baseline assessment of the Mississippi River in Minneapolis.  We know the Corps of Engineers will not be dredging the former navigation channel, but how will the river’s water quality, aquatic ecology, and sediment systems respond?  We have to know where we are now to understand future changes, so the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources awarded a grant to the Minneapolis Riverfront Partnership to examine existing data on this stretch of the Mississippi and conduct very limited new studies.

Come to the Aster Cafe at 5:30 on Wednesday to hear Jane Mazack, a Ph.D. candidate in Water Resource Science at the U of M, report on the study.

More details below:

The lock is closed: what are the keys to river health?

Jane Mazack, PhD Candidate in Water Resources Science, University of Minnesota

Wednesday, May 11th, 2016  5:30p.m.  
Aster Cafe125 SE Main Street, St. Anthony Main, Minneapolis
No cover, Please RSVP!


A SIP OF SCIENCE bridges the gap between science and culture in a setting that bridges the gap between brain and belly.  Food, beer, and learning are on the menu in a happy hour forum that puts science in context through storytelling.

May 11th Event –

The Mississippi River has long been managed for navigation and transportation purposes. Last June, the St. Anthony Falls lock was closed to navigation and channel dredging was halted. These management actions are expected to change the physical, chemical, and biological condition of the river between the Coon Rapids and Ford Dams. Join us as Jane Mazack describes a current collaborative study between the Minneapolis Riverfront Partnership, Mississippi Watershed Management Organization, the University of Minnesota’s St. Anthony Falls Lab, and River Life program that investigates the keys to evaluating the impacts of the lock closure.


The talk takes place during happy hour at the Aster Cafe || Food and Drink Available for Purchase


Jane Mazack is a PhD candidate in Water Resources Science at the University of Minnesota. She has a B.S. in Environmental Science from Calvin College in Michigan and a M.S. in Water Resources from the University of Minnesota. Her primary research interest is in aquatic ecology, and her dissertation research focuses on the winter dynamics of invertebrates in southeastern Minnesota trout streams.


A SIP OF SCIENCE is a science happy hour sponsored by the National Center for Earth-surface Dynamics (NCED). It is a chance to hear about new and exciting research over beer, in a cool bar.  Come talk with the experts about their efforts to address some of the Earth’s most pressing problems. NCED’s A SIP OF SCIENCE brings the wonder of science to happy hour.

Interested in hearing about Sip of Science events?  Join our mailing list.

Introducing Our New Digital Journal Open Rivers: Rethinking the Mississippi

January 13, 2016Patrick NunnallyFeatured, Program & AnnouncementsComments Off on Introducing Our New Digital Journal Open Rivers: Rethinking the Mississippi

We announce today the inaugural issue of our digital journal, Open Rivers: Rethinking the Mississippi.

openrivers_banner_rlpjan2016“Open” speaks to our commitment to multiple voices, perspectives and subjects.  We will write about the public lands along our rivers, as well as about hydrology.  We will have perspectives from science and policy, from community engagement efforts and from interesting people, places, and events from wherever we find them.

“Rivers” speaks to our primary concern, but we understand that waters are connected and that rivers have watersheds.  So we will go beyond just the urban corridor of the Mississippi, although given our location, that’s probably our home territory and foundation for our inquiries.

Why rethink the Mississippi?  We argue that there are a number of reasons.  There are a bewildering number of people, agencies, organizations and resource and research efforts on the Mississippi.  They don’t talk to each other.  We don’t actually think they probably can; there are just too many differences.  The river is too big to understand.  But our effort is intended to bring together perspectives that don’t normally see or hear from each other, so that conversations might become more connected and integrated even if only a little.

We also feel that the stories we tell about the Mississippi, while important, should be reexamined. We talk about the dead zone, about the importance of flood ways and floodplains, about community redevelopment and navigation.  We ritualistically talk about Mark Twain, perhaps even quote his work.  Two factors, though, are only beginning to emerge as part of the story of the Great River.

First is climate change.  Simply put, the past is not any longer a good predictor for how systems will behave in the future.  The winter flooding stories in the news now speak to this fact; look for more in upcoming issues of our journal.

The second factor is demographic.  The populations in the cities and towns along the river and in the watershed are changing, becoming more diverse and are perhaps not as grounded historically and culturally in the history of the area over the past couple of centuries.  Many communities that have been in this region for generations have a fraught, violent, or transitory relationship with the river or its tributaries.  Mark Twain may not mean much to the regions newest residents.  And his work may not mean much to the residents of longest duration either.  We are committed to learning from and learning with native people, believing as we do that the perspectives of people who have been here the longest are vital to help us understand what we might do to live here sustainably for the long duration.

We hope you’ll read and enjoy the journal.  Share it, tell us what you think and what we should write about.  Write for us or contribute in some other way.

It’s a big river and we need to hear from everyone.

A historic shift for the Mississippi River in Minneapolis: ecological impacts being studied

Last summer, when the Upper St. Anthony lock closed for good (at least as permanently as anything done through federal policy-making) there was considerable discussion about changes in the ways the river and adjacent corridor might be used.  Would the absence of barge traffic through the lock spell the end of industrial waterfront uses above the falls?

The jury is still out on that, but in the meantime another study of potential impacts has begun.  The Minneapolis Riverfront Partnership, working with the River Life program as well as several other partners, has received a grant from the State of Minnesota’s Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund. Together we are studying the ecological and physical attributes of the river between the Coon Rapids Dam upstream and the lock/dam at the site of the old Ford Plant in St. Paul, just upstream from the junction with the Minnesota River.  We’re trying to establish baseline data on a number of conditions such as sediment load, presence and density of mussel populations, and river bed conditions, so that we can assess changes over the next 3-5 years.

The Mississippi River is, of course, a very complex system even up here.  Some people have worried that the absence of Corps of Engineers dredging will cause the river to “fill in” with silt.  Others see the absence of navigation as an opportunity to manage the river for recreation and ecological benefits.

Whatever the future management and policy decisions are for the river in Minneapolis, they should be informed by good science.  Good science starts with close observation and analysis of the data.  Stay tuned–we’ll know more in a few months!

For more on our study, and comments from our partners, see “Study to review effects of retiring a stretch of the Mississippi River in Minneapolis”


Hard to Believe it’s Been 10 Years: Have We Learned Anything?

November 6, 2015Patrick NunnallyProgram & AnnouncementsComments Off on Hard to Believe it’s Been 10 Years: Have We Learned Anything?

The short answer is “yes.”  If we haven’t learned anything in ten years’ work, then River Life should simply close up shop.

But we have learned quite a bit, which positions us, we think, for more focused and powerful work going forward.

In 2005, Ann Forsyth, then director of the Metropolitan Design Center at the University of Minnesota, made a small one time grant that allowed me to focus my attention on how the university could better connect with the Mississippi River, which runs through the middle of the Minneapolis campus.  After all, both Minneapolis and St. Paul were strengthening their river connections; the university should do likewise.

It did not take long to realize that the Mississippi River was a subject that interested the university beyond the College of Design.  In 2007 we became a program of the new Institute on the Environment (IonE).

We think of our time with IonE as “River Life 2.0,” and it was certainly a formative period for us.  We committed to digital media as our primary form of knowledge sharing (as opposed, say, to traditional publishing outlets) and became focused on expanding the ways we understood rivers.  Put simply, much of the work of riverfront revitalization that cities are engaged with does not depend on knowing how rivers work.  Recreation managers, community planners, and real estate developers ought to know more hydrology and aquatic ecology, but for many the river is just “a wet thing near the ground we are interested in.”

Even though we learned a lot about various river sciences during our time at IonE, we were never going to be actual scientific researchers, which is really the name of the game for that institute.  So in 2012 we moved again, this time to our present administrative home at the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS).  The IAS, which describes itself as “contributing to intellectual community across the campus and beyond its borders,” has been a partner of ours from the very beginning, so in many ways this last move felt like coming home.  My academic and writing background is in the arts and humanities, so in some ways we have completed the triangle: from the “doing” of design/planning to the realm of scientific investigations to the humanistic concerns with meaning and significance.

So where are we going?  We continue to focus on the Mississippi River, recognizing that the river is both a vitally important and enormously complex physical space in its own right and a central location in which to situate other inquiries.  For example, which communities within the Twin Cities have not had equitable access to the river’s amenity values, and why?  Who controls how the region’s waters are managed–the Mississippi after all is the most visible part of a vastly complex regional water system–and who benefits most from that water management?  How can we better understand the water relationships, and all that follow from them, between the watershed and the main stem of the river?

We’ll explore these and related questions through research, through teaching that we conduct and that we support in various ways, and through a new digital journal that will commence later this fall.  Watch for that, and for ways to add your voices to the growing conversation about a more sustainable, inclusive future for the Mississippi River.

Looking for Ways to Celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day in Minneapolis?

October 9, 2015Patrick NunnallyEvents, Program & AnnouncementsComments Off on Looking for Ways to Celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day in Minneapolis?

Our friends at the Healing Place Collaborative were recognized this week as one of the winners in the 2015 St. Paul Knight Arts Challenge.  Huge congratulations to them all and we can’t wait to see how the Dakota Language Table will work!

In the meantime, especially for those of you who have Monday October 12 off, here’s a list of things you can do to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day in Minneapolis and at the Minneapolis Institute of Art.  It’s truly wonderful that there are so many possibilities!  What follows is cut/paste so apologies for odd formatting–scroll down to see all the good stuff!

Looking for ways to celebrate?  scroll and scroll and scroll

City sponsored events:

Sunrise ceremony

7:15 a.m.
Thomas Beach at Lake Calhoun, 3700 Thomas Ave. S.
(The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board added the Dakota name “Bde Maka Ska” to the brown entry signs surrounding Lake Calhoun as a way to honor the Dakota people and educate the public about the Dakota name of the lake.)

Red Shawl Round Dance

9:00 a.m.
American Indian Center, 1530 E. Franklin Ave.

Brunch catered by Powwow Grounds

9:30 a.m.
American Indian Center, 1530 E. Franklin Ave.

Panel discussion

Moderator: Deanna Standing Cloud
Panelists: Sharon Day and Robert DesJarlait
10 a.m.
American Indian Center, 1530 E. Franklin Ave.

The Indigenous People’s Day Hip Hop Show
5-8:30 p.m.
Augsburg College, 2211 Riverside Ave.

Other event sponsors include Metropolitan Urban Indian Directors and Minneapolis American Indian Center.

About Indigenous Peoples Day

Since 2014, the City recognizes the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples Day, marking and celebrating the significance of the American Indian and Indigenous community in Minneapolis, as well as the city’s history of American Indian activism. Minneapolis’ 2014 resolution, in part, states, “The City of Minneapolis shall continue its efforts to promote the well-being and growth of the Minneapolis American Indian and Indigenous community. … Indigenous Peoples Day shall be used to reflect upon the ongoing struggles of Indigenous people on this land, and to celebrate the thriving culture and value that Dakota, Ojibwe, and other Indigenous nations add to our city.”

Also in the area:

Saint Paul Indigenous Peoples Day
11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.
Crowne Plaza, 11 Kellogg Blvd. E., Saint Paul


The City of Minneapolis has officially changed Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day, and Mia is celebrating with a day dedicated to Native American art, both traditional and contemporary. Get hands-on in studio sessions, meet Native artists, and feel the rhythm with live drumming and dance performances.

Dance Kalpulli KetzalCoatlicue Aztec Dance

11:3012:30 & 2 p.m.

Delight in vibrant and rhythmic dances from Kalpulli KetzalCoatlicue Aztec Dance.

Dance Yellowhouse Dancers

Noon1:30 & 3 p.m.

Hoop dances tell stories through form and movement. Marvel at hoop dance performances from world championship-class hoop dancers from the Yellowhouse Dancers.

Interactive Performances Miskwa Desjarlait

Noon–3 p.m.

Join artist and dancer Miskwa Desjarlait, and discover the stories and artistry behind Native dances.

Performance and Talk Talon Bazille Ducheneaux

1 p.m.

Meet rapper and expression artist Talon ‘Bazille DX’ Ducheneaux and hear about his journey from the Cheyenne River, Crow Creek, and Rosebud Reservations to the Ivy Leagues.

Art-making Symmetrical Style

11 a.m.–4:30 p.m.

Compose a collage that’s simply striking, inspired by black and white Pueblo pottery. Design your own shapes, then flip them to create a symmetrical work of art.

Art-making Gold Pendants

11 a.m.–4:30 p.m.

Craft a dazzling gold creation inspired by Mesoamerican ornaments.

Gallery Hunt Circle, Square, Everywhere

11 a.m.–4:30 p.m.

Seek out your favorite shapes as you explore Native American art in Mia’s collection.

Preschool Tour Pattern

11:30 a.m. & 12:30 p.m.

Go on an adventure exploring patterns in art of the Americas, with a tour designed especially for little ones.

Art Cart Americas

Noon–4 p.m.

Get hands-on with objects representing Native cultures from the Arctic to South America with our great Native Collection in Focus Guides.

Tour From Anishinaabe to Zapotec: Art of the Americas

2 & 3:30 p.m.

Take a family-friendly tour and explore art of the Indigenous Peoples from ancient times to the present.


Indeed, “Water Is All We Have”

May 6, 2015Patrick NunnallyProgram & AnnouncementsComments Off on Indeed, “Water Is All We Have”

If you have wanted to go to the growing Water Bar phenomenon but have missed out, you are in luck: the Water Bar will be open at Aster Cafe a week from tonight as part of the “Sip of Science” series.  Water Bar is an interactive, collaborative public art project that serves local drinking waters and discusses them,

Really simple, yet also a project that gets profoundly to the heart of something we absolutely take for granted every day: turning on the tap for fresh water.  Where does the water come from? What is done to it between source and sink? Is it threatened in any way? How much does it cost and how is the payment system worked out?

Learn all this and more by engaging with the scientist/artist bar-tenders next Wednesday at Sip of Science.  More details and registration information is below.

Oh, and the Aster Cafe probably won’t mind if you buy a beer to wash down your waters.

Water Bar: Creating Open Spaces for Conversations and Connections
Works Progress Studio
Wednesday, May 13th, 2015  5:30p.m.
Aster Cafe125 SE Main Street, St. Anthony Main, Minneapolis
No cover, Please RSVP!

A SIP OF SCIENCE bridges the gap between science and culture in a setting that bridges the gap between brain and belly.  Food, beer, and learning are on the menu in a happy hour forum that puts science in context through storytelling.

May 13th Event –

Water Bar is a public art project created by Works Progress Studio and collaborators. 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 in conversation and collaboration with scientific researchers, environmental advocates, arts organizers, public employees, educators, artists, and other community residents who drink water and care about the issues it touches. It is an open space for the generation of conversations and connections around the life-sustaining, precarious, communal activity of drinking tap water, and an evolving, itinerant, living project. We invite Water Bar visitors to engage with one another, as well as with project collaborators, who tend bar and share their knowledge of water and water issues. Water Bar is a place to talk, to quench your thirst, to inquire, and to share personal stories and reflections.

The talk takes place during happy hour at the Aster Cafe || Food and Drink Available for Purchase


Works Progress Studio is an artist-led LLC based in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, and led by husband-wife Collaborative Directors Colin Kloecker and Shanai Matteson. Works Progress engages an expansive network of artists, designers, organizers, and other creative people to realize imaginative public art and design projects rooted in place and purpose. These projects take many forms, all created through a collaborative, participatory, publicly-oriented creative process that responds to location, ecology, and the capacity and creativity of individual people living and working together.


A SIP OF SCIENCE is a science happy hour sponsored by the National Center for Earth-surface Dynamics (NCED). It is a chance to hear about new and exciting research over beer, in a cool bar.  Come talk with the experts about their efforts to address some of the Earth’s most pressing problems. NCED’s A SIP OF SCIENCE brings the wonder of science to happy hour.

Get more information at:


Science and Policy Intersections To Be Featured at Mississippi River Forum

May 5, 2015Patrick NunnallyProgram & AnnouncementsComments Off on Science and Policy Intersections To Be Featured at Mississippi River Forum

The Mississippi River and its corridor are the sites of a very broad range of scientific inquiry.  Likewise, it is sometimes surprising how diverse the policy questions are that have an impact on the river.  Learn more about both at this Friday’s Mississippi River Forum.  This year’s program includes the Cute (river otters), the Topical (proposed buffer strip legislation) and the Disruptive (nitrate pollution lawsuit filed by Des Moines water works).  This will be a great program!

Details about registration are contained in the note below.

Annual Mississippi River Forum Workshop
Friday, May 8, 2015
8:30 a.m.  – 12:30 p.m.
Science Museum of Minnesota, Saint Paul
Breakfast provided.
Registration is free, but is requested in advance. Please contact Lark Weller ( or 651-293-8442) to register.
Network with others and enjoy the following presentations:
-The Return of the River Otters
-Minnesota’s Buffer Initiative: An Up-to-Date Look at the Proposed Legislation
-Risk Communication in an Environment of Doubt

This year’s keynote address will be given by Bill Stowe, CEO and General Manager of the Des Moines Water Works (DMWW). Mr. Stowe will discuss the process leading up to, and the repercussions of, the DMWW’s decision to file a Clean Water Act complaint against four “upstream” counties for nitrate pollution.

Detailed program information is posted at We look forward to seeing you there!

Thank you to the Mississippi River Fund and the McKnight Foundation for their support of this event.

Oft Maligned, Historical Knowledge May be Way to the Future

May 1, 2015Patrick NunnallyProgram & AnnouncementsComments Off on Oft Maligned, Historical Knowledge May be Way to the Future

Nearly everyone has a favorite “I hated history class” story.  It may have been a high school teacher who focused only on facts, or a college professor who was only interested in their esoteric little bit of the world.  Whatever the case, when I tell people I work on Mississippi River history, I often get “Oh, I hated history.”

Steve Elliott, the director of the Minnesota Historical Society, would seem to be playing into this disparagement with the title of his May 7 Thursdays at Four talk “The Future of History: Would You Like Fries with That?”  It would be unwise to sell Elliott’s perspective short, however.  Since assuming the helm of one of the state’s oldest organizations, he has made it a 21st century leader among the state’s cultural organizations and, once again, a strong player in some of the state’s most important conversations.

As one example, the Society’s treatment of the sesquicentennial of the 1862 Dakota War had depth, subtlety, and addressed a very broad range of issues.  The impacts of this war still resonate strongly in the region of the state where it was fought, as well as throughout the Dakota native community, which has seen a widespread diaspora from the state as a result of the war and the genocidal policies that accompanied it.  These are not easy matters to navigate, and the Society has not done a perfect job of its treatment. But it has not skirted the complexity, either.

On a more focused note, Society sites such as Mill City Museum are leaders in neighborhood community development, programming, and community visioning.   Mill City Museum opened an exhibit last night on the history and people of Bohemian Flats, a now-vanished community along the Mississippi River, on the west bank, across from the University of Minnesota campus.  Speakers at the opening celebration rightly pointed out that this attention to immigration and workers and their role in the city over a century ago resonates strongly with public debates taking place currently.

So while it may be true that “Would you like fries with that?” is a pertinent question for current history majors, for those with the skills, imagination, and ambition to have their work reach the public and affect its thinking, a better professional question may be “What stories shall we tell now, in terms of the impact we know we’ll have?”

Learn more: Thursdays at Four program, Steve Elliott, Director, Minnesota Historical Society, Thursday May 7, 4:00, Tom and Ellie Crosby Seminar Room, Northrop Memorial Auditorium.


“One Place, Many Voices” Exhibition on Bohemian Flats to Open April 30

April 27, 2015Patrick NunnallyProgram & AnnouncementsComments Off on “One Place, Many Voices” Exhibition on Bohemian Flats to Open April 30

For some time now, Rachel Hines has been writing blog posts about Bohemian Flats and the other “living with water” communities along the Mississippi in the Twin Cities.  An exhibition on some of the many facets of the Flats will open this Thursday evening with a program at Mill City Museum.

Dr. Scott Anfinson, the Minnesota State Archaeologist, will give a talk about archaeological investigations in the Minneapolis Central Riverfront, including Bohemian Flats, the Hennepin Avenue Bridge, and the Federal Reserve Bank.  The program is 6-8, Thursday April 30.  Admission to the program is free, but does not include admission to the full museum.  More information is available here.

The exhibit is funded in part by the Legacy Amendment’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund through the vote of Minnesotans on Nov. 4, 2008.



Contact Us!
Send us a note at 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.