Dear River: Life on the Mississippi through art and place, story and sentiment, love and living systems.

You know how it goes sometimes: Even labors of love, those passion projects you dream up and can’t let go, simmer for months or years, bubbling quietly in the background as you focus on other work.

For us, Dear River is one of those projects. It began with the Mississippi Megalops, which we organized and presented with our friend Andy Sturdevant and over 40 other artists, scientists, historians and storytellers at Northern Spark in 2011. We wanted to create an engaging space where many different visions of what a river means, and what a river can be, flow together for awhile—a prism through which to see ourselves and our place reflected. At sunset we clambered aboard a riverboat and spent the night moving on the water, with puppet shows, live readings, multimedia presentations, films, scavenger hunts, a choir, lullabies, some dumplings, a few science talks, some costumed interpreters, and the most beautiful sunrise we’ve ever seen.

Thanks to Captain Bob Deck for letting us ride in style in the pilot house of the Padelford. Bob has a few books you might enjoy.

Thanks to Captain Bob Deck for letting us ride in style in the pilot house of the Padelford. Bob has a few books you might enjoy.

We know we’ll never recreate the feeling of that project, but we’ve been working on some new ways to bring together river people, river stories, and river advocacy—presenting a snapshot of life today on the Upper Mississippi River.

The Dear River website we created with mono and their 2013 summer interns.

The Dear River website we created with mono and their 2013 summer interns.

A year ago we started building an interactive website with help from mono and their awesome team of summer interns. It’s still not quite finished (summer interns, much like summer itself, can’t last forever), but you can see it here if you want to. It’s a work in progress; A simple platform for river stories and sentiments presented as a collective love letter. For about a year it’s been sitting there, waiting for the next thing.

And Eventually, That Thing Happens

When TPT Rewire approached us to put together an hour of television as part of their new TV Takeover series, we knew it was time to pull Dear River off the shelf. We started reimagining it as a series of loosely connected films, presented on an interactive website, with an accompanying curriculum and engagement toolkit.

This Friday night we’ll present the first part of that bigger vision, a series of new videos created about and with other artists, activists, ecologists, fishermen and women, and other river citizens of the Twin Cities.

Going into this series, we were inspired by two media projects we came across recently: The Ways and Climate WisconsinBoth were produced by a fellow named Finn Ryan at Wisconsin Media Lab. We love the way that these two projects present big and complex topics (Native Language and Climate Change) through the prism of many different individual stories, presented with care and attention to aesthetic detail. We also love how these stories become a launch pad for further public engagement and meaning-making.

Making Meaning on the Mississippi

The Mississippi River is as big and complex a story as any other. It’s a place that moves through people and time.

We had the opportunity to meet Finn Ryan a few months ago on a trip to Madison, where Wisconsin Media Lab is based. It turns out he grew-up in Minneapolis, and when he was a kid (about the same time I was a kid) he took part in another river-art project that has been an inspiration to us,Heart of the Beast’s Circle of Water CircusFinn and his family and others from HOBT traveled the Mississippi, visiting small towns along the way to perform, to present workshops, to advocate and connect for sustainability long before it was a buzzword.

I grew up on the Mississippi, in a really small town that was a popular overnight stopping point for people making the journey from Lake Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico. As a teenager, my friends and I would hang out in the campground by the river, hoping these travelers would invite us to join them around the fire. Sometimes they did, sharing the reasons they were paddling or biking or driving or walking the big river. For some it was adventure, to say they did it. Others had spiritual motivations, or were embarking on a public education project, a research trip, or an art-making endeavor. For me,Dear River actually began there.

I don’t know if Finn and the HOTB crew ever stopped in my hometown, but the river is the kind of place where stories like these unexpectedly converge, and that’s exactly what we’re hoping to present this Friday.

What To Expect on Dear River TV

This Friday night on TPT Channel 2, We’re premiering a new series of videos we’ve created under the Dear River theme. The subjects of these videos include artist Aaron Dysart and his personal connection to the river, expressed through sculptural projects and recent impulse to work collaboratively with scientists; A letter from a river mussel, penned by a mussel restoration ecologist from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources; The story of a small Bait Shop in St. Paul and the different cultures that converge there, as well as on the river; An experimental film about our relationship to nature through an invasive carp and found audio clips, part of a bigger research project led by artists Janaki Ranpura and Molly Balcom Raleigh; A “slow TV” journey through the Metropolitan Wastewater Treatment Plant that Colin Kloecker created and will narrate live, alongside plant manager Larry Rogacki; A poem by T.K. O’Rourke about working on the river, paired with movement by BodyCartography Project; And a short interview and portrait of Sharon Day, an Ojibwe elder, artist, and activist who has walked the length of several rivers, including the entire Mississippi, praying for the water.

These videos feature only a small fraction of the people, projects, and stories we’re excited about right now that turn their attention to the Mississippi and our water system. We hope to connect with others at some point in the future to continue this series.

“The Line Through the Middle” features artist Aaron Dysart.

“The Line Through the Middle” features artist Aaron Dysart.

From “I Live Here!” featuring Mike Davis, MN DNR, Co-Directed by Majid Jamaleldine.

Still from, “Kathy’s Live Bait” featuring Tuoa Xiong and Richard Gimpl; Co-Directed by Allison Herrera.

Still from, “Kathy’s Live Bait” featuring Tuoa Xiong and Richard Gimpl; Co-Directed by Allison Herrera.

Still from “15 HOURS” a film that goes behind the scenes at the Metropolitan Wastewater Treatment Plant in Saint Paul, MN.

Still from “15 HOURS” a film that goes behind the scenes at the Metropolitan Wastewater Treatment Plant in Saint Paul, MN.

BodyCartography Project in “Though I Destroyed my Body Doing It,” a poem written and read by T.K. O’Rourke.

BodyCartography Project in “Though I Destroyed my Body Doing It,” a poem written and read by T.K. O’Rourke.

From “10,000 Ways to Eat a Carp,” by Janaki Ranpura, Molly Balcom Raleigh & Shanai Matteson.

From “10,000 Ways to Eat a Carp,” by Janaki Ranpura, Molly Balcom Raleigh & Shanai Matteson.

From “Nibi Walk,” featuring Sharon Day and the story of her Mississippi River Water Walk in 2013.

From “Nibi Walk,” featuring Sharon Day and the story of her Mississippi River Water Walk in 2013.

What You’ll Experience If You Come

TV Takeover is a “TV Party” so all of these videos will be accompanied by interactive art projects in the studio, curated to provide another way of experiencing a connection to the Mississippi. Artist Christine Baeumler will present Eco-Oracle, an ecological fortune telling performance that uses a tarot deck comprised of works in the Weisman Art Museum’s collection. Singer Jayanthi Kyle (Black Audience, Gospel Machine) will perform an original song that speaks to her river story. We’ll also present Water Bar, a new public art project we’re in the process of developing. A video booth in the form of a canoe and green screen will invite you to share your letter to the river.

Christine Baeumler’s Eco-Oracle will be part of the live event

Christine Baeumler’s Eco-Oracle will be part of the live event

Jayanthi Kyle will perform at TV Takeover.

Jayanthi Kyle will perform at TV Takeover.

Water Bar is a new project pairing local tap waters with bartenders from the fields of ecology, environmental science, the humanities, and other water resource fields.

Water Bar is a new project pairing local tap waters with bartenders from the fields of ecology, environmental science, the humanities, and other water resource fields.

Get Tickets to TV Takeover

This is our contribution to TV Takeover: a space for a variety of river stories to meander together for a bit. We really hope you will join us! The fun begins at 7:30PM on Friday the 20th! You can get tickets to the live event here. The $10 ticket price includes fish fry from Red Stag Supper Club and beer from Indeed Brewing, so it’s quite a deal.

If you can’t make it to TPT for the live show, we hope you will watch on your television (Channel 2, 9-10PM) or checkout the live stream at tvtakeover.net. See you on the river!

Originally posted on Medium.

Shanai Matteson

Works Progress, 1901 5th Street NE, Minneapolis, MN 55418, USA

Shanai Matteson is an artist, writer and co-founder/collaborative director of Works Progress, an art and design studio that produces multi-disciplinary events, programs and exhibits. She served as Community Program Specialist for the University of Minnesota’s Bell Museum of Natural History for 6 years, creating a “Café Scientifique” science outreach program and an “Art-Science Residency Program” for contemporary artists, among other initiatives. She was a participant in PASP’s Hunting and Gathering Walks between artists and scientists and has worked with PASP over the past year to develop City Art Collaboratory.