Navigating Our River Communities: Mississippi River Stories by Twin Cities Teens

Young people from disadvantaged communities within the Twin Cities have been involved in restoration of Mississippi River natural areas for years through programs of the Community Design Center of Minnesota.  The long-standing Green Team program in St. Paul brings together youth from the city's Hmong, Hispanic, African-American communities with gardeners and nonprofit restoration ecologists to clear invasive vegetation species and replant areas of the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary.  In 2008, the Green team concept expanded to Minneapolis, where youth worked with staff from the National Park Service Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, and the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization to begin ecological restoration work at the Father Hennepin Bluffs Park, located on the east side of St. Anthony Falls.

Ceramic artist Anna Metcalfe, a graduate student earning her MFA at the University of Minnesota, approached project coordinators in early summer with a new idea: why not ask the program’s members to draw and write their “river story” on paper outlines of boat shapes, which Metcalfe would then fire into a series of “story boats,” each illustrating an individual’s expressive relationship to the Mississippi River?  The coordinators agreed that the expressive opportunity offered by the story boat project provided the students a chance to reflect in a different way about their evolving relationship with the river that they had been working with all summer.  Metcalfe held workshops for both the Minneapolis and St. Paul teams, collected their drawings and writings, and fired a series of clay boats, nearly 60 in all.

Toward the end of the summer, students had the opportunity to see their boats as artistic objects, co-created between themselves and Metcalfe.  Many of the drawings were exquisite, and the stories quite moving accounts of the students’ ongoing emotional and personal attachment to the River.

The process begins with the program's members drawing and writing their own personal "river story" on paper outlines of boat shapes.

Metcalfe then fired the stories into a series of "story boats".

Metcalfe held workshops for both Minneapolis and St. Paul teams, collected their drawings and writings, and fired a series of clay boats, nearly 60 in all.

Toward the end of the summer, students had the opportunity to see their boats as artistic objects, co-created between themselves and Metcalfe.

 
 

Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary

The Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary (BVNS) is a restored brownfield lying just east of downtown St. Paul.  The many layers of history at the site include waken tipi, residential and industrial development, and lots of railroad lines.  It was reopened as a park in 2005 after a broad-based community effort.

For more information, visit the River Life Web site.

 
 

Community Design Center of Minnesota

The mission of the Community Design Center of Minnesota is to help revitalize low-to-moderate income communities by providing technical assistance and operating programs that will enhance the physical, economic, social, ecological, and spiritual well being of the community and its residents. We believe that building and renewing a community requires a holistic approach that creates long-term sustainable change

For more information, visit the River Life Web site.

 
  Did you visit this story via a direct link? Visit the rest of the river stories at Telling River Stories.