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Our Story

"Welcome to Water Bar, water is all we have."


Serving Water Since 2014.

Water Bar began as a public art project in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Our initial goals were simple: Encourage people to slow down and to consider their relationship with place and ecology, through the everyday act of drinking tap water together. In just over 3 years, Water Bar has developed into a unique arts and ecology organization: An artist-led, mission-focused business that is also a collaborative community space, and an emerging support network for arts and ecology leadership.

An Incubator of cross-sector Collaboration on water, place, and environment

Water Bar & Public Studio is recognized across the country as a hub for innovative and impactful public art, education, engagement, and design at the intersection of several critical fields. As artists, we're involved in public art-making and arts organizing, as well as community development, environmental advocacy, movement-building, social science research, and public policy regarding water and water resources. Water Bar exists to serve water by building relationships that ultimately change the cultures of collaboration across these and other fields and sectors.

A new model: Business as public art work

We are a public benefit corporation led by artists. We are not a 501c3 nonprofit. As a public benefit corporation, our goal is not only to develop an audience for innovative arts and ecology projects, but to reimagine the business models and support systems underlying this important work.

Water Bar is supported through a combination of earned income from creative products and services; Social impact investment by organizations and individuals who share our passion for serving water and supporting ecological art work; Project-based partnerships with nonprofit organizations and government groups; and through our work as practicing public artists.

Though we're a relatively new organization, our collaborative directors have been working within the field of artist spaces and projects for over a decade. We're committed to deepening our work and expanding our impact by "re-investing" our energy and resources in our local creative community, directing support to other art and ecology leaders. We do this by hiring other artists and local residents to lead new Water Bar projects; Through our Public Studio offerings; and by sharing what we learn in process through networks of support and exchange.

To request more information about how we work, our unique business model, or about who we work with, just say hello! 


Water Bar was developed in 2014 as a public art project by Shanai Matteson and Colin Kloecker of Works Progress Studio, in conversation with a community of scientific researchers, environmental advocates, arts organizers, public employees, educators, and others. Our first Water Bar pop-up was part of Twin Cities Public Television's inaugural TV Takeover series in June of 2014. Works Progress Studio curated an hour-long TV program about relationships to the Mississippi River (Dear River) which was broadcast live to viewers across Minnesota.

In 2014, Water Bar was also featured in the national art exhibition State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas. In collaboration with the Illinois River Watershed Partnership and Crystal Bridges, we hired a group of student interns to be our first Water Bar Water Tenders. These students - with backgrounds in ecology, natural resource management, design, policy, and business sustainability - served over 20,000 museum visitors over the course of 5 months, helping to shape the future of the project as a whole.

In 2015, a new Water Bar project was developed in Greensboro, North Carolina, as part of the South Elm Projects at Elsewhere Living Museum. In collaboration with Greensboro Water Resources and Guilford College’s Cape Fear River Basin Project, we developed and presented a two-night Water Bar program utilizing a mobile bar that we also designed and built with these partners. That Water Bar project remains in Greensboro, and has expanded the thinking and relationships of college faculty, students, artists, utility employees, and neighbors. This iteration of the Water Bar project was supported through a creative placemaking grant to Elsewhere Museum from ArtPlace America

In 2016, Stanford University’s Cantor Art Center invited Water Bar to activate their inner courtyard with a 6-week program in support of their special exhibition, California: The Art of Water. This Water Bar project sparked conversation about the importance of water to individuals and communities in the Bay Area, providing an opportunity for the museum to engage visitors with a variety of partners on and off campus - from urban planners and engineers, to scientists, researchers, biologists, students and faculty, artists, writers, and historians.

We continue to develop new Water Bar installations at museums and other institutions. Click here to connect with us about bringing Water Bar to your community for a longer-term engagement.


While developing and presenting Water Bar at other artistic institutions, we have continued to grow our network of cross-sector partners, bringing our Water Bar pop-up to numerous professional conferences, public events, and public places in Minnesota, and across the country. We receive regular requests to bring Water Bar to other places, and this activity helps to support our ongoing work. 

You can request a pop-up Water Bar by visiting this page.


We continue to work with partners in our northeast Minneapolis neighborhood to root our work in place, including the indigenous artist-led Healing Place CollaborativeHolland Neighborhood Improvement Association, Mississippi Watershed Management Organization, City of Minneapolis, and numerous other local businesses and nonprofit organizations.

We also continue to develop partnerships to serve water and build cross-sector relationships across Minnesota, including with the Metropolitan Council Environmental ServicesUniversity of Minnesota's Institute on Environment, Water Resource Center, Institute for Advanced Study, and other departments;  Minnesota Humanities Center and the We Are Water MN project; Minnesota Pollution Control AgencyMinnesota Department of HealthGovernor Dayton's Water Initiative; and a special partnership with the MuseWeb Foundation and Smithsonian Institution to collect and share water stories from hundreds of Minnesotans across the state.

We also partner with education institutions on field trips, classes, or workshops; To host interns; And to present collaborative events and projects. We are currently partnering with the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis College of Art and Design, Augsburg College to develop longer-term collaborations. 

In 2017 Water Bar was featured for the first time at the Minnesota State Fair in the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's Eco Experience building, where we served water to over 24,000 people and engaged over 100 new Water Tenders over the course of 12 days. 


In May of 2016 we opened Water Bar & Public Studio in a Northeast Minneapolis storefront. This hybrid art/science/community center focused on water and all the ways it connects us. Located in the heart of the Northeast Minneapolis Arts District, Water Bar & Public Studio was (and still is!) home to a community of artists and others working to re-center water in our cultural lives.

After a pilot year, we closed our first storefront in order to develop and renovate a new storefront that better suits our needs, with investment from our community. That space is set to open in October of 2017 - and will be expanding to include an active visual art exhibition program, as well as a dance and movement program led by our new Water Bar partner, artist Jennifer Arave.

Impact & Reach of Water Bar

Since beginning the Water Bar project in 2014 we have facilitated over 150 Water Bar Pop-ups in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, North Carolina, Arkansas, and California. We have partnered with a wide range of organizations, including art museums, schools, watershed districts, festivals, professional conferences and galas, fortune 500 companies, and neighborhood events. We have served, in total, over 55,000 people, and have been inspiring and engaging many more through public talks, media outreach, and publications. 

This work has been organized by a small team of two - and now three -primary artists working collaboratively with an expansive network. One purpose of this work is to help other organizations experiment and develop their own arts-based, community-oriented water projects and programs. We see the many spin-off projects and relationships as evidence of the impact this work has within a network of practitioners.

Our model is based on reciprocity: We earn income and raise the visibility of water issues by bringing our Water Bar Pop-up to other places. This income supports more rooted and experimental work in our neighborhood storefront, where we offer public events, art exhibitions, education workshops, and an incubator for art-science-civic collaborations. In turn, this neighborhood work and the pop-ups that support it inspire new thinking, and create opportunities for others to learn, connect, experiment, and engage with a community of practice that serves water through creativity and cultural work.


We have received national and international recognition for our innovative approach to public education and engagement around critical water issues, and have been invited to participate as presenters at both art and science conferences.

In 2014 Water Bar founders Shanai Matteson and Colin Kloecker were awarded the first River Stewards Emerging Leader award by the Saint Paul Riverfront Corporation. Water Bar artists Works Progress Studio were finalists for the Forecast Public Art Midcareer Project Grant in 2016. Kloecker and Matteson were also the recipients of a 2017 Forecast Public Art Midcareer Professional Development grant. Water Bar is featured as a case study in a 2017 Field Scan of Art & Environment collaborations that will be published by ArtPlace America this fall.

Nationally, Water Bar is seen by other arts and environment organizations as an exemplary project blending innovative artistic work with the desire for greater understanding and engagement with both science and policy. Our list of partners continues to grow, expanding the impact of our work to other sectors, cities, and states.

To inquire about connecting or collaborating with Water Bar or any of our affiliated artists, say hello