Water Bar and Freshwater Receive Stewardship Fund Action Grant

Water Bar & Public Studio and Freshwater partner to pilot new public program, blending cultural stories with science and policy to serve water in north and northeast Minneapolis.

Water Bar & Public Studio and Freshwater have received a Stewardship Fund Action Grant from the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization to develop and pilot a new public education program on water. This program will blend cultural stories about water gathered from local communities with water science and policy, resulting in a new effort to prepare “Water Tenders” (local water educators) from north and northeast Minneapolis to serve water at Water Bar and other community events.

“We call the bartenders at Water Bar ‘Water Tenders’ because that’s really what they do! They tend our shared waters, serving water in cultural and social ways,” said Shanai Matteson, one of the artists and collaborative directors of Water Bar & Public Studio, a community art space and incubator in Minneapolis.

“This new collaboration with Freshwater will enable us to listen deeply to the water stories of our neighbors in northeast and north Minneapolis, especially low-income residents and people of color, who are not always served well by mainstream environmental education programs,” said Matteson. “Those local stories will be part of a new collaborative program to prepare diverse residents and other water professionals to serve water in ways that honor knowledge and experience that comes from within our communities.”

This new project was developed by Water Bar artists and Freshwater educators following collaborations at the Water Bar.

“At Freshwater, we use science to educate and inspire people to value and protect water,” said Leslie Yetka, director of programs. “We are thrilled to have this opportunity to partner with Water Bar to explore ways that art and culture can add depth and meaning to our water education programs, reaching more people - including water resource professionals - in ways that speak to the important role culture plays in our connections with water and environment.”

Through previous collaborations, partners discovered a clear desire and need for education and engagement strategies that are social and cultural, connecting to diverse community residents and businesses. This Action Grant will support a pilot project to develop a culturally relevant curriculum for Master Water Stewards and other water professionals who want to become Water Tenders for the Water Bar engagement platform.

The new Water Tender curriculum will be developed through a series of listening sessions with local community partners, engaging culturally diverse participants who can illuminate relevant connections and approaches to water issues.

“We will be working with artists Amoke Kubat and Gustavo Lira, as well as public health scholar Forkpayea Johnson and community organizers from the Northside Neighborhood Hub,” said Matteson, an artist who will also help to design and lead this program. “These partners will be critical to creating experiences that resonate with the diverse cultural communities that share this watershed. What we hear from these storytelling gatherings will be the basis of a new curriculum, which will integrate local stories with the water education resources that are already part of the successful Master Water Stewards program.”

This curriculum will be piloted through two Water Tender trainings held within the Mississippi Watershed this winter. Following these trainings, new Water Tenders will serve water at the Water Bar and other water outreach and education events. They will also be supported with stipends to collaboratively develop five new Water Bar programs at host sites within the community.


The project will end with a community celebration in 2019 to disseminate lessons learned and celebrate new community connections made through this process.