The University of Minnesota’s River Life program builds interdisciplinary engagement and research opportunities around the Mississippi River. Beginning as the “Mississippi River Design Initiative,” River Life has been a program of the College of Design, the Institute on the Environment and the Institute for Advanced Study.
Since its inception, River Life has worked with community organizations, artists, engineers, biologists and ordinary citizens to develop a discourse on sustainability and future use of the Mississippi. “We’re just the liaison between community partners, students and faculty,” said River Life coordinator Pat Nunally, noting the importance of a balanced approach to river engagement. “We do a lot of listening and learning from our partners in the community”.
River Life relies on community groups to shape a plan for the Mississippi’s future, working with the National Park Service, Works Progress, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Anthony Falls Heritage Board and the Mississippi River Network to form equitable, sustainable relationships between the river and its inhabitants. Art and experience from indigenous tribes of Minnesota add to the diverse perspectives forming in the Twin Cities. Most notably, River Life relies on Allies Media Art, the Healing Place Collaborative and the Bdote Memory Map to highlight the Dakota people’s rich history along the Mississippi.
As climate change and socioeconomic problems affect river communities, the need for discourse around the Mississippi increases. River Life’s newest undertaking, an online journal called “Open Rivers”, is a digital platform for a multidisciplinary conversation about the Mississippi. The journal supplements River Life’s body of work, which continues to address important challenges in the Twin Cities’ urban water systems.