Place-based art project Water Bar addresses disparities in drinking water access
“Welcome to Water Bar, water is all we have.”
These are the words that greeted me as I walked through the door. Immediately, Shanai Matteson, co-owner of Water Bar & Public Studio, offered me a flight of three different types of tap water served in clear glasses. Seated on the stool in the middle of the wooden bar, I stared at and smelled the glasses before carefully taking a sip. With each type of water, intentionally sourced from local businesses and municipal water treatment facilities in the area, I started to wonder what stories of the river, land and people the water carried.
Water Bar is located in a storefront on Central Avenue in Northeast Minneapolis and welcomes all who pass by during open studio hours to drop in, drink and talk. Water Bar began as a pop-up public art project with the intention to create connection around the simple yet vital ritual of drinking water, and now serves as a rare community incubator for conversation around environmental injustice, water access, pollution and community development. Since 2014, organizers of the project, Shanai Matteson and Colin Kloecker of Works Progress Studio, have served water to over 30,000 people throughout the U.S. Not only does this project encourage visitors to slow down and consider how water impacts their lives, it also opens up a rare space to examine the myriad of stories that describe Minnesotans’ complex relationships to water.
“The most that I do when I’m tending the bar is listen,” water-tender and lead scientist at the Institute on the Environment Kate Brauman says, “invariably people who come to Water Bar end up talking about their water sources or what water issues they’re concerned about.
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Above: Water Bar patrons sample a flight of water during a pop-up art event. Photo by Colin Kloecker courtesy of Water Bar and Public Studio.