Sarah Nelson Illustration

Illustration by Sarah Nelson.
Illustration by Sarah Nelson.

University of St. Thomas students in Society and Sustainability (ENVR 212, Fall 2019) collaborated with the St. Thomas Sustainable Communities Partnership, the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization (MWMO), and the Natural Heritage Project (NHP) to learn about people’s experiences of the Mississippi River and why the river is important to them.

Students collected river stories through an online survey and through NHP’s Elm Tree Story Booth, which traveled to several different locations in the Twin Cities to hear from diverse voices.

During a workshop in class, students worked with SCP Artist-in-Residence, Sarah Nelson, to translate their analysis of online survey data into artwork.  First, students shared their research findings with Sarah.  Next, students and Sarah co-envisioned this digital illustration, through an iterative process of conversation and revision, to translate patterns students found in their research into visual art.

Students chose to communicate their findings of perspective and relationship. The digital illustration conveys three primary perspectives respondents described and the different relationships with the river these perspectives evoked:

  • through a window, as an onlooker from afar;
  • walking or biking along the river trails, experiencing aesthetics and connection;
  • and a close interaction, exploring the shores and waters of the river, as a transformative experience.

Respondents that experienced a close interaction with the river were also more likely to describe a tension of pollution and beauty.

Students’ research will also inform the MWMO’s public outreach programs by contributing to understandings of why the Mississippi River is important to the community.

Artist Contact Information:

Sarah Nelson

For questions about the research or the SCP Arts program, please contact Dr. Maria Dahmus, Director, Sustainable Communities Partnership, and course instructor for ENVR 212, Fall 2019, University of St. Thomas.