The Mississippi River is continually under pressure from human impacts, and one obvious pollutant found along the shores is trash and debris. Art to Change the World (ACW), a diverse nonprofit coalition devoted to pursuing social change through art, sees an opportunity to create meaningful learning experiences to shed light on the impacts of trash in our waters. In 2022, ACW received a Community Grant to recruit 10 participants to create a unique piece of art that highlights trash issues in our communities and the river. This is part of an immersive curriculum developed by project manager Barbara Bridges, whose art form focuses on recycling and repurposing found objects.
The main goal of the project was to provide deep, intentional learning about trash from consumer products. Participants worked with ACW staff and the Northeast Riverkeepers to access the banks of the river and collect trash, as well as natural items like driftwood, for incorporation into the project. The trash items were researched by participants (how they break down in the environment, what impacts they have, etc.) and used as a means for artistic exploration. To learn more about impacts of consumer products, check out this video from participant Neil Granlund (University of Minnesota researcher).
The final piece of the project was collaborating among the group to create an eye-catching sculpture with interactive elements to draw in the audience. Complete with cubbies specific to certain issues or artistic interpretations important to participants, the “Mississippi River Pearl” came to life. All aspects of the piece are meant for further inspection by the audience, helping people make connections between their lives and impacts on the River.
The “Pearl” was first displayed at Homewood Studios in December of 2022, where an opening reception was held to celebrate ACW’s and participants’ efforts. It is currently installed at the MWMO office and is part of ACW’s workshop (registration required).
Future installations for the “Pearl” are being planned to share the lessons learned with the local community. Here are its next few stops: