For eight weeks, from late April to mid-June 2023, Happy Dancing Turtle was fortunate to host the We Are Water MN exhibit on the Hunt Utilities Group Resilient Living Campus. The experience of having a museum-quality exhibit on campus plus the events, collaborations, and conversations that arose during that time continues to inform Happy Dancing Turtle’s work to grow good stewards of the planet.
We Are Water MN is a project of the Humanities Center that engages Minnesotans with our state’s most important natural resource through personal stories, historical content, and scientific information. The exhibit was part of a grant project that is coordinated by the Minnesota Humanities Center in partnership with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS), the Minnesota Departments of Agriculture, Health, and Natural Resources, the Board of Water and Soil Resources, and the University of Minnesota Extension Water Resources Center. These partners connect host communities to resources and information, learn from host communities, and provide opportunities for host communities to learn from and with each other.
We Are Water MN is intended to create conversations and engagement about the importance of water in our communities. Visitors to the We Are Water MN exhibit learned about water issues statewide and in their communities.
Original exhibit content specific to our Central Minnesota area was created through a series of more than 20 interviews conducted by professional writer/producer Leah Lemm. From fourth graders to retirees, indigenous community members to people who never expected to wind up living in Minnesota, the stories heard during these interviews covered how water is a vital part of people's lives.
Visitors to the Exhibit read/heard these local stories about the meaning and experiences of water in Minnesota and had the opportunity to add their own stories by placing themselves on the map of water in our area and adding their own story card.
A Carousel of Exhibit Installation--click photo to see more
“Combining learning and sharing in this way strengthens Minnesotans’ relationships with water and increases participation in water stewardship activities,” said Happy Dancing Turtle Executive Director Quinn Swanson. “We were also glad to host guest speakers including Carrie Jennings, geologist with Freshwater, as well as journalist and National Geographic Explorer Erica Gies at special events.”
A Carousel of Events--click photo to see more
A cavalcade of water-related events, activities, stories, and photos made the We Are Water MN exhibit a rich experience for all who attended. Among those attending were nearly 700 school children from Pine River-Backus, Pequot Lakes and Crosslake who made field trips to the Hunt Utilities Group Resilient Living Campus, home of Happy Dancing Turtle, to see the exhibit and participate in water-related activities, and learn about the challenges we face in keeping our water clean.
A free well-water testing event screened for nitrates and on several dates a water bar offered a place for conversations about drinking water. Over 70 photos of water in Minnesota were submitted for the We Are Water MN photo contest. Fifteen finalists, chosen by Pine and Lakes Echo Journal staff, were displayed for people’s choice voting during the exhibit. The three photos that received the most votes were:
#1 Don Gabrielson - water reflection
#2 William Kronstedt - water recreation
#3. Rebecca Peterson - water in winter
And the top vote-getter from the Pine and Lakes Echo Journal team (who selected all the finalists) was Jennifer Quam - animals in water.
Since We Are Water MN began touring in 2016, more than 2,300 stories about water have been collected. More than 400 high-quality audio stories are available via the project’s Story Map.
Water stories are a way for visitors to share personal experiences while learning about their neighbors’ relationships with water. The range of experiences – from water as a daily part of visitors’ lives to personal stories of family, ritual, joy, and loss – along with education materials, compel people to evaluate their relationship with water and engage more deeply in conservation.
The following additional partners will host the We Are Water MN traveling exhibit in their communities:
June 22-August 14, 2023: Somali Museum (Twin Cities)
August 17-October 9, 2023: Roseau County Historical Society (Roseau)
October 12-December 4, 2023: Stillwater Public Library/ArtReach St. Croix (Stillwater)
We are Water MN is funded in part with money from the Clean Water, Land, & Legacy Fund that was created with the vote of the people of Minnesota on November 4, 2008 and by the National Endowment for the Humanities.