What does taking care of the Mississippi River mean to you? For Lark Weller it's about language and communication. Lark is a community planner for the National Park Service, working in the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area.
With a master’s degree in urban and regional planning from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, Lark is well-versed in the vocabulary of water resource professionals, but over time she’s noticed the professional lexicon doesn’t always resonate with communities, and can even alienate some people. These language differences can hinder important conversations about shared places, she explains, which motivates her to consider how the park service can “think about our use of language differently, more intentionally and carefully.”
Lark describes herself as a convener, and today she is focused on bringing water resource professionals together with people who have other backgrounds and lived experience, who are “inviting them to think about what water is” in new or different ways. Rather than reflexively use terms like “resource” or “value,” Lark is working to center conversations around meaning: What is the meaning that people find in this place? What is the meaning that people find in this water?
“We’re there to take care of this place for all people,” she says, “so we need to understand what taking care of it means to all people.”
Stories and science
It is not easy to talk about water in unfamiliar ways. But like Lark, We Are Water MN is trying to push those boundaries. We Are Water MN — a popular statewide traveling exhibition and community engagement project — invites visitors to reflect on the experiences of local people and come to a deeper understanding of what taking care of water means to people. Science and history are also included this 1000-square foot, hands-on exhibit created by the Minnesota Humanities Center, MPCA, Minnesota Historical Society and Departments of Health, Agriculture and Natural Resources. This is the second statewide tour of the We Are Water MN exhibit. It visits eight Minnesota communities between October 2018 and November 2019: St. Paul, Bemidji, Crookston, Duluth, Austin, Northfield, Grand Rapids, and Onamia.
Visiting the exhibit
We Are Water MN opens October 12 through November 26 at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment (1954 Buford Ave., St. Paul). We Are Water MN explores the connections between the humanities and water through an exhibit, public events and educator resources. The 2018-2019 tour will feature the stories of two Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program certified producers and how they manage water quality on their farms.
As part of the exhibit, the Institute on the Environment and the River Life Program will offer:
- Weekly Wednesday River Walks, October 3 through November 14 at noon
- Phalen Creek Nibi Walk, October 6 and 27
- Seminars and presentations open to the public
Visit the U of M website for full program details. School groups and walk-in visitors are welcome during open hours.
Pair a visit to We Are Water MN and the newly renovated Bell Museum just blocks away. Check out their new digital planetarium, famous wildlife dioramas, and this fall’s visiting exhibit: Our Global Kitchen: Food, Nature, Culture. Open daily from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.