Where does water come from? 
... Where does water go?

Downstream/Upstream began on May 31, 2011, when 39 children, ages four to six, started a personalized journey from their school in Little Canada, Minnesota through the urban water cycle following the water infrastructure connecting the Mississippi River to their classroom sink.

Downstream/Upstream Mission: Interconnection
How shall we establish and express a growing understanding of our interconnectedness? Humans, Technology, and Nature are interdependent parts of a larger whole, yet are often experienced as separate, even conflicting. Interconnecting us is “elemental infrastructure” -- that which contains and transmits elements of fire (fuels), air, water, earth (material and food), and electricity. Each element can be seen as a continuum throughout scales of our man-made and natural landscapes (e.g. power lines, storm sewers, rivers), homes (e.g. ductwork, plumbing), and bodies (e.g. organs and circulatory systems). 

The convenience - and often concealment - of elemental infrastructure has allowed individual actions such as water use choices to be experientially disconnected from impacts to non-human natural systems such as watersheds and rivers. However, by paying attention to elemental infrastructure and integrating it into our concepts of the world, we can counter its invisibility to better appreciate its contributions and better understand the implications of its over-use. This project gathers an interdisciplinary team of University faculty and outside partners around the topic of how to use place-based interaction with infrastructure, interpreted through art, story, and science to create an experiential and informed sense of interconnection between our points of use of resources and the engineering and natural systems through which they flow.   

The Project: Art as Environmental Education
The Downstream/Upstream project took children (pre-K and Kindergarten) on a journey through the urban water cycle via water infrastructure. First, starting  “upstream” from the Mississippi water intake, through the landscape, treatment plant and water tower, to their sink. Then “downstream” from their sink, through the landscape, to the waste water treatment plant and to the outflow to the Mississippi. Finally, through story, to further downstream communities and the global water cycle, eventually returning in rain and storm water to Minnesota where their interaction with the cycle starts again.

Environmental education and place-based, participatory art are integrated throughout the journey. Upon returning, children retold their own experience through visual journals and  participated in an on-site installation marking the entry and exit of piped water from their school and incorporating natural water systems flowing through the site. The project demonstrates a replicable approach for learners of any age, with adaptations for a group’s place in the infrastructure and watershed and for the age group involved. Downstream/Upstream both incubated and illustrated an associated curriculum model called Systems Journey. 

For a schedule of exhibitions and presentations of the project, please see the event calendar tab of this blog.