Water Bar 1 Favorite 



Mar 6 2016


Minneapolis MN

Northeast Minneapolis is going to have the first full-fledged water bar of its kind, an establishment where you can sit and drink a variety of local tap waters to your heart’s content. Their delightful motto: “Water is all we have.”

Though I can’t help but chuckle, the Water Bar is no joke. It’s the culmination of work from a team of Minneapolis social practice artists who specialize in community engagement, and the idea is to start calling attention to the importance of communal water systems. For the next year they’ll be serving Twin Cities waters to the masses and, they hope, starting conversations that could not be more fundamental to our everyday lives.

“People think Minnesota doesn’t have any water problems, that we have so much water because we’re the land of 10,000 lakes,” Shanai Matteson told me. Matteson and her partner, Colin Kloecker, run a Minneapolis-based social practice art organization called Works Progress Studio, and the Water Bar is their brainchild.

“Water is not something people think about, but we have potential water shortage problems and water quality problems, like what’s going on in White Bear Lake. And across Minnesota, most people get their drinking water from groundwater sources, and those are not immune to pollutants,” Matteson told me.

For the record, the tap water in Minneapolis and St. Paul comes from the Mississippi River — after a visit to each city’s treatment plant, where it is filtered and disinfected. That said, though it takes a discerning palate, you can taste differences between waters from different places.

“We do tasting flights,” Matteson explained. “There are subtle differences in how the water is treated; for example, private well water is not really treated in the same way. Sure, it’s tested and safe to drink, but it tastes different from city water. And we travel to other places and you can really tell where water isn’t quite so abundant or where cities don’t have the same level of treatment methods in place.”

The water bar’s brick-and-mortar migration
Like the Steam Plume Project I wrote about a few months ago, the idea for the Water Bar came out of an art and science collaboration organized by Public Art Saint Paul, which had focused on starting conversations between artists and scientists. In particular, the group worked around the Mississippi River, asking questions about how it relates to the Twin Cities’ physical and social environment.

Courtesy of Works Progress Studio
The organizers of the Water Bar hope to start conversations that could not be more fundamental to our everyday lives.
As they learned more about the river, Matteson and Kloecker began to think more carefully about water. And thus the water bar was born.

The premise is pretty simple, really.

“The Water Bar is a bar that serves local tap water. We give it away for free; it’s primarily Minneapolis tap water, but we’ll have other local metro area taps, some rotating taps, maybe some time tap waters from other parts of MN. The idea is to help people talk about their connections to tap water,” Matteson said.

They’ve taken the project all over the state, and around the Midwest. And now, kind of like a food truck that finds a permanent home, the Water Bar project is moving into a shop on Central Avenue just off Lowry. Having a permanent home will allow the project to expand its reach.

“The most important thing is that we’re actually combining the Water Bar with a public studio, which we’re thinking of as an art sustainability studio and incubator, intended to build local projects with other artists and designers, all about water and environmental sustainability at the local level,” Matteson told me.

The first step though, is to recruit some bartenders. Works Progress is going to wrangle experts on the water system from various capacities — engineers, city employees, environmental experts, students — who will be trained in some of the basics of the Twin Cities’ water system. Their job will be to pour the drinks, and start the watery conversations.

By Bill Lindeke

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