August 30, 2016

Humans of the Mississippi River

Screen Shot 2016-08-30 at 4.45.30 PM.pngPhotograph of volunteers at river clean-up by Caitlyn Carr

This Fall, WAM Collective is partnering with local artist Sean Connaughty to perform an Anthropocenic Midden Survey of the Mississippi River. On August 13, WAM Collective, students from the Sustainability Office, Sean Connaughty, and volunteers from the community collected trash from the banks of the Mississippi River to be cleaned, studied, and catalogued in a survey of the impact of University of Minnesota litter on the waters and surrounding eco-system.

In May of 2015, in the midst of a similar project at Lake Hiawatha, Connaughty discovered, by tracking a ping pong ball, that many of our Minneapolis storm drains lead directly to our bodies of water. Because the University community is located in close to the river, the trash that is on the streets and is transported by rain and wind into our storm drains, ends up in the waters of our precious Mississippi. Thus, in cataloguing the trash in our river, the WAM Collective aims to bring awareness to the storm drains and to curb our campus community’s trashy habits. The results of our survey and a special trash sculpture creation will be debuted on WAM’s front plaza during Minneapolis Open Streets on October 1st.

Screen Shot 2016-08-30 at 4.45.44 PMPhotograph of artist Sean Connaughty by Caitlyn Carr

When studying art, I often think of connectivity. I think about how the artwork in question is connected to the artist, connected to me, and connected to its greater audience. Connections help us understand complex and nuanced ideas. Rivers, especially the Mississippi, physically capture the idea of connectivity. The Mississippi River connects the North to the South, the headwaters to the Gulf of Mexico, and more locally, the East to the West Bank.

Historically, communities were built along rivers because of their fresh water and ability to transport goods and services. However, in recent decades our relationship to the river has shifted from symbiotic to parasitic, as the human population continues to damage the rivers through pollution. Art is an expression of the artist. This expression can be a comment on the artist’s lifestyle, personality, or community. The trash that we picked up along the Mississippi River is an expression of the University community.

During our clean-up, I began to see information on our community in the trash that we picked up. One of the reasons I enjoy Sean Connaughty’s is because goes beyond community involvement to community education. Each piece of trash that we picked up carried a story with it, providing details about where it came from, how it ended up in a storm drain, and who let it get there. Artworks tell stories, just like this trash does.

Screen Shot 2016-08-30 at 4.46.06 PMPhotograph of volunteers at river clean-up by Caitlyn Carr


To find out more information, or register for our next Mississippi River Clean Up on Saturday September 3rd, visit:


Caitlyn Carr Caitlyn Carr is currently a Senior at the University of Minnesota majoring in Art History with a minor in CSCL. Originally from Chicago, she is loving her time in the Twin-Cities (even though she misses her beloved Cubbies). Her passions include traveling, dancing, communicating only through emojis, and of course, telling anyone who will listen how amazing WAM is. Just back from a semester in Italy, she is thrilled to be more involved with the Collective for the upcoming year!


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