This is the greatest idea ever: Water Bar

One of the Great Crises we face in today’s world is the stability and security of the water supply. In America, most people don’t have any problems getting water, to the extent that we tend to waste it, and few people even know where there water comes from. Every now and then there emerges a startling and troubling problem with water. A river catches fire, a plume of visible pollution observable from space spreads across a lake, or an entire city worth of children are poisoned with the contents of the city water supply.

Works Progress Studio has been engaged for a while in a project called the Water Bar, and they intend to ramp this project up in the near future if they get enough help.

The original water bar is “a collaborative public art project … simply, a bar that serves local tap water.” It consists of a pop up bar that can be easily deployed, serving a wide range of local vintages, and staffed with scientists or other experts on the water supply. That project started in 2014, and has served over 30,000 people in four states.

This video gives you a flavor (or, should I say, a flavorless…).

I asked Works Progress Studio co-founder Shanai Matteson how this all started. She told me that it “… started out as an experiment – what would happen if we opened a bar that only served regular tap water, and asked our community of environmental science researchers, educators, and advocates to be bartenders – not pushing a message, but just casually engaging in conversation.”

“The second iteration of the project,” she continued, “was an installation at an art museum in Arkansas. We built a Water Bar in the museum’s cafe area, and I think a lot of people didn’t even realize it was an artist project – which is fine with us! We hired college students with backgrounds in research, natural resource management, landscape architecture, business… They kept the bar open every day for 5 months, and all of them said that they learned valuable engagement skills, including new ways of talking to people about complicated science topics”

Now, Water Bar has a GoFundMe page to help them to set up a permanent taproom in Minneapolis. Partnering with several neighborhood and environmental organizations, research scientists, and artists, the idea is to create the Water Bar & Public Studio in Northeast Minneapolis, which is a thriving, and growing, art-oriented community. The location will be a hub for neighborhood events addressing art and sustainability, educational programs, and so on.

The water will be free.

Donations will fund the “taproom,” a creative community space, and a public art and sustainability incubator.

When I saw the video, my first thought was to avoid doing this in Flint Michigan. I asked Shanai Matteson about that. She told me, “We’ve actually had a bunch of people suggest we SHOULD do this in Flint, or Detroit. We wouldn’t attempt that unless we were invited there by residents, but even considering the implications really makes the disparity between those communities and others, like Minneapolis, so plain.”

Matteson also pointed out one of the main problems with the culture of water use in the US. “Most of the stories about Flint have focused on the problem – what went wrong, who was responsible – as well as the work of researchers, residents, and activists to finally get people to pay attention. Few of the stories I’ve read mention that almost none of us know where our drinking water comes from. We probably wouldn’t know if our water had high levels of lead, and most of us wouldn’t know who to call or what to do if we suspected a problem. One of our goals with the Water Bar project is to start getting people to see and understand their connection to these life-sustaining systems, and to the political systems involved with maintaining them – or in the case of Flint, gross negligence and a desire to see public infrastructure privatized.”

Matteson is looking forward to developing this project further. “Our dream is for a space that is approachable and welcoming, but also presents really urgent and serious content. We want to work with our community of artists and designers to find creative ways to engage people in water and environment issues, and we want to be a learning laboratory for future science and environment leaders — or for current researchers and advocacy orgs to share their work with new audiences.”

You can learn more about the Water Bar project here, and of course, go here to go fund them.

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7 thoughts on “This is the greatest idea ever: Water Bar

  1. I don’t even trust the gov’mint (Flint is a good example) to be truthful. When working at Bell labs I had our lab test my water!!
    It came from a well that fed the local school and the local 1%-ers, so we had good water.
    Here in NC the water is from the city BUT… I have a bulk sand filter then a large active carbon filter, then is filtered again thru a hepa filter then another carbon filter theis now are normal use water and the refrigerator has its own hepa filter. And we also test our water in our lab. We get good water from the city but there are times (hi chlorine) that it is a little off. We no longer see that problem.

  2. The water bar is a great Idea…They should go to Flint and give samples of the city water to the politicians!!! Love to see them squirm out of drinking it!!!
    They should also have bottles showing hi content of sand, iron, mineral, pollution, etc to show the differences.

  3. I don’t even trust the gov’mint (Flint is a good example) to be truthful.

    The vast majority of the problem in Flint rests with the state government. It was known for a long time that there were serious problems with local water, as long ago as when G.M. had plants there, they told the state that the water in the river was so bad is was causing problems with their equipment (it was bad primarily because of all the crap they and others had pumped into it over the years, but…)
    The state had been treating the local water for years as a remedy, and getting the drinking water from Detroit for years. Then Snyder’s team
    – stopped treating the water as a cost-saving act (about $100 per day saved)
    – began planning to move Flint off Detroit water and back to Flint river water. When Detroit’s folks heard about this they asked (legally, apparently) for a price increase from Flint or an immediate cancellation of the agreement: the emergency manager appointed by Snyder cancelled the contract but did nothing to treat the Flint water. (There are stories floating around on the right-wing outlets that the Flint city council voted to make the change: that is false: the emergency manager made the decision. The city council has no power at all under the manager – democracy doesn’t apply when an emergency manager is in place). The vote the council made was to acknowledge the management’s decision – a vote that was, as noted in the language, non-binding and purely PR.
    when reports began surfacing of problems with the water the council voted (again, meaningless, but they did) to get back on Detroit water and have the problem investigated. The manager announced the vote was “based purely on political leanings” and did nothing.
    Reports about a spurt of Legionnaire’s Disease arose, then other problems. A team sent by the Michigan DEQ tested the water, and threw out samples that tested abnormally high for lead – hence their report that there was no evidence of contamination of the water. Complaints continued, and the state sent more people there to investigate. They supplied their researchers with bottled water while continuing to say there was no danger to the public. The state actually interceded with a request to the EPA for help, telling them they had the situation under control.
    Finally, when even the employees from the state began to realize there was a problem, partly because the data were overwhelming, partly because of outside investigations, they began emailing Lansing with problem descriptions. For some time those emails were shared among Snyder’s people with comments such as “Want a laugh? Read this one.”
    There still isn’t much relief getting to the majority of people in Flint, but slow progress is better than no progress – which is what occurred for far too long.

  4. Remarkable. A bar where ordering “what’s on tap” is actually not preferable to getting your drink “in a bottle”.

  5. Several places on the Navajo reservation have poisoned water, including Black Mesa and Second Mesa, where elders were dragged bodily out of their hogans to mine the coal under them; their sheep drank the poisoned water and died before the elders were dragged away and placed in slum housing at Shiprock. Anyone who set up a “Water Bar” in the area, such as at Page Arizona, would be run the risk of being scalped.

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