Tea Ceremonies to bring Deep Conversations about Water to the Vadnais Lake Watershed

Announcing a grant-funded partnership between the Vadnais Lake Area Watershed Management Organization (VLAWMO) and White Bear Center for the Arts (WBCA)!

Credit: Sam Gehrke

This summer, White Bear Center for the Arts (WBCA) will host artist Anna Metcalfe to bring light to the histories and critical needs shared in the Vadnais Lake Area Watershed. Funded by a $7,566 Community Blue grant through the Vadnais Lake Area Watershed Management Organization (VLAWMO), this collaborative project aims to engage community members through “Upstream” tea ceremonies, sharing personal relationships to water and highlighting the importance of local water resources. The collaborative project will include ten Upstream tea ceremonies during summer 2020, book-ended by a public kickoff in June and closing celebration in September.

Anna Metcalfe, recipient of a 2020 McKnight Foundation Mid-Career Artist Award, developed Upstream in a recent project with the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization, located in Minneapolis.

“It is a dream of mine to continue the work of Upstream in a community like White Bear, which has such a rich and diverse watershed and water history,” said Metcalfe. “I am very enthusiastic about White Bear Center for the Arts’ proposal to host Upstream, a 3-year long project of mine, in concert with [VLAWMO’s] initiatives as a watershed agency.  As an artist, I have been working with water issues and community stories about water for approximately 10 years.”

At the beginning of each tea ceremony, participants are given a ceramic teacup and read a unique story relating to water, printed on the teacup. After sharing personal reflections, often sparked by the initial stories, participants each get to write their own story down on a template, which Metcalfe uses to produce teacups for future ceremonies. A video of the process is available at upstreamtea.com.

Metcalfe notes, “Upstream brings community members together to talk about our local waters and the most essential issues that need to be addressed within discreet watersheds.”

This powerful tool resonated with VLAWMO Board members and Education & Outreach Coordinator Nick Voss, who coordinates Community Blue, an allocated program within VLAWMO’s annual budget. “We hadn’t heard of an artist working in this way,” said Board Chair Jim Lindner during public deliberations. The grant allows VLAWMO, WBCA, and Metcalfe to work together to tackle shared goals around public stewardship of the shared, local environment and water resources. In addition to story sharing and reflection, participants will walk away with a better understanding of the many ways to contribute and be involved in local water topics.

VLAWMO’s Community Blue program promotes stewardship and education on local water resources. “One of the most exciting parts of this partnership,” said Voss, “is the opportunity to draw volunteers to maintain important pieces of local infrastructure, like the bio-swale for Lambert Creek located at Central Middle School.” During one of the tea ceremonies this summer, Metcalfe will use her mobile tea cart to bring participants from WBCA, located just blocks away, to refresh and maintain the bio-swale.

Participants will be connected to other community resources though public events held at the kickoff and closing of the project. Community members can learn about Lawns to Legumes, promoting the health of local pollinators, as well as other vital volunteer opportunities like Adopt-A-Drain and refreshing rain gardens. The kickoff event will be held in June.

As part of her Mid-Career Artist Award, Anna Metcalfe will be working with researchers from the University of Minnesota to analyze and synthesize the stories collected through the project. Metcalfe will share these insights with the community at an event in September, following the conclusion of the summer tea ceremonies. A video on the project will premiere at the event, and community resources will again be available to the public for those inspired to take action to help local water resources.

More information about the project will be announced leading up to the kickoff event. Visit vlawmo.org/grants/community-blue for more information on VLAWMO and Community Blue. 

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