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Navigate 4: Influence


energy flows downstream
gravity and water push
and pull us forward

The birds were coming back. The morning of April 7, a pond near Pine Point Outing Lodge hosted a pair of trumpeter swans, red-winged blackbirds, and ducks. Solar energy and photosynthesis and migration were bringing life to the landscape once again.

In the lodge, Navigate participants were gathered over breakfast and coffee. The building is an old work farm dormitory that over the past 25 years has been transformed into an estate a bit like Downton Abbey. There was happy conversation as we saw people we had not seen since the previous session two months before. We suddenly found ourselves past the halfway mark of the five-session Navigate workshops. It created an excited energy, the boost of nearing completion of a conversation.

Once again, some twenty individuals involved with the arts and the environment in the St. Croix Valley would take the time—making space—at the place—the rustic, artful Outing Lodge nestled in 300 acres of upland forest, prairie, and lakes—and try to figure out the future.

The exuberance of birdsong and budding trees came inside with us, energizing the room. Energy is often fueled by our surroundings – natural, human, artistic. It flows through a group of people, moving us independently yet interconnected.

This session would focus on figuring out what each would take back to their own corner of St. Croix country, how they might infuse their work or their organization with the carefully-considered concepts of this ephemeral, fluid network.

As an example, Heather Rutledge of ArtReach St. Croix says Navigate had already influenced a grant application she submitted, showing how her proposal would fit into the landscape, into the many braided channels of the river. Angie Hong, of East Metro Water, says she welcomes ideas for how an annual boat trip for local leaders from up and down the St. Croix Valley to share information about keeping the river healthy could incorporate art this year.

The St. Croix Valley is a growing region. There has been a steady influx for decades, and new development is a certainty when the new St. Croix Crossing bridge is completed. The communities are getting bigger, but it would be easy to try to continue depending on a few nodes. That dependence on a few pivotal people is a weakness, we say. A handful of well-connected people can do a lot – but at this point in its history, we need more nodes.

So, we stand for a while on common ground, on beautiful bluffs or floodplain forests or fleeting sandbars. Align if not agree. Hope we can guide the St. Croix Valley through changes ahead.

Remember, the only thing that stays the same is that nothing ever stays the same. The river tells us that to exist is to change.

Yet a tree or a rock or a beaver can affect the course of a powerful river. A small group of people can change their community. A brief exercise showed the possibility, as the participants essentially pretended to be schooling fish or a flock of birds. Here were groups that moved through water and sky as one, but without any one individual giving orders. Call it distributed decisions, collective consciousness, or just movement, it was all about how we each influence the people around us.

To get things going, Arts Midwest and ArtReach were offering small grants for projects to bring the ideas to life. It was a chance to walk the talk, make the conversations reality. It was also a chance to make diverse dreams a movement. What could connect the projects?

Just like art and nature are abundant in the region, so is collaboration. It’s how most everything gets done. That’s why getting together for five full days of sometimes difficult conversations has been so useful.

“I now know people for their strengths,” somebody says.

It had been a place where disagreement was safe, where the challenge had been to find and define those places where everyone could truly stand together.

So the group says not only should these projects bring together creativity and the environment, but also people. One idea might be bringing together naturalists and outdoor educators with artists. The artists could help naturalist develop art activities for people to deepen their connection to nature, and the naturalists could help the artists incorporate natural science in their work.

Perhaps Navigate is as much a brand as anything, we say. It might need a logo, a name, a tagline, an identity to declare some independent initiative as part of a greater good. Someone suggests a tattoo. After all, nature and art are both full of delights along with their difficulties.

braided through bedrock
river and art and people —
go, sculpt the future

Questions? Contact Heather Rutledge, ArtReach St. Croix, at [email protected], or Sharon Rodning Bash, Arts Midwest, at [email protected]. For comments on this article, Greg Seitz can be reached at [email protected].

Navigate is organized by ArtReach St. Croix and Arts Midwest. It is funded by The Saint Paul Foundation, Mardag Foundation, Bigelow Foundation, The McKnight Foundation, the Bush Foundation, and Arts Midwest. Additional funding was provided by the Hugh J. Andersen Foundation, Fred C. and Katherine B. Andersen Foundation, the Water Street Inn, and ArtReach St. Croix.