Artists raise the bar for water
Artists raise the bar for water In this March 16, 2016, photo, Colin Kloecker and his wife, Shanai Matteson, pose with water in growlers and glasses in the building where they are preparing to open a storefront Water Bar in northeast Minneapolis, a taproom serving pints of free city water plus limited-edition pours from other communities. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
Artists raise the bar for water
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It's a bar that serves nothing but tap water. For free.
The concept was developed by two artists. They are from Minneapolis. It all started as pop-ups across the country. On of those events was at a North Carolina artists' space. Another event was a waterfront fundraiser in Chicago. And, there was a four-month run at an art museum in Arkansas.
The events have been a hit. Colin Kloecker and Shanai Matteson are preparing to open a storefront Water Bar. It will be in northeast Minneapolis. Their taproom will serve pints of city water plus limited-edition pours from other communities. Visitors will get to taste and compare the water. But they have a bigger goal. They want to connect the public with the scientists, utility employees, environmentalists and activists who will serve as bartenders.
"It's really about opening up a conversation with the idea that 'Water is all we have,' which is our tagline. Because that's all we're serving," Matteson said. "And then the conversation goes from there."
The timing is right. There has been widespread attention recently on the lead-tainted water crisis in Flint, Michigan. In Minnesota, Gov. Mark Dayton is making water issues a personal priority for the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
The storefront Water Bar is set to open to the public in May. The bar won't serve pricey boutique "artisanal water" as has been tried elsewhere. It will offer plain-old tap water. Its funding will come from various sources. Those include a neighborhood association and a crowdfunding website. Some of the money will come from ongoing pop-up events. Any tips for the bartenders will go toward supporting allied organizations. It will also provide seed funding for community projects.
"What Water Bar does is let communities and experts come together and talk to each other about, 'What are the issues here? Have you thought about where your water comes from? What are you concerned about when it comes to water?'" said Kate Brauman. She is lead scientist for the Global Water Initiative. It is at the University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment.
Brauman worked the bar at a sustainability event on campus last year. It was very popular. They ran out of cups.
A 2014 pop-up Water Bar installation at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, was part of a contemporary art exhibition.
"The best art displaces you from your everyday experience. (It) allows you to think creatively and critically about yourself and your place in the world around you. And the Water Bar does that beautifully," said Chad Alligood. He is one of the museum's curators.
The pop-up events also have connected Kloecker and Matteson with other water-minded organizations. The Crystal Bridges event led to an invitation to the Alliance for the Great Lakes' annual Taste of the Great Lakes fundraiser. It was held last June. There, they served Chicago city water from Lake Michigan. The offerings included tap water from Toledo, Ohio. The city was coping with a toxic algae bloom in Lake Erie. And there was tap water from Green Bay, Wisconsin. The city runs a pipe nearly 30 miles to a cleaner part of Lake Michigan, said Jennifer Caddick. She is the alliance's engagement director.
Kloecker recruited city water employees in Greensboro, North Carolina. He also recruited students from a Cape Fear River Basin program. The program is at Guilford College. They were bartenders at a pop-up event in October.
"There were always 15 to 20 people around in front of the Water Bar," said Steve Drew. He is director of Greensboro's water system.
Some swished the water in their mouths. Some couldn't tell the difference between the samples.
A boy whose chin barely came over the bar tried a couple samples. He said, "I think I like the orange one best." He was referring to a glass jug with a little orange label. The label meant it came from Reidsville. It is one of Greensboro's suppliers.
"All right!" replied bartender Mike Borchers. He is the deputy director of Greensboro's water system.

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