Mississippi in Common

What Mississippi River communities from Minneapolis to New Orleans hold in common is a powerful cultural resilience in response to adversity. This resilience is shown in the diversity of creative expression that can be found along the river. One thinks of the rich musical history stretching from Minnesota to Louisiana, and the expansive literary works on and about the river.
Paraphrasing the influential jazz musician Archie Shepp: this rich creative diversity is a triumph of the human spirit, a lily that grows “in spite of the swamp.”

Mississippi in Common takes its inspiration from the diverse creative forms that express resilience in the face of adversity. We propose a reconfigurable and inhabitable built structure that will both be a space for play and exploration and for the exhibition of creative works drawn from the banks of the Mississippi River. Its form is inspired by the experimental structures found along the Mississippi constructed in response to the twin adversities of flooding and displacement, specifically the vernacular architecture of custom built houseboats, river shacks, converted barges and other floating structures. The colors on the structure’s vertical supports index the height of local flood waters and reference the color code used by the National Weather Service to categorize high waters (yellow) to major flooding (purple).

These floating structures are often built from recycled and repurposed parts. Accordingly, our project will be a modular, reconfigurable architecture for the exhibition of different examples of creative works that express the diversity found in resilience. The structure
itself will be built from an assemblage of dimensional lumber, polycarbonate sheeting, fabric, hammocks and scaffolding. To celebrate the diversity in what Mississippi River communities hold in common, the structure will be reconfigured three times over the course of the summer, in order to spatially optimize it for listening, looking and reading, each corresponding to curated selections of readings, art work and music on possible themes of mobility, floating, flooding, resiliency, precarity, and commonality. We will partner with cultural institutions and museums located along the length of the river in creating these temporary exhibitions and in planning
an opening reception with each reconfiguration. In order to connect the Mississippi River to more distant locations that share our concerns, we will also collaborate with people and organizations in places that have recently experienced disastrous flooding, such as Texas and
Puerto Rico.

Finally, Mississippi in Common will have a lasting afterlife as the infrastructure for a working cultural and scientific research vessel for the Mississippi Studies research group (www. mississippistudies.org; password: missbarge), a growing collaborative of artists, activists, and
cultural and scientific researchers spanning the region conducting research on and about the Mississippi River. The interdisciplinary group innovates ways of re-imagining the Mississippi River and its tributaries as a coherent cultural corridor to foster new ways of thinking about its shared environment, its cultural heritage, and its rich role in the history of the United States. Central to the group’s activities is the future acquisition of a river barge that will function as a platform for research, education, performance, and public engagement. Mississippi in Common will contribute design research and preliminary structures for some of the living, working and exhibition spaces for the barge, and provide Futures North with opportunities to explore programming and funding partnerships.