In St. Paul, city organizers planning 1.5 mile Mississippi River walkway

Landscape Architect Jennifer Krantz hangs up folded paper birds for the River of Birds installation on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016 at Culture Park in St. Paul for the River Balcony Prototyping Festival. The Festival featured eleven art installations and live music that demonstrated ways for the public to better connect and interact with the river through the planned public pathway stretching along the St. Paul river bluff edge from the Science Museum to Union Depot.

Chelsea Gortmaker

Landscape Architect Jennifer Krantz hangs up folded paper birds for the River of Birds installation on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016 at Culture Park in St. Paul for the River Balcony Prototyping Festival. The Festival featured eleven art installations and live music that demonstrated ways for the public to better connect and interact with the river through the planned public pathway stretching along the St. Paul river bluff edge from the Science Museum to Union Depot.

Maddy Folstein

A central facet of St. Paul’s topography, the Mighty Mississippi, may soon be the go-to weekend spot for city residents.

Organizers of the River Balcony Prototyping Festival along Kellogg Boulevard in St. Paul last weekend hope that participants will experience the potential of a new development proposal — the River Balcony.

Prototyping — a way of using art to envision how a community wishes to revitalize a space — is part of St. Paul’s Great River Passage Plan, an outline created by the city to develop symbiosis between city residents and the Mississippi River; the proposed balcony calls for a 1.5 mile pedestrian path along the river.

To envision the space, the St Paul Riverfront Corporation held a competition in the spring for citizens, organizations and artists to submit prototypes of art installations. These installations would connect the city to the river’s history, culture and environment.

So, on Sept. 10, citizens meandered along Kellogg Boulevard to check out 11 chosen prototypes, listen to music, enjoy local food and connect with their community.

Along the walk, volunteers like Nathaniel Hood, a transportation planner, staffed booths with maps of the festival and information on the River Balcony itself.

“I think the St. Paul River Corporation does amazing things. I saw that they were doing this prototyping festival, which looked like a great way to engage the public in a genuinely cool project,” Hood said.

The 11 prototypes on display included interactive art exhibits, music and a water bar where visitors could taste local tap waters.

“We partnered with Healing Place Collaborative and the Dakota Language Society to do a water bar that would help people understand a little bit about Dakota places, place names and relationships to water,” Shanai Matteson, the artist behind the water bar, said.

The Dakota Language Society also stenciled words on the sidewalk to map the connections between the river and Dakota culture and history.

“As you walk the festival, you’ll see words in Dakota that are related to water … we’re talking about how water is the substance that gives us life,” Samantha Majhor said.

Majhor is an organizer with the Dakota Language Society and a current Ph.D. candidate at the University of Minnesota.

The design consulting firm Kimley-Horn installed two interactive art exhibits for the festival. “Wrapped in Anticipation” allowed visitors to share what they were most excited to see on the River Balcony by wrapping different colored bands around a railing.

At “River of Birds,” visitors could craft four different types of origami birds to help recognize the Mississippi River as a major flyway. And at Conversationalist’s Café — a project created by artist Taylor Baldry — visitors could converse with each other about topics ranging from the weather to hobbies and their beliefs.

Thanks to prototypes, festival visitors were able to see the vibrant future of the River Balcony — no need to wait for
completion.