LOUISIANA – An expedition down the length of the Mississippi River is expected to reach Louisiana, Mo., next Wednesday.
Relay of Voices (Relay), a four-month long expedition from the headwaters to the mouth of the Mississippi River, launched on July 9, 2019. By the time the expedition reaches Louisiana, the group would have travelled more than 1,000 miles by foot.
Spearheaded by Victoria Bradford Styrbicki, and with the assistance of a support team, as well as regional volunteers, the relay embarks on a mission to collect individual stories across the Mississippi River region, seeking out the common voice of home and rootedness and disrupting the national narrative of disconnection. The entire endeavor will take place from July through November 2019.
Relay has identified 104 communities, 20 to 40 miles apart, to travel to each day downriver through Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana, finishing at the mouth of the river at the Gulf of Mexico.
Each stop along the way has been identified and vetted into an organized route to provide accurate representation of the river and diversity of the communities surrounding.
A primary reason for choosing the Mississippi River region was the dichotomy of rural and urban communities there, with many of them still making a living off the water and land. The river is home to a collection of small towns ranging between 200 and 60,000 in population, anchored by seven cities with populations of more than 100,000, serving as beacons of culture and urbanity along the water way.
“We want to support a culture of listening around the communities of the Mississippi River,” said Executive and Artistic Director Victoria Bradford Styrbicki. “As we build a vocabulary drawn from these lives that are shaped around a volatile natural resource as well as a reliance on community relationships, a story that resonates beyond the river and connects all Americans will emerge. Through accumulation and just being present, we hope to be a catalyst for all the voices of the river while also providing insightful data for scientific purposes.”
Relay has partnered with the non-profit Water Institute of the Gulf in Baton Rouge, La., to gather interview and geographic data from fieldwork, which reveals the overwhelming need to understand how the “One River” affects the outcomes at its terminal. The Water Institute of the Gulf’s Human Dimensions Director and Social Geographer, Scott Hemmerling, will help shape the questions the Relay researchers ask in interviews with local residents along their route as well as provide GPS body cameras for the researchers to geolocate the information they gather. This data will then be processed by the institute in order to be collated for future use in studies and continued fieldwork in Louisiana.
Relay’s artistic process is an endurance effort. The roughly marathon’s distance between each town will be approached as a duathlon — a run out of town, cycling the longer stretch between, followed by a run into the next town.
Styrbicki will “gather the landscape” making observations with her senses as well as with a GPS body camera mounted to her torso or bike. This landscape data will be used in mapping analysis by the Water Institute of the Gulf as well as shared at the storytelling event held in each town upon Relay’s arrival.
Many communities have planned a walking, running, or cycling escort in or out of town to share in the effort. Creative placemaking activities in towns consist of welcomes, two- to three-hour interactions with individual local residents, and a “relay of voices” community gathering in the evening. Interaction participants have been selected by the local partners, reaching deep into the community to address diversity of age, background, race/ethnicity, profession and relationship to the river.
Relay has partnered with 29 convention and visitors bureaus,19 chambers of commerce, 30 arts, culture and educational organizations, 45 city and county governments, as well as hundreds of individual volunteers local to each community to solidify programming and to assist with accommodation, transportation, event space and nourishment to support the expedition as it travels south.
In Louisiana, Mo., the Relay is working with Maggie Neff and Kristal Pitzer.
Relay team members include Styrbicki, project collaborator Tom Styrbicki, certified triathlon coach Nic King-Ruley, and project manager Dinah Bradford. Relay of Voices is a project of A House Unbuilt, a 501c3 nonprofit corporation based in Lake Charles, La., and Chicago.
Victoria and Tom will be arriving at the riverfront in downtown Louisiana on Aug. 28, 2019, at approximately 11 a.m. The public is invited to watch their arrival and greet them as they enter town. They would also like to meet and greet local community members at the Trimble House at 1 p.m. The public is invited.
As of Wednesday, Aug. 21, the team was scheduled to be in Burlington in souteast Iowa. They will visit Louisiana between stops in Hannibal and Elsberry. Their planned route leaves Hannibal into Illinois and passes through Hull, Kinderhook, and New Canton Ill. before turning east at Atlas, Ill. After finishing their business in Louisiana, the group will head south through Clarksville along Hwy. 79.