Using Art to Revitalize a River

Mound_Cemetery__13_Until 1200 AD, the Root River was host to the Woodland Mound Builders; their effigies can still be seen today.  The Root River Basin inspired these First Nation tribes to establish ceremonial grounds on the surrounding hillsides, and likewise serves as inspiration to Racine residents and guests.

The Root River Council has spearheaded several projects aimed at creating a ‘sense of place’ or an identity around the Root River.  Many of the comments gathered in the 2007 community workshops focused on a need for public art and aesthetic enhancements along the Root River Pathway.  In 2010, in celebration of the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day, the Root River Council and project partners donated a public sculpture to the Citizens of Racine County.

dawningArtists that created this sculpture (‘Dawning‘) were students from local high schools and the general community learning welding for manufacturing applications.  Students were introduced to design fundamentals, reflected on the works of celebrated visual artists, and had weekly speakers discuss their involvement in the arts.  These students were presented with essays, poems, and reflections of area 4th graders visiting the Root River at the REC.  A poem written by 4th grade poet Ashintya Krishnan was selected as the main theme of this sculpture:

The River Rushes

In nature it freely flows

Creating beauty

dawning_dusk-Ashintya Krishnan, 4th grade

Under the helpful guidance of local artists Nathaniel Hunter and consultation from Bruce Niemi , students in the Racine County Workforce Development Center’s ‘Welding Boot Camp’ at Gateway Technical College were charged with developing a design based on their understanding of the Root River and the vision laid out by this student’s haiku.  The cement base was constructed through a service-learning project involving trainees learning cement-work through the First Choice Pre-Apprenticeship Training Program.


This project was made possible by a grant from the WI Arts Board and generous assistance from Nielsen Machine, Jaquet Inc., Gateway Technical College, UW-Parkside Center for Community Partnerships, the Root River Environmental Education Community Center.  Special thanks to the following folks for their insight, instruction, and support:  Trenton Baylor, Nancy Carlson, Mark Mundl, Alfonzo Payne, Mike Skender and Donnie Snow.