Artist Plans to Travel the Length of the Mississippi River to Connect Communities

A Louisiana-based artist has big plans for the summer ahead. Victoria Bradford Styrbicki has announced an ambitious and unique new project that seeks to connect more than a hundred communities located along the Mississippi River as she spends July through November traveling its length.

The journey will cover 2400 miles (3862 km) from source to sea as Styrbicki goes in search of the “voice” of those communities as it exists in the 21st century.

Dubbed Relay of Voices, the project will begin at Lake Itasca in Minnesota and continue south from there, crossing through that state and on into Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana before reaching the Gulf of Mexico.

Along the way, Styrbicki will visit 104 different communities that sit along the river and continue to owe their livelihood to the water and the land. Those communities range in size from as few as 200 to as many as 60,000, with seven anchor cities of more than 100,000 located along the route.

The journey will be conducted on foot and bike as Styrbicki goes in search of interesting and unique stories from individuals who live along the Mississippi. She, and her team, will also gather geographic data for the Water Institute of the Gulf, a nonprofit that is helping communities prepare for an uncertain future in terms of water usage and availability.

To that end, the organization is helping to formulate questions that Styrbicki can ask in interviews along her journey and is providing GPS body cameras that can be used to geolocate the data she collects.

The “relay” part of the Relay of Voices project comes not just from Styrbicki and her support team traveling between the communities, but also the volunteers that she is hoping to connect with along the way. Her hope is to become immersed in the local culture of each of the places she stops at to get a true sense of the place and the stories that those communities have to tell.

In order to do that, she needs to interact with the locals, learn about their rituals and activities, and document those subtle, but important, distinctions along the route. To that end, she’ll be looking to connect with individuals in the various cities and towns that she passes through on this journey.

The Relay of Voices is expected to begin in early July and run through November. You can find out more on the project’s website.

Kraig Becker