Late 1970’s

A Japanese friend sends Sandy Spieler a booklet titled Give Me Water.

It is the account of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As the cities burned trees, houses, bodies the people ran to the water screaming “give me water, give me water!”Spieler hears this as a deep cry propelling her into many years of work about water, and about peace.

July 1980

The Black Hills International Survival Gathering

Lakota activists organize this international forum at the occasion of the USA’s proposal to mine uranium for the growing nuclear power industry out of the sacred land of Paha Sapa (the Black Hills) Understanding that the mining would seriously deplete the Water table of Paha Sapa, the Native Elders spoke astutely about issues of environmental genocide as parallel to issues of racial and cultural genocide (One such oration by Russell Means is titled For America to Live, Europe Must Die. Sandy Spieler teaches a puppet workshop at this conference in South Dakota, and meets Jim Ouray. Soon after, Ouray decides to move to Minneapolis to work with the In the Heart of the Beast theatre.

1981, 1982, 1983

Inspired in part by the Black Hills Conference, In the Heart of the Beast Theatre (HOBT) devotes 3 years of work focused on Water in response to the growing degradation of the Mississippi River, and the proliferation of nuclear power plants in close proximity to water sources. Spieler and the core members of HOBT (Marg Rozycki, Jim Ouray , Esther Ouray, Karen Esbjornson, Lucinda Anderson, Nanci Olesen , Steve Epp, Bob Hughes, Steve Sandberg) build small shows (“Oh River”, “Round About Water Tale”), bigger shows (“Life of HOH”), residencies and parades about water (including 2 Maydays) .

May-October 1983

An expanded team of artists – with 25 adults, 5 children, and 2 dogs – joins the HOBT company to creates the spectacular “Circle of Water Circus”. This Circus tours for 4 months from Brainerd to New Orleans on the Mississippi River. The tour includes residencies for townspeople to build local parades and circus side shows celebrating this vital lifeline of the USA. Performances on the northern part of the River are sometimes staged as part of the Mississippi River Revival.

Fall 1985

The Circle of Water Circus travels to Sweden and Denmark to perform for the Scensomar Theater Festival.

March 2003

Dismayed by a growing global Water crisis, and global debates about water “ownership”, Spieler decides she will again focus on work about water. She creates “Homage to Water” with video artist Will Hommeyer for an experimental performance studio series at HOBT.

January – August 2003

Spieler designs We Bend to the Water, a Water Shrine with reverence and joy for how Water connects the World. The work grew as a quiet response to the beginning of the Iraqi War. The piece is commissioned by the McKnight Foundation for the lobby of their new offices on the Mississippi River. The shrine holds vials of Water received from all over the world, and 47 tiny paintings about Water.

October 2003

Supported by an Archibald Bush Leadership Fellowship, Spieler begins an 18 month sabbatical, enrolling in a Masters Degree program at Bristol University in England. Much of her academic and performance work revolves around some aspect of water. Spieler stages her work as interactive experiential events intended to build dialogue as an intrinsic part of the performance experience.

Room of Divining

Compares creative process to water divination. “We Go to the River First” – studies the process of uncovering the buried River from the back car lot of Welfare State Theatre Company in Ulverston UK, and the subsequent development of a beautiful performance park.

Voicing the River

Unfolds as an all-day event in the main car park in Ulverston, England – on top of a River buried beneath this lot.

The event includes an early morning divining and painting of the path of the buried River on the asphalt, ghosted walks along the path of the buried River, foot washing, water drinking, writing of a long collective poem about the River, conversations with a “cabinet of curiosities” about global water and privatization, and a history walk highlighting the many ties of the river to the development of the town.

During her last month in England, Spieler learns of a regional tradition called “Well Dressing”, – an annual festival of decorating the important wells in a town.

Spieler begins to consider how to build this act of reverence into the common patterns of everyday water use.

Summer 2004

Beth Peterson directs HOBT’S summer youth program, Art Bus, with Water as the theme.

In late summer 2005, Julie Boada, Masanari Kawahara, Sandy Spieler, and Duane Tougas stage a water event on the Mississippi River north of St. Cloud for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.


Upon returning to HOBT, Sandy Spieler begins work with a team of artists (Masanari Kawahara, Duane Tougas, Julie Boada) asking the question of how to build awareness of the growing global crises of water within the water-rich state of Minnesota where water is often taken for granted.

One day Spieler looks at the drinking fountain in the lobby of the theatre. The fountain wears the sign “Out of Order”. Spieler recognizes this as a sad emblem of the lack of support for “Our Public Water Commons”.

As a microcosm of a much larger situation, the theatre had not invested in the repair and maintenance of their public drinking fountain and was instead selling water in plastic bottles to their audiences. Spieler proposes the beginning of a performance series about water quality, quantity and “ownership” using the renovation of the public drinking fountain as an emblematic focus on the stewardship of our Water Commons.

This marks the formal beginning of: 

Invigorate the Common Well

Mid-Late 2005

Spieler begins formulating plans for Invigorate the Common Well and to assemble an advisory team for the project. In December she attends a preliminary meeting toward the formation of the Minnesota Arts and Ecology Alliance and shares initial ideas of inspiring the renovation or creation of public drinking fountains throughout the city as a means to deepen reverence for water, its vital importance for all life, and as a means of active stewardship for the Mississippi Watershed from our place of responsibility at the Headwaters. She speaks of revitalizing and deepening the name of Minneapolis, the “City of Water”, as a city that honors and protects the Water Commons. Attending this meeting is Megan O’Hara. She encourages the idea, and offers to help in some way, particularly with city contacts.

Spring 2006

O’Hara connects HOBT with On the Commons, a group of activists organized to raise perception of “the Commons” as a way of inspiring bi-partisan participation in creating a healthy world. On the Commons (OTC) becomes a partner with Invigorate the Common Well. O’Hara also invites Spieler and Kathee Foran of HOBT to share the ideas of Invigorate the Common Well with Mayor RT Rybak.

Spieler and Foran suggest City participation as a way to heighten awareness of Minneapolis’s new membrane water filtration plant, as a way to end the proliferation of plastic water bottles, and as a way to return Minneapolis’s name as “the City of Water” to an honest place of water stewardship and honoring of our rich privilege of lakes and the Mississippi River.

Summer 2006

HOBT artists and OTC members retreat together to begin the conceptual and practical work of building the performance episodes of Invigorate the Common Well.

March 2007

Come to the Well

Come to the Well, Episode 1: Invigorate the Common Well – focuses on the essentialness of Water, Water Quantity, and the leverage of Water in war and peace. The company creates 7 performance areas within the theatre and the audience travels from one to the other. Performances include video documentaries, installations, shows, conversation, “what you can do“ possibilities.

March 11, 2007

Spieler’s article Invigorate the Common Well about the Commons of Water and public drinking fountains appears in the Minneapolis Star Tribune as part of the “With Water in Mind” series, and in the Alley newspaper. The fountain project gains national attention.

Spring 2007

Based on Invigorate the Common Well, three colleges in Winona, Minnesota begin plans for a year long focus on Water for 2008-9.

April-May 2007

Somos Agua

The 33rd Annual Mayday parade focuses on the Commons of Water.

March 2008

Beneath the Surface

Beneath the Surface, Episode 2: Invigorate the Common Well – focuses on Water Quality and the Mississippi River Watershed, and the bottled water versus tap water debate. The company creates a circus of sorts, ending with “what you can do” possibilities for water stewardship.

April 2008

Inspired by Invigorate the Common Well, Minneapolis Art in Public Places Program and the Department of Public Works commission 8 artists to design public drinking fountains to be installed at seven different locations in the City. The vision of this project is to celebrate the role water has played in Minneapolis history and to foster a commitment to honoring and protecting water as fundamental to all life.

July 2008

Decorate the Well in Gratitude

A street and public art festival honoring Water. In the middle of the festival, HOBT dedicated the new public drinking fountain in its lobby.