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Villiard originally titled the mural "Water is Life", however due to the political nature of the statement, she was unable to receive the approval from the City of Duluth. Fall 2018, concrete paint, approximately 70 feet long, painted by over a hundred passersby in Duluth's busiest neighborhood Canal Park. Photo courtesy of Wherehouse Productions

A 70-inch painted fish decorated Buchanan Street to remind passersby the many ways water impacts the Minnesotan North Shore. “Akawe Nibi,” meaning “Water First” in Ojibwe, was designed by Duluth visual artist Moira Villiard in partnership with the Zeitgeist Community in the Imagine Canal Park project in 2018.

Over the course of 10 hours, broken up into two days, Villiard encouraged Canal Park visitors to help her paint the mural. Over two hundred hands took part in the making of the discourse of water’s significance.

“This was my first outdoor mural project, so there was a bit of a learning curve,” Villiard said. 

"The mural itself is one of very few pieces of public art in Duluth that includes an Indigenous perspective - I titled it "Akawe Nibi" (Water First) and painted the words in bold letters within the fishes tail."

Villiard asked Duluthians “What’s missing in the art scene of Duluth?” and was inspired by the over a hundred responses for water-related art. She designed the mural and originally named it “Water is Life,” but due to the political nature of the statement, she changed it.

“Originally I wanted to write the very factual statement that ‘Water is Life’ but I couldn't get city approval for that because of the political nature of the statement,” Villiard said. 

The mural includes six sections from the head of the fish to its tail, depicting different ways the region has benefited from water. From Duluth’s beer industry, to recreational activities and transportation, to wildlife and natural resources, water has influenced the culture of the Duluth community.

Villiard incorporated indigneous motifs such as wild ricing, sturgeon, and phrases in Anishinaabemowin (the language of the Anishinaabe) in the design to include indigenous people in the celebration of water and amplify their presence in the city. 

Akawe Nibi / Water First
Mural, 2018

Progress: Start to Finish

"Akawe Nibi" featured on 
Zeitgeist Community Facebook 

Featured on the
Duluth News Tribune

Creative Crosswalk coming to Hillside

May 2019

Social Media

Project Contributors


Project funded by Zeitgeist Community

Volunteers who participated in the painting

Header photo by Wherehouse Productions

Page by Suenary Philavanh

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