Water will shoot up from marsh grass, from the shells of river mussels, from a cleft in a giant boulder. Sculpted fountains will represent city water as ice and as a cloud of gas.

And if the designs for Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak's 10 controversial drinking fountains capture the public's fancy like he hopes, you'll hardly be able to take a walk in the City of Lakes without running into a fountain offering city water.

The designs for $50,000 artist-designed bubblers were unveiled with ceremony Tuesday at the Guthrie Theater, which overlooks the site of the city's original water intake -- before a typhoid outbreak forced it upstream.

"The good news is people are talking about water in Minneapolis again," Rybak said before the unveiling, a reference to the criticism he's taken for the cost of the fountains.

Arts advocates say the project -- half from property taxes, half from water charges -- is a continuation of the city's ongoing public arts program, which has brought the city projects ranging from an oversized bunny sculpture at E. Minnehaha Parkway and Portland Av. S. to artist-designed manhole covers.

The program has its roots in a perennially broken water fountain at Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre, a onetime porn palace on Lake Street. That got the theater's artistic director Sandy Spieler musing on the world's water supply, quality and ownership.

"We forget when we bow to take a drink where it is coming from and where it is going," she said. Her watery explorations led to a theatrical work and eventually got the ear of the city's First Spouse, Megan O'Hara, and through her, Rybak.

Spieler worked with a team to design one fountain, to be installed on the plaza next to the Guthrie. On Saturday at 3 p.m., Heart of the Beast also will dedicate a replacement of its own fountain.

Other artists and locations chosen by a selection panel include Mayumi Amada, Northeast Community Library; Lisa Elias, two designs on Marquette and 2nd Avenues; Douglas Freeman, Plymouth and Penn avenues; Gita Ghei, Sara Hanson and Jan Louise Kusske, Midtown YWCA; Seitu Jones, Dinkytown; Andrew MacGuffie, Mozaic development in Uptown; Peter Morales, Ancient Traders Market on Franklin Avenue; and Marjorie Pitz, Nicollet Mall.

None of the designs is ready for installation. Five still need sponsors who will agree to clean them daily and pay for the costs of fall draining and spring pressuring, a restriction set by the City Council. Billed as lasting for 25 years, the designs are getting a rigorous examination for sustainability from sculpture conservator Kristin Cheronis. She looks at factors that undercut durability, such as incompatible materials, and watches for unsafe features such as projecting points.

"Sometimes she has hard questions," said Jones. "She sees things that sometimes we don't see. She sees art in a whole different way from an artist."

Some City Council members initially questioned the initiative, with issues ranging from cost to maintenance. But Rybak eventually got his way, arguing that the project will promote city water at a time when public consumption of it is shrinking, leading to higher water rates.

Rybak said he's hoping that the city's investment in public fountains will stimulate a public demand for like investment by private developers and landowners.

And if they're looking for designs, Spieler, who sat on the selection panel, said she could refer them to "so many beautiful designs" that didn't make the cut.

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438