As spring arrives and the accompanying rains begin to fall, our attention might be drawn to all the water flowing over the impervious surfaces and into the storm drains surrounding us near our homes, offices, and everywhere else we look. The storm drains are not much to look at in most places -- but my capstone project, which I am undertaking as part of my position as a Chesapeake Conservation Corps volunteer, seeks to change that in the city of Mt. Rainier, MD.
I first heard of storm drain paintings when I was an undergraduate at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, KY. Colorful patterns and designs started popping up all over the storm drains in downtown Lexington but, beyond a simple artist’s mark, there was no indication of what the project was about.
One of the artistic storm drains in Lexington, KY (Lexington Street Sweeper)
I continued to enjoy the public art as more and more of them cropped up around town and was ecstatic when, one afternoon on a run, I caught the artists in the act of painting a drain. A brief conversation with them led me to discover that they had received a small grant to paint the drains to not only provide public art but to to do exactly what they were doing right then: educating the public about the role storm drains play in carrying stormwater to the local waterways. That encounter stuck with me because, with knowledge and awareness, the public can change their behavior to not litter and to not dump into the drains. Taking it a step further, citizens can take that knowledge and to try and decrease the amount of stormwater entering the drains by increasing pervious surfaces and supporting green infrastructure projects.
My position as an environmental educator at AWS gives me the ability to take the Lexington artists' idea one step further into the classroom which is exactly what I'm doing with the Mt. Rainier Storm Drain Painting Project. We are working with a total of 185 students from Mt. Rainier Elementary, Thomas Stone Elementary, and the Club Joe’s afterschool group at Joe’s Movement Emporium to paint 10 storm drains around Mt. Rainier. In keeping with our education programming standards we are carrying out three-part service learning programming with each group by conducting a classroom visit, stewardship activity (the storm drain painting), and taking them for an on-river field experience.
Locations of the drains to be painted.
The project is also seeking to engage local artists to design the drains and to help with the painting process. Here is the Call for Artists. Please distribute widely and, if you’re an artist, submit!
If you’re not an artist, do not despair! We will need your help as a volunteer during the painting days. Keep an eye out on our calendar for the opportunity to volunteer.
This project would not be possible without support from the Chesapeake Bay Trust, the Art Lives Here grant from Joe’s Movement Emporium, Prince George’s County Department of Environmental Resources, Prince George’s County Art in Public Places, and the Mt. Rainier City Council and Green Team.
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