FAYETTEVILLE — This week’s excessive rains have caused many of the area’s municipal storm drains to overflow into parking lots, streets, lawns and the like.
What those drains take back with them when the waters recede is enough to make your toenails curl — grease, oil, pet waste, antifreeze, fertilizer — all of which ultimately winds up in our streams, lakes and rivers.
Mother Nature’s current wrath notwithstanding, it’s a point organizers are hoping to drive home with the UpStream Art project.
Modeled from an effort like it in Springfield, Mo., UpStream Art is using art to draw attention to the function and importance of municipal storm drains. From April 10-30, selected artists will be painting 16 visibly prominent drains in Fayetteville, Springdale, Rogers and Bentonville. A list of the drains — four in each city — can be found here.
The project was initiated by the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service, whose job, among many others, is to educate the public about storm water.
“We truly believe that if we educate folks, they’ll voluntarily change their behavior,” said Jane Maginot, a storm water educator with the extension service.
The original intent was reveal the painted drains in August, but officials have moved the deadline to the first of May so the artwork could be part of the Walton Arts Center’s Artosphere 2012 — a two-month celebration of music, visual art, theater, lectures, film and dance — that begins May 3.
A call for participating artists was put out in February with entries taken through March 19. Selections will be judged Monday (March 26), and the chosen artists will be contacted April 9.
Few would think of a painted storm drain as a game-changer in the career of an artist, but it’s at least a way to get artwork out there, particularly in a high-traffic area.
“It’s really beneficial for students because they’re able to get a juried art piece on their resume,” Maginot said.
The painted drains will be professionally photographed and the photos mounted for receptions and gallery tours across the area.
Artists must keep their designs within the structure of the drain— the 4-foot by 6-foot drain box, the manhole cover and the street-level “throat” that takes the water down the drain, Maginot said.
Each site will be power-washed before artists begin. It will be up to them to put down a layer of clear weatherproof sealer before and after they complete their artwork. The sealer and acrylic paints will be provided — and hopefully donated, Maginot added.
While artists in Springfield were given the choice of painting anything they wanted on that city’s drains, UpStream organizers are asking artists to stick to the conservation theme.
The artwork should last at least three years. As soon as the paint starts to deteriorate, each city will be responsible for removing the paint completely, before it goes down the drain. Another round of drains will be selected and painted again next year, so that the project is ongoing. The only cost to the cities is the maintenance.
Maginot is environmentally conscious by nature, so to speak. She and her husband, James, met while working in the Peace Corps in Tanzania and now live and work a small organic farm in Winslow. Together they grow vegetables in a solar-heated greenhouse and raise beef and milk cows, goats and free-range chickens.