While engineers and artists sitting in a room together may sound like the start of a cringe-worthy joke, the project that resulted has turned storm drains in Northwestern Arkansas into an urban canvas for local talent, spreading the word about the importance of storm water pollution prevention in the region. With Jane Maginot, Program Associate at the Water Quality University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, leading the charge and a donation from Convenience Products, The UpStream Art project has gained national attention. Read on to find out how this project has helped raise awareness of an often-ignored problem of pollution carelessly entering local waterways.
According to Maginot, “UpStream Art came about as a means to draw attention to the usually discreet concrete and iron infrastructure with the hope that pedestrians will stop and think about where the water flows after it enters a storm drain. If residents understand that storm water flows untreated to creeks, streams, rivers, and lakes, then they will be more conscious of potential pollutants that can enter those waterways.”
While not the first to commission original art on public drains (that honor according to Maginot goes to the James River Basin Partnership in Springfield, Mo. in 2011), the UpStream Art project recreated the mission on a larger scale beginning in 2012. “One of the [Springfield] city officials presented to our city officials and made it into something larger,” she noted. “Springfield was sharing because they enjoyed it so much, and in turn I worked with five cities in Northwestern Arkansas, their city engineers and planner (because they have the access and help with road safety), and reps from the art community, such as gallery managers. And we formed a steering committee to collaborate on the quality and relevancy of art that would eventually be part of the city landscape.” In the past two years, 19 drains have been painted using the skills of 14 local artists. In 2014, they will be adding 12 additional painted drains to cover a total area of 36 miles (58 km) and plan to keep expanding.
The preparation was provided by each city, which had crews power-spray the drains and manhole covers and provide traffic control if needed to ensure the safety of the artists. That meant that Bella Vista, Bentonville, Fayetteville, Rogers, and Springdale, Ark., all played a part in getting their respective storm drains painted.
Prior to painting with Sherwin-Williams’ ArmorSeal Heavy Duty Floor Coating, an all-purpose SEAL-KRETE waterproofing base was applied, then a final coat of SEAL-KRETE Clear-Seal was applied on top with either a roller or paint brush. The University of Arkansas took charge of overseeing the application of the coatings, which were dry to the touch in one hour, and then top-coated with Clear-Grip to create a textured surface for traction.
The artwork took anywhere from three hours to two weeks to complete. Weather proved to be an issue since, as Maginot mused, “the last place to dry is the storm drain!” Plus, at times wind would kick up dust into the artists’ eyes while working so closely to the ground in the open air, but otherwise no other environmental or safety factors were an issue.
The painted drains, with an anticipated lifespan of up to five years, went through an extensive selection process before the artists went to work. Starting with a public call for designs via social media, local press, and gallery owners, submitted designs were reviewed by the steering committee and ultimately approved by each city’s mayor. “It was a great incentive for volunteer artists,” Maginot explained, “and this year we were able to offer some grant money. But ultimately the public exposure, representation from each city, and ample media and professional photos become part of a very rewarding package that gets taken on gallery shows to bring the project to other cities.” In fact, San Francisco, Calif., and Vancouver, Wash., are both considering their own storm drain art projects in the near future.
Chris Krueger, brand manager at Convenience Products, was delighted to be part of the project and donate SEAL-KRETE products to the cause. She was happy to be able to create a new connection between Convenience Products and the local community for a good cause. “We are so glad to be a part of this great match,” Krueger noted. “SEAL-KRETE products help resist weather, salt, and UV [ultraviolet] rays that could seriously fade the painted art.”
The ease of application was a huge benefit to the artists as well, considering few have experience with coatings, plus the quick cure time assured that the freshly created art was protected almost immediately and sealed in place for years to come. “We had a particularly harsh winter this past season,” Krueger explained, “and all of the salt used on the roads didn’t cause any damage to the storm drain pieces despite the fact that it’s corrosive.”
Leah Saffian, an amateur artist new to the area, was drawn to the project by way of her involvement in environmental education and recycling, and she wanted to become more connected to the community. “I wanted to incorporate something unique to the Ozarks, the cave salamander, and I painted near a busy bike trail crossing and near the University with lots of foot traffic,” Saffian explained. “People were constantly asking about the project, so we printed fliers and wound up generating some really great energy and a lot of support.” Saffian’s piece took three full days to apply and was “a true learning experience accommodating debris blowing across the paint and weather, but in the end it was impressive to see colors staying vibrant and making so many positive connections.”
Professional local artist Jeffi O’Kane had a similarly rewarding and ongoing positive experience and found the acrylic paint and SEAL-KRETE products an ideal mix for the project. Like Saffian, O’Kane has a passion for the environment as she explained, “Fish are our canaries in the coal mine, and I wanted to get involved and clean, repair, and restore rivers. While painting my piece, a lot of people wanted to stop, talk, and engage.” In terms of longevity, the long-wearing SEAL-KRETE products are protecting O’Kane’s pieces well, aside from some minor rust blooms where no coating was applied. Otherwise, even seemingly devastating wear and tear like car tires jumping the curb wash off easily and leave the art undamaged.
Sending a Message
Aside from minor touch-ups in high traffic areas, the art is holding up exceptionally well according to Maginot. But eventually when the pieces begin to degrade and no longer effectively deliver their message, the drain will be closed off, the paint power-washed off to bare concrete and iron, and the paint chips collected and properly disposed.
Luckily, few storm drains will remain bare thanks to the hard work of Jane Maginot and her dedicated team at the University of Arkansas, the cities of Bella Vista, Bentonville, Fayetteville, Rogers, and Springdale, and the local artists themselves.