Murals encourage pollution awareness

Though the University is located inland, its only waterway, Boneyard Creek, eventually drains to the Gulf of Mexico along with any pollution that may be deposited. University Facilities and Services is coordinating a project featuring storm drain murals to encourage pollution awareness.

The project, which features seven local artists and five University students, began as a requirement of the University’s Municipal Separate Storm Sewer permit from the Illinois EPA. This permit allows the University to direct storm water into receiving streams.

Eliana Brown, the coordinator of special programs for Facilities and Services, said her department is responsible for organizing this public awareness project, focusing on pollution of waterways.

Brown said this year her boss challenged her to do something that was more engaging for the public. She said that’s when she found that Columbia, Miss., had done a successful storm drain mural project and decided the University should give it a try.

“Our hope for the project is that campus and our community will understand that they have an impact downstream and that even though we are inland we are connected via our land and our storm drains to our waterways and on out to the oceans,” Brown said.

Kristin Rose, one of the mural artists and a senior at the University majoring in art, said she wanted to join the project to support its cause and found it to be a good way to publicly display artwork. She said her mural, located in Meadowbrook Park, 2808 S. Race St., Urbana, is right next to a stream fed by storm water.

“The source of that stream that is under the bridge is storm water and that water creates a habitat for plants and animals and things. So I decided to pick various native plants to put in each color block because I thought that would show that these plants are here, this water supports them, so you should keep it clean,” Rose said.

She said she wanted her to draw attention to her mural by making it bright and colorful, and she also ensured it was kid-friendly because it is in a park.

Another of the mural artists, George Hwang, a freshman in Engineering, said he found out about the project through a Mechanical Engineering Facebook page and applied right away.

Though he said he does not think he was the target audience for the project, he is glad he found the project.

“Everything’s so flat here I didn’t think about (pollution) at all but then the person who hired me was telling me about when you dump around here it actually goes to five different heads to five different rivers,” Hwang said.

When he was deciding his mural’s theme, it seemed most important to catch people’s attention so they would look at it. He said he thought the best way to portray his message would be to make it “really cute.”

“I thought OK, I’ll draw a picture of my cat, and then I thought they want to promote awareness of rivers, drains and all of that. So then I drew a cat fishing,” Hwang said of his mural, which can be found between Mathews and Goodwin avenues in Urbana.

Brown said the artists were given a link to a TED Talk explaining the stream pollution problem, followed by a local explanation of this problem to guide them in designing their murals.

“Then the artists came up with their designs, and we talked about it,” Brown said. “It really was a conversation, but it’s the artists’ creations.”

The murals were created with marine paint that is not a harm to the environment and will be covered with a clear sealant. They are expected to last between three to five years.

“I couldn’t be more proud of them,” Brown said. “Their artwork is simply breathtaking and amazing.”

Claire can be reached at [email protected]