Storm drain art project underway in Fayetteville

Bill Ward begins his second day of painting Thursday morning at a drain inlet near the Fayetteville Public Library.

Todd Gill, Fayetteville Flyer

A handful of storm drain inlets in Northwest Arkansas are receiving a makeover this spring thanks to UpStream Art, a public art and awareness project.

With inspiration from a similar campaign in Springfield, Mo., local stormwater educators hope to help bring attention to what goes down the area’s municipal storm drains.

Artists this week began painting a series of small-scale murals on the drain covers in each of the region’s four major cities.

“Our hope is that the art will help raise awareness of the purpose of these drains and help reduce the amount of pollution returned directly to the environment,” said Jane Maginot, extension urban stormwater educator for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

Leah Saffian mixes paint at her temporary sidewalk studio on Maple Street Thursday afternoon.

Todd Gill, Fayetteville Flyer

A common misconception is something Maginot says contributes to an ongoing problem.

“Many people think these storm drains are tied into the sanitary sewer system, where water is treated before being returned to the environment,” said Maginot. “This leads to people dumping oil, grease, and other trash into the drains.”

However, all of those pollutants, plus whatever the water picks up as it washes across parking lots and roadways, goes raw and directly into local streams, she said.

Artists Bill Ward and Leah Saffian were selected to bring their drain art ideas to life at two locations in downtown Fayetteville.

Ward began work on his design at West Avenue and Mountain Street on Wednesday. Saffian, who set up her street-side studio at Frisco Trail and Maple Street on Thursday, will paint two drains, one on each side of the street.

Ward’s ‘H20nly’ mural dries near the Fayetteville Public Library.

Todd Gill, Fayetteville Flyer

With thunderstorms expected to hit the area in a few days, both said they’re hoping to have their murals completed by the weekend.

Maginot said a specialty concrete coating will be applied to the drain areas once the artist’s acrylic paintings are dried. The sealant, she said, should keep the artwork intact for at least three years. As soon as the murals start to chip, the artwork will be completely removed to ensure the paint doesn’t end up in the drains.

In all, eight drains are set to be painted this spring. Another round of drains and artists will be selected next year, to keep the project ongoing.

Maginot said the murals will be professionally photographed and mounted for inclusion in local galleries and receptions, including an exhibit in the Walton Arts Center’s upcoming Artosphere festival.