HER Cover Story
Stormwater murals raise public awareness
When Hot Springs Deputy City Manager Bill Burrough was out of town on city business and returned with the idea to paint the city’s stormwater inlets to raise awareness about water quality, Denny McPhate, the city’s Stormwater Division director, and the rest of the department jumped on the idea.
Local artists Julie Williams and Roxy Rose were called on to make the vision a reality.
“(The murals) are supposed to make the public aware that everything drains to the lake from there, to protect our waters, because anything you throw down there goes to the lake,” said Rose.
In 2016 Williams and Rose painted water- and fish-themed murals on four inlets along the 800 block of Park Avenue and one on Orange Street in front of the Hot Springs Farmers & Artisans Market.
The mural in front of the farmers market resembles a seed packet with a pool of water leading into the drain and a sunflower painted around the manhole.
Colorful murals with messages such as “water is life,” “protect our waters,” “go with the flow” and “only rain down the drain” are intended to make the public aware that the stormwater that enters into the inlets are not filtered in any way. Whatever goes into the inlets goes straight into the pipe or tunnel and straight into the lake or streams.
McPhate said one of the six basic requirements that the city’s stormwater division is mandated by is to give public awareness for water quality.
“Painting these inlets, you notice them a lot further away, they’re a lot larger, more visual, so it accomplishes several things for us in the stormwater management,” he added.
McPhate said there are more than 1,000 medallions on curb units throughout the city that say “no dumping, drains to lake,” but because the medallions are only 4 inches long, you don’t see them unless you’re really looking for them.
When Williams and Rose attended the initial meeting about the project, they were given a list of slogans and ideas for the murals. The idea for the project was also run before the Arts Advisory Committee for additional input. They got to work in August 2016. “They first had to be pressure-washed, primed, and then painted and sealed, so it kind of depended on the weather, but we worked pretty fast,” Williams said. “There was a lot of work done to make sure that we were using the right kind of paint. We really had to do the research, and then they probably have to be sealed about every six months to keep them from getting chipped. We don’t want to do this and then not have it stay.”
She added that it took about a month to complete the murals.
Williams and Rose both agree that painting the murals was fun and for a good cause, but can also recall some not-so-fun times during the monthlong project.
“It was so hot, except for one time, I remember, it was so cold I had to stick my hands down in the drain area (to warm them up),” Rose said. She added, “then, one time, (Julie) got beamed in the shoulder by a walnut.”
Williams said the city plans to expand the project and begin taking submissions from other artists that would be reviewed and voted on by a committee, which Rose and Williams will both be a part of.
“There’s going to be a committee, so that when the artists, any artist, they could be young, they could be anybody, as long as you submit a design, and then they can be looked at by the committee to decide where they would go best,” Williams said.
Williams and Rose have been involved in the art community for over 20 years, which is why Williams thinks the city chose them to kick off the project.
“They picked us because we’re professionals. They knew we’d do it, and do it right,” Williams said.
“And they’re familiar with our work, so it was kind of like, what we do would go along with what they were looking for,” Rose added.
Rose used to work as a park ranger on the Buffalo River and both Williams and Rose are avid landscapers and gardeners.
When asked why the project is personally important to them, Rose said, “I think we’re both very ecological-minded people. We’re interested in the protection of our city and our resources.”
During the project some of the residents on Park Avenue put up a big “thank you” sign from the community thanking the artists for doing the work. “It made me cry,” Rose said. “People brought us water and we had a flash mob party one day with a disco ball and music and it was just a happening place on Park Avenue,” Williams said. “I didn’t hear any negative feedback. We also tried to make sure that the designs were pretty safe — how can you get mad at a fish? It wasn’t super controversial; we wanted to keep it real light.”
Rose added that they became acquainted with the residents on Park Avenue and that they were constantly checking on them and making sure they didn’t need anything.
“Everybody was helping, the city helped; it was a very positive project, it really was,” Williams added.
Artists Julie Williams and Roxy Rose
Artist Roxy Rose paints finishing touches on the curb in the 800 block of Park Avenue.