Area artists paint Roanoke stormwater drains to raise awareness about pollution

Digital Originals

ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — Sections of Roanoke are looking a bit more colorful as local artists take to the streets. It’s all in an effort to bring awareness about stormwater pollution.

The Roanoke Arts Commission and the City of Roanoke’s Stormwater Utility has partnered together again to transform six storm drains into works of art.

“People don’t see the unseen,” said Danielle DeHart, the Environment Specialist for the City of Roanoke Stormwater Division. “They don’t think, like, trash it gets washed down the storm drain, goes to the creeks — it doesn’t get treated and it’s not cleaned. So anything that’s on the streets can get into the streams.”

A similar project was conducted in 2018. Five artists were chosen to paint six storm drain in the city.

The six drain locations chosen this year are along Melrose Avenue NW, Colonial Avenue SW, Garden City Boulevard SE, Ferncliff Avenue NW, Midvale Avenue, and Indian Village Lane SE.

Nikki Pynn is one of the artists chosen for this project. In 2019, she painted a stormwater drain and utility box in Blacksburg. Now, she’s bringing her talents to Roanoke and hopes to start a conversation with her storm drain mural, titled “School’s Out”.

“I find this to be a lot of fun, and I like having the motivation of something that will be in a environmental conversation.”

Her mural is located between Virginia Western Community College and Fishburn Park Elementary School. The art piece will include a school of Roanoke logperch, a local species of fish that has become endangered due to water pollution.

“I think that when people think about what they see — the subject matter that I’ve chosen and how I’ve chosen to present it — I hope that they’ll think about why you’re not supposed to do this as well,” said Pynn. “I hope it will be a conversation, not just a ‘oh look, it’s a painting.'”

Hunter Bell is another artist participating in the project; his mural is located on Indian Village Lane, along Wise Avenue. He focused on the concept of “Infinity” and “What Goes Around, Comes Around” when it comes to stormwater pollution.

“You can’t just consider yourself outside of the environment you’re a part of,” Bell explained. “We are one. I, Hunter, am not one. I am a part of something bigger, and so that’s what I wanted to highlight. That’s what I think is important for people to understand more.”

Bell says he can see why it’s easy for people to litter or leave trash in storm drains. However, he wants his piece to bring more light to the issue, as well as advise others to hold themselves accountable.

“I wanted to bring awareness to the actions people take,” Bell said. “People can be really reasonable, but they can also be senseless and unintentional. I think any time we can remind people what they’re doing, and to take some accountability, that’s when change happens. It’s not about shaming people, it’s just about reminding them. “

“Especially with storm drains, where people toss things out without really considering what they’re doing. People litter — not because they hate the environment, not because they have to — because they just aren’t really thinking about it,” Bell said. “And so the more times we can get people on that train, I think it really helps to change.”

DeHart says the goal of this project is to get more people to pay attention to storm drains, which usually go unnoticed by the public.

“Just making that awareness of seeing it and kind of ‘the river starts here’ kind of concept — that what we do on land has an impact on the water,” DeHart said.

Keeping the little things in mind is important, according to DeHart. Here are some ways you can prevent stormwater pollution:

  • Dispose of litter properly.
  • Do not dump anything down storm drains. This includes paints, oils, and other chemicals and cleaners.
  • Pick up after your pet. Pet waste contains a high amount of bacteria.
  • Consider using pesticides and fertilizers sparingly.

The stormwater drains are being decorated with high-traffic paint, which usually lasts about five years. The City of Roanoke will seal the murals every year to aid the longevity of the artwork.

Artists are still working on their storm drain murals. This story will be updated as the art pieces are completed.

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