The Philadelphia Water Department and Mural Arts Program are teaming up to debunk the idea that art and engineering, like water and oil, do not mix.
The two organizations have partnered for about six years to call attention to the City’s clean water technology. Mural Arts commissions local artists to create public, water-themed pieces to educate Philly residents about PWD’s tools, which divert stormwater and prevent it from becoming runoff. PWD said that the two organizations have collaborated on a total of 10 to 20 projects.
In December 2016, they unveiled their most recent project: “Room for Growth,” a renovation to the Conestoga Recreation Center. The playground is the future site of one of PWD’s underground stormwater management systems. Mural Arts contributed three bright and flowery murals on the walls of the rec center, as well as new play equipment and benches carved out of old trees and stones.
The projects beautify the city while promoting PWD’s stormwater tools, which are either discrete or underground. They are a product of the department’s Green City, Clean Waters program, which has installed over 1,100 tools that you may have walked past in the city, including rain gardens, stormwater planters and green roofs. By the time it’s finished with the venture, PWD hopes to have cut down on 85 percent of stormwater pollution entering local waterways. But in the meantime, Public Engagement Team Manager for Public Affairs Tiffany Ledesma says that PWD aims to engage the community, informing them of the environmental need for their tools and how exactly they work.
“The water department is interested in communicating in various ways to different audiences, and one way of communicating is through art,” Ledesma said. “So Mural Arts is the perfect partner in Philadelphia to work with.”
Artist Eurhi Jones has created several of the projects commissioned by the two organizations. In 2011, Jones collaborated with sculptors Beverly Fisher and Mike Reali to create Reading the Flow: mosaic murals on three walls of Bodine High School for International Affairs, where PWD installed sidewalk planters. Waterways (2015), a series of adhesive vinyl prints on sidewalks and bridges, educates passersby about a stormwater management facility on Venice Island. Jones’ most recent contribution was Your Hands Shimmering on the Legs of Rain (2016), another mural collaboration with Reali that accompanied a new park and rain garden that had taken the place of a vacant lot in Hestonville.
“My work has always been about nature,” Jones said, “and recently it’s been about finding some sort of activism connection between art and real change. It’s nice to be able to back something like the Water Department that’s doing good things and are actual leaders in the country and tackling things head on.”
Though unable to announce them at this time, Ledesma hinted that there are more projects with Mural Arts in the works. But she thinks the ones created already make a difference.
“People get so excited when they see art in a public space when there’s nothing there before,” she said. “It’s opening up the conversation to that more technical world that not everyone may be drawn to initially without the art taking you there.”