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Storm Drain Murals Bring Vibrancy and Awareness to Milwaukee’s South Side

12/15/22 09:00:am
girl painting a storm drain with bright colors

Photo Credit: Añamarie Edwards

This past summer, the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD), City as Living Laboratory/WaterMarks MKE, Sixteenth Street Community Health Center, and ArtWorks for Milwaukee partnered to create murals around two storm drains on Milwaukee’s south side. This partnership helped creatively connect the community to our waterways.

ArtWorks for Milwaukees’ high school interns led this initiative under the direction of ArtWorks for Milwaukee’s Environmental Arts Internship Lead Artist Añamarie Edwards and Lead Artist Assistant Marco Romantini. Wanting to develop a community-driven design, ArtWorks joined Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers for a family workshop where participants learned about this project and how their actions affect our water and then painted what they would like to see on the storm drains in their community.

“After paintings were done by the participants, interns got a chance to sketch, bringing all the community paintings together,” said Edwards. ArtWorks pulled together elements of the community paintings for Milwaukee interns into a few potential designs. These designs were then shared with the community at Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers’ summer picnic, where community members provided additional feedback.

Two final designs were then selected. The first, featuring a seagull with the Milwaukee people’s flag, was designed by Jaeden Horton, and the second mural, featuring the recycling logo, was designed by Demagno Laster Hugh Hancock, and Londya Bourgeois. “From measuring and making the circles to priming and sketching, the interns watched the canvas come to life!” said Edwards. Each mural is about 6 feet in diameter and has a circle to represent the Watermarks initiative and the words One Water, Our Water to signify the collaborative work across the city to keep our waters clean.

In addition to adding vibrancy to the area, the project raised awareness and understanding of how actions on land can affect our local water bodies and about the revitalization of the Kinnickinnic River.

The murals were painted at the end of the S. 15th Place cul-de-sac just north of the Kinnickinnic River. This area is part of MMSD’s 6th-16th Street Project, which will make improvements along the Kinnickinnic River between S. 6th Street and S. 16th Street to help reduce the risk of flooding in the Kinnickinnic River Watershed. The river channel is currently 50 feet wide and lined with concrete.  During heavy storms, the concrete lining creates dangerous flow conditions that have claimed a number of drowning victims throughout the years.  To provide enough room to safely move floodwaters during heavy storms and to naturalize the river, the river corridor will be widened, and more than 4,000 feet of concrete channel lining will be removed and replaced with a natural stream design.

Edwards said, “The storm drain street mural project was a beautiful mix of connecting community ideas to young artists for a groundbreaking mural turnout. Getting the community’s eye for what they wanted to see through the painting workshop and a community picnic was exactly what was needed.”

These murals are just the beginning. There are plans to paint more storm drain murals across Milwaukee.

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    Photo Credit: Añamarie Edwards

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    Photo Credit: Añamarie Edwards

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Learn about local flood management projects and how you can get involved: