Rain Barrel Art for a Sustainable Future

What happens when artists bring children, adults, and elders together to create painted rain barrels? They build community. They make waves for water conservation through their paintings and luscious images. They raise awareness of water as a natural resource. They demonstrate to homeowners and businesses how they can save money, while protecting the Wisssahickon Watershed, by capturing water in a rain barrel. They use art to build a sustainable future.

The member artists of the Mt. Airy Art Garage (MAAG), a community center of creativity for the arts in Northwest Philadelphia, saw this project as a natural extension of their first rain barrel project. In May 2012 the Mt. Airy Business Improvement District (MABID) was the first Philadelphia neighborhood association to receive 15 rain barrels from the Water Department to be used for sustainable practice within our Northwest community. MABID reached out to the Mt. Airy Art Garage (MAAG) to create a partnership, and they turned it into both sustainability and art.

Today these barrels are used to water planters on Germantown Ave. in Germantown and Mt. Airy, beautifying and revitalizing our community. Painted by students, MAAG member artists, educators and family members, the collaboration resulted in MAAG creating 15 incredible paintings on barrels. Everyone painted together, inside the Mt. Airy Art Garage, to the cheers of “Are you feeling it?” All participants got the support and input of other artists to realize their creativity. Germantown Avenue is now sprinkled with 10 unique works of art for all to see, with 5 more painted barrels, in winter storage, now starting to surface.

For the artists at the Mt. Airy Art Garage, this was only a beginning. What was missing was a concerted effort to reach out to area schools, include the children, and also reach out to elder populations. So they launched Phase 2 of their Rain Barrel Project creating 10 more barrels to be displayed in Chestnut Hill, Mt. Airy, and Germantown, for the community to appreciate.

They reached out and got a resounding response from local organizations. The children, young adults, and elders came from CW Henry, Homelink, PA School for the Deaf, Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, and the Germantown HS Stained Glass Project and they are painting away!

The Mt. Airy Art Garage held teacher training sessions designed to acquaint teachers with construction of preparatory drawings, compositional devices and general guidelines based on specific themes integral to the Northwest section of the City and its relationship to the Wissahickon watershed. And painting workshops were held at the Mt. Airy Art Garage under the direction of experienced artists and certified education art specialists, all members of MAAG.

The Rain Barrel Exhibition will display the preparatory drawings and the completed Rain Barrels at the Mt. Airy Art Garage, prior to the installation of the barrels. The Rain Barrel Project Exhibition will be Friday, May 31 at 7 pm at 11 West Mt. Airy Ave. After the exhibition, each finished barrel will be placed in accessible space in the Northwest, and each organization will bring home their own barrel.

Mt. Airy Art Garage realizes that in large part, our responsibility to our community is to increase awareness of the restorative and educational opportunities that we, as an artist cooperative, can provide. We are conscious that MAAG, located in the heart of the Wissahickon watershed, gives us a unique opportunity to combine art with an awareness of the fragility of our natural infrastructure. We hope to marry the creative impulse with civic awareness, through community participation. 

We want to embrace our children in the process, reach out to elders and emerging artists, and give them the opportunity to work with professionals to make our community an even better place to live.


LINDA SLODKI is President and Cofounder of Mt. Airy Art Garage (MAAG), an incubator for professional and emerging artists spreading the spirit of community, creative partnerships, and sustainable living in Germantown, Mt. Airy, and Chestnut Hill.