Beautifying the Community With Painted Rain Barrels

The Mt. Airy Art Garage (MAAG) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are partnering this summer to create and display art, build community and spread the message that small actions in stormwater management can make a big difference.

The project included MAAG's facilitation of a variety of groups from the community, with more than 50 participants ranging in age from 10-85 painting rain barrels. It is part of the City of Philadelphia's Green City, Clean Waters project, which aims to strengthen and protect the city's watersheds by managing stormwater with innovative and community-centric design. "We celebrate artists, bringing children and elders together to paint rain barrels, build community and use art to create a sustainable future," says Linda Slodki, cofounder of MAAG. 

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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.

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Rain barrel program does more than divert stormwater, provides new jobs too

Each rain barrel from the ECA is made from nearly 100 percent recycled materials. | Photo from ecasavesenergy.orgSince 2011, the Energy Coordinating Agency (ECA) has been running the Philadelphia Water Department’s free rain barrel program, distributing a couple thousand barrels each year to city residents. While the program has been successful, the ECA has found that stormwater problems don’t end at the Philadelphia border.

“There’s lots of flooding in surrounding communities, and people see that they are living with a system that is essentially broken,” says Liz Robinson, ECA’s executive director. After a workshop is held near the suburbs, Robinson says they’ll get waves of calls, asking for rain barrels. However since funding only covers a Philadelphia program, ECA has had to turn away those residents.

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Environmental Art: Local rain barrel takes first prize in nationwide contest

You might never imagine a rain barrel as public art, but that’s exactly what Rittenhouse neighbors Karen Villareal and Pat Harner have created. Their fly fishing-inspired rain barrel recently won first prize in Plow & Hearth’s Water Colors Contest—a competition designed to raise awareness on water conservation by challenging contestants to paint rain barrels and watering cans.

When Harner first received her rain barrel from the City of Philadelphia, she wasn’t so happy about the “recycle-blue” color. So, she asked Villareal, her neighbor and an artist, if she would paint the barrel. Soon the project became a community event. Another neighbor volunteered a downspout in a better location and children in the neighborhood prepared the barrel for painting. The barrel’s design is inspired by a love for fly fishing and the knowledge that fish and other aquatic animals only survive in clean, unpolluted water. In addition to paint, glass beads are used on the barrel to simulate fireflies.

For winning, Plow & Hearth donated $5,000 to American Rivers, a leading river conservation organization, and awarded Villareal and Harner a $1,000 gift certificate. For more details about the Water Colors Contest, including all the award-winning rain barrels, visit Plow and Hearth’s website.

Garden Chic: Rain barrels that capture water—and the imagination

story by Shaun Brady | photos by Sam OberterMario Gentile describes his basic philosophy as a question: “How can the everyday homeowner buy local and afford something that looks really well-designed made out of relatively expensive materials?” His answer: Shift_Design.

Gentile started Shift_Design in 2010, after being laid off from his architecture job. With support from a Temple University business plan competition and GoodCompany Ventures, a nonprofit that helps entrepreneurs launch businesses, Gentile put his idea into action.

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