St. Clair County youth contribute to environmental art initiative about stormwater pollution

Throughout the summer, dozens of Blue Water Area artists participated in an environmentally-focused project led by Friends of the St. Clair River resulting in impressive artwork surrounding storm drains in several waterfront communities across St. Clair County.

While the primary goal of the project was to increase awareness of storm drain pollution in our region's waterways, it also sought to create mentorship opportunities for creating murals to foster skills in those of all ages and give rise to future community art.

“Art is just so striking and captivating,” says Sheri Faust, Executive Director of Friends of the St. Clair River. “We’re having individuals and families who are doing scavenger hunts looking for the painted drains and cycling groups that are developing cycling routes around them. And that's really what we wanted, for the art to be visible, accessible, and engaging, but also have the environmental message with it.”

Support for the project came from the City of Port Huron, the Community Foundation of St. Clair County, River Rec Teen Zone, and the St. Clair Art Association to help cover the costs of materials as well as compensation for each of the 28 artists.

Ranging from six to 76 years in age, 10 of participating artists were 18 years old or younger including local teens Teagan Georgia and Grace Lucille Mason whose work can be found in downtown St. Clair.

“It’s just amazing because I know some really young kids, as young as like middle school, who were participating in this and it’s impacting the community in a really positive way,” Mason says. “Even as I was painting it, people were walking by and they were so happy and asking questions about it.”

Mason’s eye-catching mural paired with the message “Keep it clean” is located along M-29 at Palmer Park.

“I really started trying to learn the fundamentals of art around fourth or fifth grade,” she says. “I do a lot of sketches and I love watercolor and collage, and I also do acrylic and oil painting.”

Mason says her favorite subject is people and she likes to create stylized, cartoonish figures in her artwork. Large brown eyes capture attention in her storm drain mural, depicting the upper part of a person’s face with wavy brown hair flowing into the water painted around the drain.

“I like to do really quick thumbnail sketches, like 3 inch by 5 inch really small and quick drawings to get a good idea of where I want to go,” she says. “So I did a bunch of those and then eventually settled on that design.”

In addition to art, Mason is a long-time violinist and enjoys crocheting in her free time making creations such as stuffed animals, hats, or mittens. She graduated from St. Clair High School this past year and is currently a freshman at the University of Michigan pursuing a degree in computer science.

“Growing up in St. Clair, the river is everything,” she says. “We learned in school about pollution issues and it’s really important to spread awareness about keeping our drains clean … Not everyone is able to like experience painting a mural so I feel really happy and privileged that I was able to achieve that, especially in my hometown.”

Teagan Georgia poses for a photo beside her mural in downtown St. Clair.

Located at the corner of M-29 and Clinton Avenue, mudpuppies are the focal point in Georgia’s artwork.

“I had to research species around here and the mudpuppy works best for what I was trying to do,” she says. “Mudpuppies are similar to a fully aquatic salamander and are native to our region, so they can be found in the St. Clair River.”

Bits of trash such as plastic bags and bottles surround the mudpuppies in her mural, reminding passersby of the direct connection storm drains have to our waterways.   

“I was trying to think of what trash ends up in the storm drains and what I often see,” she says. “Plastic bags or maybe even like balloons for events, they end up going down there as well as pop cans, beer bottles, stuff like that, and I tried to represent that in my artwork.”

A junior at Port Huron Northern High School (PHN), Georgia plays the alto saxophone in her school’s marching band, is the publicity manager and stage manager for the drama club, and is an active member of the Port Huron Civic Theatre. She says she started taking art lessons when she was 10 years old and hopes to be a graphic designer someday.

“This is kind of my first time doing like a bigger painting, but then I've done a couple more this summer,” Georgia says. “I love a variety of art, I do digital, colored pencil realism, graphite realism, painting on paper … I love a lot of different mediums, which is really nice.”

Georgia says she loved being able to be a part of a project that could make a difference in the community.

“I thought that was a really big opportunity and I did not want to miss that,” Georgia says. “It was a very fulfilling project that I got to take part in.”

In early 2023, Friends of the St. Clair River plan to roll out the second phase of the project introducing the opportunity for schools, businesses, or individuals to sponsor a painted storm drain mural in their community for $300, covering the cost of materials and a stipend for the artist.

Lydia Nicholas, Environmental Field Technician for Friends of the St. Clair River and board member of the St. Clair Art Association, says there is currently a waitlist with artists of all ages who are interested in participating.

“We are excited to see this project expand to new artists and locations, providing unique opportunities for artists to grow,” Nicholas says. “There is a lot of ongoing community support for this project!”


Related:
secondwavemedia.com/the-keel/features/Megan-Strachan-Eddie-Lee-storm-drain-art.aspx
secondwavemedia.com/the-keel/features/Donna-Mitchell-Collins-storm-drain-muralist.aspx
secondwavemedia.com/the-keel/devnews/Kayla-Faust-storm-drain-muralist.aspx

Read more articles by Liz Fredendall.

Liz Fredendall is a photojournalist and communications professional with nonprofit experience. In addition to her work with The Keel, Liz manages communications for the Community Foundation of St. Clair County, runs her own photography business, and writes for several publications. During her free time, Liz enjoys reading and exploring the Blue Water Area with her husband Erick and their corgi, Nori. Contact Liz at editor@thekeelph.com or follow her on Instagram @lizfredendallphoto.