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The mural project came about when two separate ideas merged into one.
Mike Heimos, stormwater educator for the City of Columbia’s Public Works Department, said he wanted to do a storm drain mural project after attending the first Roots 'N' Blues festival and other downtown events, and saw the large amount of "people pollution" — trash and litter generated by the tens of thousands of visitors — that could wind up in the city's waterways. After some online research, he found similar projects around the world, including a successful project in Springfield.
Thumper Entertainment had approached the city several months ago about doing an art project related to the festival, Heimos said, and the two groups decided to work together. The Columbia City Council approved the project Aug. 6, Heimos said.
Thumper President Betsy Farris persuaded the Sherwin-Williams store on South Providence Road to donate the heavy-duty mural paint. Farris also reached out to Sleadd, who contacted the other artists to see whether they’d participate.
“Everyone I asked said they’d do it. I probably could have had 40 or more artists doing murals,” Sleadd said. “I have had a lot of people say they wished they could have been involved, so there’s definitely a lot of interest in doing this sort of work.”
Farris said she believed the project would be a good way to educate people about the importance of keeping the storm drains clean.
“It's a great way to do two things at once,” she said. “Educate and bring some cool artwork to The District."
The project's educational angle is what led Sleadd and fellow artist Jenny McGee to join.
Sleadd’s wife, Barbara Hoppe, represents the city's Sixth Ward on the council and has always stressed the importance of keeping the stormwater system clean, he said.
For McGee, the importance of clean water spurred her involvement.
McGee and her husband David spent their honeymoon in El Salvador, a trip that changed into a seven-and-a-half-year stay. In El Salvador, McGee learned that Coca-Cola was more accessible than clean water.
“During my seven-and-a-half-year life in El Salvador, my eyes were open for the first time to the world crisis of lack of clean water and sanitation,” McGee said. “When this project came about, I got excited mainly because I felt I could be a participant and have an impact on raising awareness on how critical clean water is to our health and happiness in the community.”
McGee’s drain at Fourth and Cherry streets will include a message: “No shenanigans down the chute.”
“It seems like a pretty simple solution to say ‘don’t throw your cigarette butts down this hole …'” McGee said. “It’s an easy, no-brainer solution to keeping our watershed clean and available for drinking and sanitation.”
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