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Storm drains around campus are a vital piece of city infrastructure and connect to the local ecosystem. Recently, the We Mean Green Fund relaunched the Scrappy’s Storm Drain Artscape Competition, a campaign designed to reimagine three campus storm drains into public artwork with student-created messages of protecting water health.
Storm drains are important for the urban environment as they provide an efficient path for excess storm water to flow away from buildings, roads, and sidewalks during heavy rainfall or snowstorms. Despite common belief, storm sewers travel directly to local bodies of water without passing through filtering processes at treatment facilities. The water and contents that flow into campus storm drains output directly to Lewisville Lake, a primary source of drinking water for North Texans. When litter, swept up by running water, enters our storm drains, Lewisville Lake receives this pollution which negatively affects the aquatic ecosystem and water quality. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is not uncommon to observe face masks, a new form of litter, sitting on the curbside; when masks are not discarded properly, they become litter that may enter our local waterways and adversely impact the health of plants, animals, and humans.
Because of their public visibility, the student-painted storm drain murals serve as an ideal medium to raise awareness within the UNT community about the impacts of litter on our water. Thirty student artists submitted a sketch of their storm drain artwork concept for review by a committee of judges including UNT students, staff, and faculty. The judges chose three mural concepts that would both educate passersby about water litter prevention and amplify school spirit. The We Mean Green Fund compensated the selected artists with $500 for their work on installing a mural.
“I was incredibly impressed by the range of creativity in which students expressed the important message of protecting water health,” We Mean Green Fund Coordinator Emily Bilcik said. “Clean water sustains life. We all play a role in keeping our water clean through our everyday activities whether that is properly picking up after our pets, picking up litter when we see it, or opting not to use harmful pesticides or herbicides which threaten our water supply.”
The judging committee reviewed the submitted student designs and the student finalists include:
The student-designed mural from Savannah Thomas named “We Are the Change” addresses the personal responsibility we have for keeping our waterways clean. It illustrates the power each person possesses to make a difference, even if it's just one piece of trash at a time.
“UNT is full of amazing staff, faculty, and students who truly care about the environment and the sustainability of our campus. I love how I am able to contribute to that by educating the UNT community about stream health with my design,” said Savannah Thomas. “My design was inspired by the ecosystem illustrations in textbooks where you can see underwater and above ground and all the prominent species. I wanted to show the proximity to campus using the Hurley Admin Building and UNT battle flag in the background to show that functioning stream ecosystems are near UNT and our actions impact those ecosystems.”
Zoe Pitts’ mural named “Litter and Critters” includes examples of Texas native wildlife (such as a Northern Cardinal and a family of opossums) and illustrates their reliance on clean water. The "Stay Mean Green" slogan on Zoe’s design also reminds viewers that the essence of showing Mean Green spirit includes disposing of our litter responsibly.
“I'm grateful that UNT is committed to informing students about clean water and a healthy ecosystem, and having my mural featured tells me that this movement is being taken seriously,” said Zoe Pitts. “My mural was definitely inspired by Texas native wildlife, especially since hearing about discarded masks ending up in drains and bodies of water since the mid-pandemic-- and how wildlife would sometimes end up caught in the strings. I wanted to make sure that passerby would be reminded of how their litter could affect harmless animals and show that Mean Green pride means looking out for one another.”
The artscape created by Kiana Kawahara named “Keep Our Water Clean” took inspiration from iconic UNT landmarks, symbols, and native Texas flora. Like Savannah’s mural concept, Kiana’s storm drain art tips a hat to the Hurley Administration Building, but also highlights Texas bluebonnets, UNT’s Soaring Eagle Statue, and Lucky the squirrel. The slogan depicted, “Go Mean Green! Let's keep our water clean,” champions both UNT pride and the necessity for all hands on deck to maintain clean water.
“Clean water is something that can easily be taken for granted, and I'm sure many of us experienced that during the February 2021 snowstorm when we didn't have the luxury of clean water. Littering is a conscious action that can have such detrimental effects to our water and our environment, and I think many of us don't realize how harmful it is,” said Kiana Kawahara. “I wanted my mural to show a lot of UNT pride, and so that led me to incorporate some key UNT landmarks and symbols. My mural has a clear message about water cleanliness while showcasing school pride.”
For more information on the We Mean Green Fund, visit https://studentaffairs.unt.edu/we-mean-green-fund.