Graphic design students to create storm drain art

Students at Florida A&M are creating campaigns to promote awareness about storm water pollution on behalf of FAMU’s Environmental Health & Safety Department.  

Students from fine arts professor Harris Wiltsher’s Foundation of Design class will be painting murals on certain storm water drains around campus, using non-toxic Sherwin Williams’s paint.

Wiltsher said his students are eager to participate in a professional-type project.

“I think for my students, once they get down and start painting, it’s going to be more real what their contribution is and how they fit into this dynamic of the campaign,” Wiltsher said.

Professor Kay Wilder’s Graphics Practicum II class will accompany the murals by creating advertising campaigns that educate the public about storm water and the importance of only allowing rain to go down these drains.

Performing community-based project is one of Wilder’s passions.

“I think we live on one planet, one earth, one space, and if we each can extend a hand to do something for the community, it makes that space a better and bigger place to live,” Wilder said.

Storm drains may look like sanitary sewers, but the water it receives is untreated. The untreated water is released into nearby storm sewer system or surface water such as a lake, river, stream or ocean. Polluted storm water runoff can harm or kill fish and other wildlife.

Dee Ann Miller, deputy press secretary at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, explained how storm water gets affected.

“Nonpoint source pollution comes from oil, pet waste, pesticide, herbicide, fertilizer, sediment and other contaminants that end up on the ground naturally or from human activity,” Miller said. “As such, we all have a responsibility and role we can play in helping reduce or eliminate these sources.”

FAMU is permitted to operate a Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System, also known as MS4s.

According to Florida’s DEP website, MS4s are publicly owned systems of conveyance that are designed or used for collecting storm water and that discharge to surface waters of the state.

Therefore, the EHS pays the DEP for the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit.

“It is designed to prevent storm water runoff from washing harmful pollutants into local surface waters such as streams, rivers, lakes or coastal waters,” according to the EPA‘s website.

With the permit, FAMU can release its runoff water into the city storm water system. Paul McKay, a coordinator at the EHS and the storm water manager, explained what FAMU must do to obtain this permit.

“Munson Slough is a huge water body, about five miles south from here, where most of the water from the campus is taken, so we have to make sure whatever is taken from our campus is clean,” McKay said.

Many cities and states around the country have been adopting policies to protect storm water drains from being polluted.

The Ann Arbor, Mich., City Council unanimously adopted a “green streets” policy on Feb. 18, to infiltrate storm water runoff during public streets construction projects, according to the Ann Arbor Chronicle.

Wilder has been working diligently with EHS and the visual arts department to incorporate and educate their students on hazards related to storm water pollution. This idea was sparked after Wilder had a conversation with Bari Shepard, an EHS hazard lab safety coordinator.

Shepard mentioned storm drain art being created around the world in places like Brazil and Europe as a tool for awareness. For example, the James River Basin Partnership is a grassroots, non-profit association in Springfield, Mo. It has been creating storm drain art and displaying it on its website since 2011.

“I looked at the communities all over the world who have done it, and it seems to be very effective,” Wilder said.

Wilder’s class is divided into four advertisement agencies. EHS will choose the best campaign out of the four agencies and launch it with the assistance of its graphic interns.

Taylor Essue, a fourth-year graphic design student from Pompano, Fla., is the art director for one of the groups, called “Visionary 7.” Essue is confident about her campaign being selected.

“I believe we will be picked because we are going to create a message that is geared to different [FAMU] departments,” Essue said.

Ryan Mitchell, director of the EHS, has been supportive of the entire process.

“We hope to create a model project that can be replicated on other campuses and in other municipalities,” Mitchell said.

Wilder said she is pleased that many students are being educated while participating in this project.

“We’re talking to about 450 students just by developing the campaign,” Wilder said.