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Bringing awareness and color to Elkhart streets

Maya James works on the Storm Drain artwork Monday, May 20.

Seventh grade art students at West Side Middle School are raising awareness to Elkhart waterways through a public art project in front of the downtown library location.

Members of the Art Club at West Side are working when the weather allows on the north side storm drain along High Street, near Second Street just outside EPL’s main entrance.

According to Elkhart Public Works Stormwater Manager Joe Foy, eight storm drains around downtown were chosen for the art project and local artists were selected to do the designs and painting. Some are student groups, including the West Side Art Club.

The students get experience working on a collaborative public art project from start to finish, says Kelly Tooker, the seventh grade art teacher advising the students as they worked Monday.

“They get experience, painting something for the public, using different materials, talking with the public, learning about the reason behind the paintings and the storm drains,” Tooker says.

Students Julie Burton and Kaela White, the group’s designated spokespeople, say it’s important for the public to remember where the storm water goes and the harm that littering can cause.

“They (need to) understand that when they throw stuff on the ground that it goes in the river and it can harm the fishes,” says Burton. “We can hurt the fishes and we can kill off the population and we need that water to drink too.”

Scheduling around a rainy and unpredictable Indiana spring has proven tough and Tooker says that the students need a couple more afternoons of work to finish.

Students Kellen Hartman and Maya James designed the mural, which shows hands with water running through them into a waterway with fish and turtles. It was tweaked by the entire group to get the final design, says Tooker.

According to Foy the life of the artwork once its completed will be four to five years. The city of Elkhart will have a map of all of the artwork’s locations and an official unveiling next month.