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Murals with a message

Colin Wiita puts the finishing touches on his storm drain mural at the intersection of 22nd Avenue East and East Fifth Street on Wednesday. The Maple man, who grew up in Superior’s East End neighborhood, said he simplify his design to grab attention and make it quick and easy for passers-by to read. (Maria Lockwood)

Six works of art are underfoot in Superior. The city’s Storm Drain Art project is complete, dotting the city with colorful mini-murals — a fox and a crow guard a stream at the storm drain near Northern Lights Elementary School; a fish swims in bubbles beside Northwest Outlet; a cartoon man gives a “Fargo”-inspired “Aye” kitty-corner from East End Hardware.

The project harnessed local art talent to send an environmental message.

“It brings awareness to the storm drains within the city,” said Chelsey Miller of Superior, who painted the fox and crow mural. “By ‘beautifying’ them it illustrates their importance. I hope that from this art people will be reminded to take better care of drains near where they live and work.”

“It also supports local artists,” said Miller, a graphic designer for a small architecture firm. “Superior has a growing art community and it is really wonderful to see the city working together with local artists.”

Superior has more than 3,000 inlets that drain water from the streets, according to Wendy Grethen with the environmental services division of public works.

“What goes down a storm drain in most cases in Superior goes out to the streams without any treatment,” she said. “By picking up litter, keeping cars maintained, picking up pet waste and keeping the drains free of even natural debris like grass clippings, we can help protect our streams and lakes.”

That message hit home for the youngest of the six mural artists, 19-year-old Falyn McCotter

“Honestly, I didn’t even realize the water went straight to Lake Superior, untreated, before this mural,” said McCotter, a Superior High School senior. “It’s important to spread awareness; it may stop a few people from polluting our waters.”

The project gave Colin Wiita of Maple a chance to revisit his old neighborhood. He put the final touches on a mural along East Fifth Street on Wednesday. It’s two blocks away from his parents’ home in the East End community where Wiita grew up. He thought the storm drain project was a great initiative.

“I think public art is awesome,” said Wiita, who owns Lakeside Landscape. “It’s a great way to see art and interact with art” in a different venue.

McCotter, whose mural will adorn Webster Park in Superior’s South End, said she was pleased with the many public art initiatives that have sprung up in Superior.

“It’s making our formerly drab community a blooming city of art,” she said. “It’s much more pleasant to walk around. I think Superior is understanding that a simple painting can drastically improve an area.”

Miller stressed the importance of the environmental message their work is sending.

“With so much happening to our environment, it is so very important that we change our practices, and do so now,” she said. “Greater change happens when people change on an individual level. So by people taking the initiative to keep their local storm drains clean we are keeping the lakes and rivers clean and our water supply clean. It’s a win-win situation.”

A grant from the Community Opportunity Fund of the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation funded the project. The Superior Sherwin-Williams store donated the paint, a high-quality porch and floor enamel with a non-slip additive.

The murals were spread around town, where people would walk by, intentionally, Grethen said. They are expected to last about three years. They join the 300 storm drains that received spray-paint stencils last year.

A free exhibit featuring pictures of all six murals be open to the public June 13 through July 12 at Superior Council for the Arts North end Arts Gallery, 1323 Broadway St. Exhibit hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Grethen said a map brochure featuring the murals and where they are located will be available at the gallery, the Richard I. Bong Veterans Memorial Center and the Superior Public Library.

Other Superior residents whose work was part of the project include Tom Rep, who painted a duck-themed mural beside the Belgian Club, Holly Bounting and Joshua Vig whose mural near the Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College features a tree with roots and Jeredt Runions, whose fish mural is outside Northwest Outlet.