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September 20, 2012 | 12:00 a.m. CST
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An octopus beams its yellow eye at passersby as it guards a storm drain against garbage. Its tentacles seem to emerge from the depths of the drain, and the message is clear: “No Shenanigans Down the Chute.”
The purpose of this and eight other new paintings on Columbia’s sidewalks is to spread awareness and education about the dangers of polluting stormwater drains. Mike Heimos, Columbia’s stormwater educator and the man behind the idea, hopes the project will make people realize their effect on local waterways. Any candy wrapper or cigarette butt down the drain will go directly into local creeks and streams, Heimos says.
Heimos collaborated on the project with Thumper Entertainment, the company that produces Columbia’s annual Roots ’N’ Blues ’N’ BBQ Festival. After noting the successes of similar projects worldwide, Columbia and Thumper teamed up with nine mid- Missouri artists to brighten up the district’s sidewalks and get the message out about the importance of keeping drains pollution-free.
“It was an opportunity to roll around in the gutter,” Deborah Zemke, one of the contributing artists, says jokingly. Zemke attributes the inspiration of her Great Blue Heron painting, located at Fifth and Cherry streets, to her experiences with Columbia’s parks and trails.
For Jenny McGee, who painted the octopus at Fourth and Cherry streets, the project means much more. After spending seven and a half years in El Salvador, she developed a newfound respect for safe drinking water. With sidewalk art, McGee is hoping to increase awareness of keeping our water supply clean.
Heimos says that he hopes the project, which took five months to complete, will remind residents that only 1 percent of the world’s water is actually clean enough to drink, and that’s what is being polluted. But these sidewalk masterpieces are one way Columbia is fighting back. Check out a story the Missourian did about this storm drain art.