Water Quality Public Arts Projects

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The Town of Blacksburg, particularly the downtown area, is crisscrossed with numerous waterways that have been piped, channeled or otherwise covered over as the town grew during its 200+ year history. Today, most of these tributaries and streams are invisible, but a few can be seen in key locations around downtown. The Town of Blacksburg has been actively supporting two public arts campaigns to bring greater awareness to the factors that degrade our water quality and the choices residents can make to restore the health of our local waterways.

Want to find the 16 Frogs and the Storm Drain Murals?  Use this map. 

Everyday activities can cause water pollution, find out what you can do to help.

16 Frogs

As an effort to draw attention to the town’s now-hidden waterways, the 16 Frogs project was launched in early 2016, largely due to the efforts of Vice-Mayor (now Mayor) Leslie Hager-Smith. The project features 16 bronze frog statuettes, one for each of the town’s original 16 squares. These are placed strategically throughout the town, calling attention to the freshwater under and around the streets of Blacksburg while also noting placing of particular historic or cultural importance. Each frog is named for an individual who played an important role in shaping the community we live in today. Modeled after the native Green Frog, (Lithobates clamitans), the frogs range from 6-12 inches in size, and sit on pavement, knee walls, stormwater drains, or sills. Now that all the frogs have found their permanent homes, the 16 Frogs committee volunteers are working hard to develop interactive programs for school-aged children and tour materials for all audiences.

16 Frogs Map

 

Storm Drain Mural Project

It is a common misconception that the water that enters a storm drain goes through some type of treatment process. In reality, storm drains are designed to simply direct stormwater away from roads and buildings to prevent hazardous conditions and damage to private property and public infrastructure. This water goes directly underground enabling surface pollution to enter the groundwater. When yard chemicals, automotive fluids, pet waste, sediment, litter, and even natural materials like grass clippings and leaves enter our storm drains they diminish our water quality bit by bit every year. The core message the project wants to convey is “nothing but rain down the drain.”

To raise awareness of the water quality impacts of pollution entering our waterways via storm drains the Town of Blacksburg has partnered with local artists to install four original murals on selected storm drains in the downtown area. The town is particularly grateful for the assistance of the Blacksburg Regional Arts Association for providing valuable feedback as the program guidelines were developed and helping to publicize it with area artists.

A design competition was opened in early 2018 in which local artists were encouraged to submit a design to raise public awareness of the choices (and changes) we can all make to restore the health of our local waterways while addressing one or more of these themes: 

  • The Town of Blacksburg’s Freshwater Heritage
  • The Protection of Stroubles Creek
  • New River Watershed’s Natural Beauty: local wildlife, healthy habitat & natural beauty 

The town received 55 original design concepts from 41 different artists. The judging committee selected designs that were graphically bold with clear messages and educational potential. The four artists selected were: Nicole Hersch, Shoshana Levenson, Ben Oderwald, and Michael St. Germain. 

 

 

 

Artist Bios and Videos

Shoshana’s bio: Shoshana is a 21 year old artist based out of Blacksburg, Virginia. She has lived in Blacksburg since her freshman year at Virginia Tech in 2015. Shoshana is a life-long multi-media artist with a passion for using any surface as a canvas – 2D, 3D, still or living – in an effort to capture people’s energy, emotions and everyday experience with her art. She has specialized in traditional 2D illustration, portrait work, and larger-scale 3D decorative and found art projects, from personal items to coolers, ceramics, furniture, murals, and wall painting. She heard about the stormwater public arts project from a fellow student, and wanted to capture the breathtaking natural beauty of the New River Valley with her design as well as her identity as a Hokie.

 

 

Ben’s bio: Ben Oderwald grew up in Blacksburg, left for college, spent time in New York City, and returned because Blacksburg is a one of a kind place. The water that flows through and under the town, out to Virginia Tech's Duck Pond, and eventually to the New River is an essential part of the town and the experience of living here. His design highlights the local wildlife that lives in and around that water, to bring awareness of that ecosystem to the sidewalk, where it is normally hidden.

 

Nicole’s bio: Nicole Hersch is a dual Masters student in Landscape Architecture and Natural Resources at Virginia Tech. Originally from San Diego, Nicole moved to Blacksburg last fall, transferring from Tech’s Washington Alexandria Architecture Center (WAAC) where she studied the previous two years. Nicole is now working on her thesis, studying vegetative patterns along drainage ways within the Stroubles Creek Watershed. Her goal is to better understand the ecosystem services available within these landscapes, with a goal of incorporating thoughtful design and function into critical riparian areas. Water is the most precious natural resource we have. One of the best way to preserve that resource is through riparian buffers, or put more simply, by re-vegetating stream banks.

Blacksburg’s Stormwater Public Arts initiative was a blend of two passions, design and landscape awareness. Nicole is excited about the opportunity to connect with the community on an important landscape topic. When Nicole is not at her computer working on her thesis you might find her on the trails collecting seeds for native plant propagation to be utilized by the Stroubles Creek Restoration Initiative or at the Urban Horticulture Center growing native seedlings. Stay tuned for more of her work to appear at the Hahn Horticulture Garden in the upcoming year.

 

 

Mike’s bio: Michael St. Germain is a wildlife biologist within the College of Natural Resources and Environment at Virginia Tech. In concert with scientific endeavors, he also possess a strong background in fine arts and music. He has contributed to several public arts projects in Blacksburg including 4 of the “Gobble de Art” statues throughout town and the 2 watershed awareness murals along Draper Ave and Jackson St in downtown. He’s often found playing music with several regional acts including Timewave Zero and The Chinquapin Hunters. “I believe supporting public arts, music, and fostering environmental awareness makes Blacksburg a special place.” He, Shannon (wife) and son Jonathan (10) have been 20 year residents of Blacksburg.

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