Paintings With A Purpose

Bradley students raised awareness of environmental issues by painting four drains in Peoria. (Photo by Duane Zehr)

Matt Hawkins
May 22, 2017

Bright street art added color to Peoria street corners this spring. The storm drain project, part of a new course at Bradley, drew attention to water conservation issues.

Students worked with Peoria’s Innovation Team and public works department to plan the art project. Four storm drains that flow into the Illinois River were chosen as concrete canvasses. The Innovation Team is a city initiative created to address sewer overflow concerns.

The paintings were the first of two public art displays created for the class that focused on art and environmental issues. Students also built four installations from recycled materials to be placed in Peoria’s The Uplands neighborhood.

“Public art is one way to get students and the community thinking about issues that affect Peoria,” said Margaret LeJeune, associate professor of photography. “It’s unusual to use the outdoors as a classroom, but they ran with it. I’ve never seen a class work together like this.”

Students ventured to city streets to paint their designs in April. The paintings received positive feedback from passers-by and allowed students to begin conversations about conservation.

Peoria’s art community also helped draw attention to the work, as artists like Bradley alumna Chelsie Tamms ’16 spread the word.

“It was a lot of fun to talk to people and educate them while we were working,” said social media marketing major Laura Bucci ’17, of Wheaton, Illinois. “It’s a joy to be part of something that will leave an impact on our city.”

Creative art projects tied together a semester discussing environmental issues and the power of art to shape public dialogue. In addition to conservation, they explored topics like food politics and invasive species. Many conversations added new context to understand key points from students’ other science and social science courses. Smaller projects accompanied discussions leading up to the course’s signature paintings and sculptures.

“Public art is an agent of change that has the power to bring a community together,” said graphic design major Anna Fredrick ’17, of Fox River Grove, Illinois. “It was interesting to see how our experiment created change in the city.”

To give the artwork the strongest impact, students worked with city leaders to select highly visible intersections in the city. Once they chose the locations, they thought about target audiences and drafted art designs. When it was time to paint, students contributed to the environmental cause by cleaning debris from the sites.

The process gave students new perspectives on their local and global roles.

“We see so much of the world through social media,” said studio art major Kaitlyn Christenson ’18, of Darien, Illinois. “The class allowed us to see through that world to make the real one a better place.”

Sidewalk art is located at:

  • Sheridan and Main St.
  • Southwest Adams and Main St.
  • Water and Liberty St.
  • Underhill and College St.