Think the barrels normally used for rainwater harvesting are ugly? You’re not alone: that’s the response University of Akron art education professor Elisa Gargarella heard from friends in response to her own home rain barrel. Rather than put the barrel away, though, Gargarella found inspiration in her friends’ distaste: if people find them ugly, why not make them beautiful?
Sounds like the approach an artist would take, right? Gargarella went a step further, though: as the director of Arts LIFT, an arts apprenticeship program for urban youth, she made beautifying rain barrels* the centerpiece of this summer’s program. She also added an environmental education component: the ten teenage apprentices spent time learning about water-use issues, listening to lectures on water conservation, and even taking a tour of the local sewage treatment plant.
So, how do you make a rain barrel beautiful?
As you might guess, Gargarella’s students didn’t just slap a coat of paint on ready-made barrels. Using recycled 55-gallon drums that once served as tomato juice containers, the students developed designs for their barrels using stencils, screen print transfers, and other media. Each created their own design for use on four barrels; others were designed collaboratively. Students rose to the challenge admirably: apprentice Josh Palan, for instance,
…designed his barrel to resemble a can of soda pop, complete with a bar code with “free refill” written underneath and “rain barrel facts” in place of the nutrition facts (serving size, 55 fl. gal.; servings per container, 1; contains: 100% all natural rain water).
What will become of these rain barrels?
The final piece of the educational puzzle involves contributing to the community. Two auctions of barrels have already taken place, with proceeds benefiting Keep Akron Beautiful. On Wednesday, July 8th, KAB and Arts LIFT will hold a free public workshop for community members who want to build their own barrels. For Gargarella, the efforts with KAB further enhance her students’ education experience: “By working with Keep Akron Beautiful, the students will learn about ways they can assist the City of Akron’s Greenprint for Akron initiatives aimed at fostering a sustainable, eco-friendly community through education and leadership.”
Water, art, and “think global, act local”… sounds like a near perfect educational experience! Know of other programs combining arts and environmental education? Tell us about them below…
Image credit: Mary Schiller Myers School of Art, University of Akron
*Link to a page in the sustainablog store