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Arts & Life

Artists paint storm drains to highlight water quality

storm inlet artist
Slater Dixon
Rae Knopf, one of the 2022 artists for the Downtown Storm Inlet Art Project, paints a storm inlet cover near the corner of North Main Avenue and West Fifth Street in Sioux Falls.

The newest art in downtown Sioux Falls isn’t along the SculptureWalk. It's in the gutter — or, more accurately, on the storm drain.

Artists added new installations for the Downtown Storm Inlet Art Project last week. The project is meant to highlight the role storm runoff plays in public safety and the water drainage system.

“The purpose of the inlet art project is to bring awareness in a unique way to the public, bring water quality and just water topics in general to people’s attention using art,” said Colin Chatterton, environmental analyst for Sioux Falls.

These storm drains collect rain and storm water runoff to prevent flooding in the streets, and the water leads directly to the Big Sioux River. The paintings also bring awareness to how pollutants like waste, litter and chemicals can harm the water system.

The city started the Downtown Storm Inlet Art Project in 2016. This year, artists painted eight new storm drains around the downtown area, with one near the Midco Aquatic Center.

“We do focus downtown because there’s a lot of traffic downtown, as far as pedestrians,” Chatterton said, “but we are looking to expand it to parks, and near schools and those kinds of things.”

The city calls for submissions each April, which are due in May. Then, a panel of judges from the Visual Arts Commission chooses winning designs based on appropriateness of the piece, relevance to its proposed location, visibility and impact, execution and more.

“They help us pick the most attractive art, the best art, and then we also kind of look for things that are the most educational, as well, or the most thought-provoking,” Chatterton said.

Downtown visitors can see this year’s paintings — and works from past years — along Phillips Avenue and the surrounding streets.