Water and Community: A Street Art Exhibit for Whitefish Bay

Thirty artist-designed rain barrels will premier at Green Day in the Bay event on April 30, and will then decorate village streets throughout the month of May.

Art can inspire, express ideas, spark discussions and promote community. 

These are the goals of an art exhibition planned for the streets of Whitefish Bay in May. The Whitefish Bay Rain Barrel Street Art program challenged artists to use 30 rain barrels as canvasses, and their work will debut at on April 30. After that, they will decorate the streets of the Bay outside of sponsoring businesses.

The program is funded by the Whitefish Bay Civic Foundation, the Southeast Wisconsin Watersheds Trust, Inc. (Sweet Water), and local businesses.  Themes of nature, water and community can be found as part of the display.

Using rain barrels as canvasses has multiple layers of benefits to the community.  The streetscape is enlivened; the works of local artists are showcased and the waterfront of Whitefish Bay is celebrated. Additionally, salvaged industrial food containers are repurposed for rain water storage, creating jobs in the process. 

Rain barrels are increasingly being used commercially and residentially to capture rain displaced by rooftops – rain that otherwise might become polluted runoff into Lake Michigan and the Milwaukee River.  The stored rainwater can then be used during dry periods to water lawns, trees, plants, flowers and gardens.

Local artists were inspired by the water associations of the project.  One piece “The Beaches of Whitefish Bay,”  reflects artist Sue Ellen Christman’s view of “the energy, cleanliness and source of life-sustaining resources at our doorstep.” She describes the restorative powers of time spent at the waterfront, “The quiet away from busyness refreshes ones soul…”

The Whitefish Bay Rain Barrel Street Art program is modeled on a similar one that took place in the arts-oriented Chicago suburb of Oak Park, IL. Oak Park took the concept of street art one step further by attaching water information sheets to their rain barrels. The Whitefish Bay program will do the same to celebrate its heritage and responsibility as a waterfront community. 

The relationships between Whitefish Bay and its neighboring waters are numerous. Native Americans and early settlers benefitted from the plentiful whitefish available from its shores. The bay was once the site of a thriving fishing industry.   

Formerly a popular destination for those seeking the cooling summer breezes of Lake Michigan, Whitefish Bay was home to the nineteenth century Pabst Whitefish Bay Resort.  During the resort’s heyday from 1899 until 1914, pleasure seekers rode the train or took the ferry to ride the Ferris Wheel, attend concerts and stroll or picnic along the idyllic lakefront. 

Residents and visitors to Whitefish Bay today still take advantage of its access to Lake Michigan through its shoreline parks and beaches. Early morning cyclists, walkers, joggers, and yoga enthusiasts enjoy the sunrise over the lake as they utilize the paths and parks that border Lake Michigan.  Each Fourth of July, the Whitefish Bay community gathers at to watch the fireworks display unfold at the lakefront.

Certainly a way to help reduce polluted runoff, might rain barrels also be a possible solution to the floodwaters like the ones that overwhelmed Whitefish Bay during the storms of last July?  Maybe, but not by themselves. On-site water retention via rain barrels and rain gardens (bioswales) are now considered “best practice” by architecture programs throughout the world. Recent completed and planned construction projects with goals of zero runoff include Milwaukee’s Urban Ecology Center and the proposed harbor redevelopment project.  Keeping polluted runoff from entering a community asset like Lake Michigan makes good economic sense as well as providing for a better recreational experience.

The artistic barrels will be available to bidders via silent auction forms available in sponsoring business locations. A resident of Whitefish Bay, local jeweler and artist Sarah Mann, designed her piece “Para” to be “integrated into the garden environment of a local home.”  Mann says she is teaching herself about gardening with native plant materials and applauds the Whitefish Bay Civic Foundation for a project that “promotes an accessible, fun technique for minding our environment.”

Another artist, Debra Quinn Barnes, also had the end user in mind when creating her pieces.  “I imposed one requirement on myself when I was developing images … the work had to be something I would put in my own yard. I wanted to develop images that bring a sense of calm…. I sincerely hope they bring a sense of calm and happiness to those they live with.”

The water has been an integral part of Whitefish Bay’s past and will continue to play an important role in its future. The Whitefish Bay Civic Foundation celebrates water and community with its Rain Barrel Street Art Program this May. Barrels will premier at Green Day in the Bay, in Whitefish Bay’s Cahill Park on Saturday, April 30, from 7:30 am ‘til noon.

Exhibitor/ sponsors to date include Aurora Advanced Healthcare; Bay Ridge Consulting; Betsy and Ken Head – Realty Executives; Breadsmith; The City Market; Dan Fitzgerald Pharmacy; Dr. Paul Sandvick, DDS; Elements East; Elements Therapeutic Massage; Gecko Networks; Home Care Assistance of Wisconsin; Johnson Bank; M & I Bank; New Options Salon, Day Spa, & Boutique; Persian Rug Gallery; Red Cap Luggage and Gifts; Schwanke-Kasten Co., Inc.; Shabahang Persian Carpets; Sendik’s; Simon Oliver; Ugland Associates; Village Ace Hardware;  Whitefish Bay Garden Club; Whitefish Bay Little League; and Winkie’s.

For more rain barrel photos and program information, find Whitefish Bay Civic Foundation on Facebook. Please contact Anne O’Connor at (414)208-9822 or anneoconnor@wfbcivicfoundation.org

Karlene Fox April 03, 2011 at 12:19 PM
Kudos to our WFB Civic Foundation for implementing such a great program . . . and many thanks to the talented artists and our local businesses for their generous support! What a great way to integrate art into our water conservation programs. I can't wait to see the display of rain barrels throughout our city and make my bid on my favorite(s)!
aaaaaa April 03, 2011 at 02:53 PM
The artists have done a lovely job painting these and I understand the need for these to avoid runoff.....BUT I think they should be restricted to people's backyards. I don't want to see one of these brightly painted barrels when I look out my window. I wouldn't mind a more neutral/natural barrel, however.
Kathy Rogers April 03, 2011 at 02:56 PM
Another testament to the depth of knowledge and talent we have in our community. Thank you artists and Civic Foundation!
Nate Roth April 03, 2011 at 04:33 PM
Our barrel, painted by our two nephews last year, will be on display near Santa Monica & Montclaire once it warms up.
Betsy Head April 04, 2011 at 08:46 PM
I hope these lovely additions to our local landscape will inspire all homeowners to get some rain barrels. If 20 houses on one block each had only one rain barrel, 1100 gallons would be kept out of the sewers during a big rain event! Just think if everyone in the village had one! Or 3! Thanks for featuring this important and fun project! Betsy Head


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