Photo by Brooke Mossefin

Down the Drain, Up with Art

Springfield seeks artists to help deliver environmental message with UpStream Art project

I don’t normally think of storm drains unless there’s a flood on my street and then it’s, like, isn’t there a storm drain around here? But it is Environmental Specialist Peter Jaeger’s job to think about storm water and drains all year round. He has been working for the city of Springfield’s Stormwater Team for five years. He began in June 2016, and Springfield’s UpStream Art project was created in August of that same year. 

The purpose of the Upstream Art project, in which artists are commissioned to paint inspirational murals around storm drains and sidewalks, is to educate or remind people about the function of storm drains. In Springfield they deliver the overflow of storm water to the Middle Fork Willamette and the McKenzie rivers.  

We have separate systems for sewer and storm drainage, Jaeger explains. The benefit of having those systems separate is that we don’t have potential sewage coming out on our roads. On the other hand, we don’t have treatment for the water that’s going into our natural water resources. That means cigarette butts, automobile fluids and other pollutants can wind up in our rivers. 

“As soon as anything hits the pavement,” says Jaeger, it goes straight through, untreated.   

He comes from an artistic family, and he used to be a cordwainer — a shoe designer. He enjoys being around creative people and, in fact, preps the mural sites for the artists before they set to work. He is excited to see art made in appreciation for what he calls a “hugely vital piece of infrastructure.” 

This year, barring any unforeseen circumstances such as wildfires (that’s what happened last year), the mural painting event will take place on Sept. 2 and 3. For now it’s scheduled as a closed event due to COVID concerns, but that can change. Because it was closed last year, the city created a virtual tour of the 26 storm drain art murals. That tour can be accessed at the city of Springfield UpStream Art website, as can the submission to apply.

Artists selected will be compensated $1,000 each and the deadline is June 9. You don’t need a long resume or, really, any resume. All ages are welcome. The project hopes to receive submissions from middle grade students in particular this year since the storm drain sites to be painted are around Agnes Stewart Middle School.   

Criteria for selection are based on how well an artist’s idea corresponds with this year’s theme, “Keep it Clean, Drains to Stream,” and whether the mural can likely be finished within the scheduled two-day time frame.

 For more information about UpStream Art, see