ALIYA HALL/THE CHRONICLE Marisa Sliver stands over her art piece, which features a great blue heron. Sliver said she hadn’t realized that drainwater went untreated into the river.

SPRINGFIELD – Although Oregon’s waterways are one of the state’s greatest assets, many residents might not realize that everyday behaviors can damage the water’s health. As rainwater flows over buildings, yards and streets, it washes pollutants into storm drains and into waterways where they can harm local plants, animals and humans. 

Springfield’s city leaders devised a program to help raise awareness, held each summer since 2016 – the UpStream Art project. There have been 21 colorful sidewalk murals painted – located primarily around storm drains in Downtown Springfield – to highlight the connection between. This year’s theme is “Keeping It Clean, From Street To Stream” and features work from Emma Baldwin, Mandy Brimmer, Tii Mariie, Uyen-thi Nguyen and Marisa Sliver.

ALIYA HALL/THE CHRONICLEEmma Baldwin’s piece for “Keeping It Clean, From Street To Stream.”

“This year’s theme encouraged people to think about their daily chores and its impact on the environment,” said Peter Jaeger, environmental services technician. “It’s not just oil down the drain but if you’re washing your car and suds go down the drain, they go directly to the river without being treated.”

Mariie said that her piece is a pop art, literal representation of “street to stream” and she resonated with how one cause can have a direct effect. 

“As an artist, we’re not always paying attention to what we do,” Mariie said. “Some wash paints in the kitchen sink that goes straight to the stream.”

Brimmer was chosen last year for this event as well. When she first heard of this year’s theme she thought of leaves. 

“When fall comes, it’s dangerous for leaves to go through the system because it clogs it up,” she explained.

Other interpretations showcase the visual beauty of the river, from the wildlife within it to the animals that benefit from it. Sliver’s piece showcases a blue heron with a fish in its beak, the wings cradling the sun. 

“I always considered that bird majestic and king of the river,” she said. 

It’s not just wildlife that get joy from the river. Nguyen, from Cottage Grove, chose a design that was a human swimming in the river to make it easier to connect with the message. 

ALIYA HALL/THE CHRONICLE Uyen-thi Nguyen with her design, which reminds people that clean storm drains keep rivers clean.

“I wanted to bring attention to the storm drain. He’s swimming toward it and we swim in the river,” she said. “We think of drains as yucky, but we don’t want them to be yucky.”

Jaeger said it’s always fun to start with a broad theme and see artists come up with something specific to them. 

“It’s an incredible process,” he said. “Seeing it beforehand and the process of going from submission to blank canvas to finished art is super fun to be part of.”

Along with the benefits of educating the community and public, Nguyen said she got involved because, “I mean, who doesn’t want to paint a sidewalk, that’s pretty cool.”