BOBBY STEVENS / THE CHRONICLERae Matagora is all smiles as she works on her colorful "under the sea" creation.

SPRINGFIELD – Next time you’re in downtown Springfield, take some time to glance down at the sidewalk. You might be surprised at what you see. 

A Street is the new home of five sidewalk murals commissioned by the City’s Upstream Art project. The murals are eye-catching, all while displaying important messages. 

Each year, the mission behind the UpStream initiative is to increase awareness of the connection between city streets and local waterways. 

“It's really about awareness for us,” said Peter Jaeger, event director. 

As rain falls, a lot of it collects pollutants from surfaces like roofs, parking lots and driveways, Jaeger said. Because stormwater is not treated, these pollutants wash directly into our local rivers and streams. Many people don’t realize the amount of pollutants that can wash into storm drains.

The annual event has been well-received. The artists, staff members and the community mingled with unshakeable grins most of the day. 

Jaeger, who has been in charge since its inception in 2016, finds installation day especially rewarding.

“When we have people that are super passionate, like the crew that we have, it's a lot of fun to actually see it happen and have time to sit and watch artists work,” he said.

The five artists chosen were Henry Stubbert, Kathy Wing, Rae Matagora, Marlis Badalich and Indra Hunter. The only criteria for their pieces was to show a meaningful connection between humans and waterways, said Stubbert, 16, the youngest artist of the five. 

Henry’s design incorporated a set of human hands with water washing through it, symbolizing our agency in pollution. 

“The survival of the waterways and ecosystem relies on our help and doing our part. If we don't, it will fall away like water running through our hands,” he said. 

Stubbert said he is touched to be a part of the project. 

BOBBY STEVENS / THE CHRONICLE Henry Stubbert at the beginning stage of his piece

“I love the outdoors, so being able to teach people about that means a lot to me … this is an opportunity for somebody like me, a very young person, to come and do public work and be compensated for it,” Stubbert said.

BOBBY STEVENS / THE CHRONICLE Kathy Wing sketching flowers on her dragonfly design.

Artist Kathy Wing painted a dragonfly inspired by a trip she took to Florida, noting that dragonflies are very much water creatures. Her favorite part of UpStream is the accessibility of the art. 

“The public will see it incidentally. You don’t have to go to a museum or a gallery, they can just see it while running their errands,” she said, noting that environmentalism is always something that has been on her radar. “It’s the minor things that add up, like the gum wrappers we throw on the ground. That's the problem.”

According to Jaeger, the joy of this project comes from meeting the artists.

“We have been extremely fortunate that all of our artists are super talented, and are also great people,” he said. Jaeger was especially excited that all the artists participating this year were new to the project, whereas in the past, one or two returning artists was common.

Brooke Moffesin, Springfield’s communications coordinator, expressed a similar sentiment.

“Meeting the artists for me is wonderful. I like knowing we are supporting the arts and the creativity they bring into the conversation about stormwater. It is something that all of us have influence over in our homes,” she said. 

Artist Rae Matagora certainly has a creative voice. Instead of using earth colors like greens and blues and browns, her design features colors like orange and magenta – a more whimsical take on the subject. She was inspired by her hobby of diving and “the whole new world” that is under water.

“This was a cool opportunity to blend my love for Mother Nature and create things that make people happy and smile,” she said.

Indra Hunter’s piece was a water dragon that she said symbolizes Oregon rivers, featuring native Oregon species within. Hunter loves to use bright colors and find her inspiration in fantasy. “I just really like storytelling,” she said. Hunter moved all around the United States as a kid, and now that she is back, feels she has a greater appreciation for Oregon’s natural beauty.

BOBBY STEVENS / THE CHRONICLE Marlis Badalich making progress on the largest mural of the event

Marlis Badalich, tattoo artist, painted in a cubism-inspired style, featuring cranes and fish amongst a landscape of trees. Badalich has painted traffic boxes for the city before, but it has been a couple of years, she said. Painting on the sidewalk is a nice variety and even better, her mural is part of an important conversation. 

“These murals spark a lot of questions and educate people on how to do a better job,” Badalich said.

Jaeger said the Springfield City Council, city manager, and Department of Public Works are all in favor of the project. 

“We love doing it and we’re excited that there’s no plans in sight to stop. We already have it scheduled for next year and budgeted for,” Jaeger said.