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Artists tapped for Charleston rain barrel project

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- If you notice more than a dozen brightly painted barrels along the sidewalks of Washington Street in the East End the next few weeks, Lee Ann Grogg's done her job well.

Grogg, who works with the city's stormwater management program, is trying to promote a series of four rain-barrel workshops. The first is scheduled for April 21 at the East End Bazaar.

"Part of my job, as required by the EPA, is outreach and public education," Grogg said. "You can't change anything until you know."

Several years ago, the city signed an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to try to cut water pollution by reducing the amount of rain runoff that enters the rivers.

The problem is especially bad in Charleston, which has several combined storm and sanitary sewers. In heavy storms, raw sewage flows directly into the Kanawha.

Homeowners can do their part by diverting rainwater collected from their gutters into a rain barrel, instead of letting it run out on their lawn or into a sewer. During dry weather, they can use the saved water in their gardens.

Grogg, along with Tomi Bergstrom of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, decided to teach folks how to make rain barrels.

For $40, you can learn how to make your own rain barrel and get all the materials -- a 55-gallon plastic barrel, a spigot and other connections -- at the two-hour workshop. To register, email tomi.m.bergstrom@wv.gov or call her at 304-926-0499, Ext. 1098.

The system collects water through a small hole in one of downspouts, Grogg said. "We're using a new connection where you don't have to cut your gutter. You make a small incision.

"We'll put a spigot on the bottom. You can attach a hose or fill up a watering can."

The heavy plastic barrels are recycled, she said. "A lot of them had soap in them, and some were used to ship pickles. They need to be taken down and put away for the winter."

The art barrels provide mobile publicity. A laminated flyer attached to each one provides details about the workshops, and they can be moved to other sites.

After the East End event, they'll go to the West Side in advance of a May 1 workshop at Cato Park, then to Capitol Market and Kanawha City.

"When we were going to do this workshop, I felt strongly we needed signs," Grogg said. "Instead of doing a banner, I thought of putting out artistic rain barrels. We're not the first city to do that. And I'd read in the newspaper, they did a study, the city needed more temporary art."

In early February, she started recruiting artists. She called artist friends. Ned Savage of East End Main Street suggested some names.

So far, 17 artists have delivered finished barrels, and more arrive daily. Some of the artists are well known -- Rob Cleland, Ian Bode -- and have painted some of the murals in the Peer to Pier project. Others, she said, are not so well known.

Grogg stacks the colorful barrels in the window of the City Service Center, where they're catching the eye of folks passing by on Virginia Street.

"It has started people talking," she said. "People have seen it in the windows. They call: 'Are those garbage cans?'

"We got two more today," she said Thursday. "Sometimes, artists wait till the last minute. Imagine that. I even got some calls late in the game from artists willing to do it. We had some extra barrels. We said, 'We'll pick you up when we move to the West Side.'

"All the artists were very kind. They donated their time and materials."

Reach Jim Balow at balow@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5102.


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