The next time you are in Phalen Park, take a stroll across the bridge above Phalen Creek as it winds and empties into Lake Phalen. On the bridge’s surface, not far from the Pavilion, is a bright, colorful mural installed during WaterFest by artist Liv Novotny and assistant artist Violeta Rotstein and several volunteers. This public art project was coordinated by Friends of the Mississippi River (FMR) in collaboration with St. Paul Public Works, St. Paul Parks and Recreation and Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District. The mural highlights the connection between our streets and sidewalks and nearby bodies of water. Images incorporated into the design include a young bicyclist riding by a storm drain with its water spilling into a flowing stream. Above the storm drain, a sign discourages dumping. Traveling downstream is a Voyageur canoe with many paddlers that will soon pass by a young person fishing next to the shoreline restored with vibrant native plants growing along its edge.
The mural generates a positive feeling – there’s a message of hopefulness. Our water is important to us. The flow of it is essential for life, provides many pleasures and is a resource for humans, animals and plants, but what happens upstream impacts water and we need to take responsibility for that. Grass clippings, soil, trash, leaves, oil, gasoline, salt and other pollutants can have a negative impact downstream when they wash into storm drains and then into nearby lakes and creeks. We can each do our part to help prevent this pollution from harming our local water bodies.
This is the third stormwater mural that FMR has sponsored in St. Paul. The other two murals are located near Como Lake, created by artist Gustavo Lira in 2017 and 2018. FMR and RWMWD staff began looking for stormwater mural sites in Phalen Park last fall. Patrick Murphy, an engineer with the City of St Paul Public Works suggested the idea of locating the next mural in Phalen Park in conjunction with the twentieth anniversary of WaterFest. When we started exploring the storm drains in the parking lots near the Pavilion last fall in search of a potential mural site, we learned that the roads in the parking lots adjacent to the Pavilion were scheduled for resurfacing in the coming year. It didn’t make sense to paint on a surface that was imminently going to be torn up. So we turned our attention to other areas in the park to make that connection. Ultimately this led to our decision to locate the mural on the bridge next to the lake.
Novotny, the lead artist has worked on a number of other murals on the east side of St. Paul. In the winter Ramsey Washington Metro Watershed District coordinated a public workshop to gather design ideas by asking the question “What makes Lake Phalen special to you?” Area students at Farnsworth Aerospace and L’Etoile du Nord French Immersion and the youth program Urban Roots from the East Side of St. Paul also provided input into the design.
Novotny developed a design, drawing on these ideas generated from the community. At WaterFest, she and Violeta set up under a tent on the bridge and throughout the day, youth from Urban Roots and the Junior ROTC, who were volunteering at this event joined them in helping paint the mural. Thank you to all our partners for making this project a success, we couldn’t have done it without you!
For more photos of the mural painting process see the link below: