Guest Blog by Victoria Kramkowski, Stormwater Charge Program Coordinator, City of Mississauga

The infrastructure that supports us, keeps us safe and keeps our city moving may be important, but it’s also invisible to most people. Some infrastructure – like storm sewers, wastewater pipes or parking – is literally hidden from view underground. Other infrastructure – like roads, sidewalks, stormwater ponds or traffic signs – is such a ubiquitous part of the landscape that the public doesn’t notice it or think about it. And many people also don’t realize that some natural features – like creeks or trees in a park – are actually green infrastructure that a city inspects and maintains.

Sawmill Creek Construction by City of Mississauga

At the City of Mississauga, we are increasingly turning our eye to communicating what our stormwater infrastructure is, and what it does, to the public. However, this is a new development, brought on by the advent of an important, but somewhat contentious, program, namely the City’s stormwater charge. Like many other municipalities, Mississauga struggled with funding stormwater services, including capital projects and operating costs, from the property tax base. As a result, the City passed a stormwater charge in 2016, in which the stormwater charge for a property is now based on the amount of hard surface on that property, thus providing the City with a more fair, and totally dedicated, source of funding for its stormwater system.

Blank Canvas by City of Mississauga

As is common with a new program, we undertook a comprehensive communications campaign about the stormwater charge, the rationale for it, how it would be calculated and billed – all the details that the public wanted to know. But in all this communication about the stormwater charge itself, a major gap in public knowledge emerged to stare us in the face: many people did not know what our stormwater system was, how it worked or how they benefitted from it. Of course they knew about catch basins and storm sewers but a significant portion of the public had no idea that the stormwater system is an interconnected network composed of roads, ditches and the creeks and river which form the backbone of the City’s stormwater system.

“Eagle Rose” by Dominic Simone (Outsider Artist)

As the stormwater charge came into effect, we began to attempt to address this need for public information on stormwater infrastructure. However, we came up against another barrier – unlike the majority of us who likely read this blog on a regular basis, the general public does not find infrastructure interesting or remotely sexy. That got us thinking – what does the public find interesting? What would entice them to actually see, think about and learn about the infrastructure that supports them?

This is how ArtWorkX was born. Infrastructure may not be sexy but art certainly is. How could the infrastructure of our hidden city be brought into the light by transforming it into art? We found amazing artists – C Ghirardo, Gaya Kairos, Dominic Simone and Nisreen Askar – who were fascinated by the idea of  using art for unconventional education purposes. They agreed to take part in a day-long art performance during National Public Works Week, in which they would turn old pipes, culverts, street signs, traffic lights, tree branches and chunks of asphalt provided by the City into an interconnected piece of art that reflects the interconnected nature of our infrastructure, all set to a live DJ. This performance will be accompanied by an art sale, a children’s art activity using infrastructure, a pop-up rain garden provided by Fern Ridge Landscaping, the screening of environmentally-themed documentaries and a Q&A with the director, as well as other National Public Works Week events.

“Yin Yang” by CGHIRARDO

Ultimately, when reaching out to the public, we must connect with them based on their own interests, values and priorities. Our hope is that ArtWorkX will take the iceberg of a city, with the majority of it below the surface, and tip that iceberg over in a dramatic show that reveals its underbelly to a fascinated audience. Individuals may be initially drawn in by the art and performance aspects of the event, but these then open the door to educational opportunities as the public begins to truly see the hidden infrastructure that supports all of us.

ArtWorkX will be taking place at Mississauga Celebration Square on Saturday May 27th, from 10:00 am until 3:00 pm, with some documentary screenings extending beyond this time. For more information, check out our Facebook event page here or email us at stormwater@mississauga.ca

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