It must have been a sign.
When Gustavo Lira dipped his bucket into Lake Como on Oct. 14 to get water for the paintbrushes he was about to use, he pulled up a turtle—a delightful coincidence, as a turtle is the centerpiece to the mural Lira was about to begin near the storm drain in the parking lot on the east side of the lake.
“The First Storm Drain Mural in St. Paul” can be seen in the parking lot on the east side of the lake where Lakeview Avenue dead-ends into East Como Lake Drive. It’s aim: to bring attention to the drain’s presence and function in directing stormwater runoff—and any pollutants captured by the runoff—directly into the lake.
The project began when Kate Clayton, youth coordinator with Friends of the Mississippi River (FMR), reached out to the Como Active Citizens Network for help. Clayton organizes the storm drain-stenciling program with the city of St. Paul. The mural is an extension of that program.
The Como location was chosen because the storm drain is next to the lake and it’s easy to see that “waste that goes into this grate goes to the lake,” Clayton said, as she stood behind a table where jars of lake water sat labeled with their contents: dirt, road salt, trash, leaves—all items pulled from the lake. “We had a jar with cigarette butts, but it got broken,” she said. The jars demonstrate that “anything that goes down a storm drain ends up in our waters.”
Planning for the mural began in July with a gathering that included Clayton, Lira, neighbors and members of the Como Active Citizens Network. The group of nearly 20 children and adults brainstormed with Lira about what makes Lake Como special to them. In the end, a design featuring water, fish, turtles and a heron was chosen for the project.
Lira, an art teacher at Roosevelt High School in Minneapolis, has been working and teaching art in the Twin Cities for more than 25 years. His mural work includes the Minneapolis South High School Human Rights Mural Project, the exterior mural at the Seward Co-op Friendship Store on 38th Street in Minneapolis and work at the Resource Center of the Americas in Minneapolis, in a hospital in Wadena, Minn., and at schools in Bloomington and Edina.