You’d know instantly that Linda Zolten Wood’s North Collinwood home was the residence of an artist. She’s painted everything in sight in bright colors and lively designs.
So when she got a free rain barrel through a city of Cleveland program and decided that the ugly white object with the algae bloom inside showing through wouldn’t look good in front of her house, her solution a obvious: she painted it.
“They gave us everything to install it but the only suitable place was in front of the house,” she says. “That’s the only accessible downspout. It looked heinous.”
It’s now decorated with lily pads and a school of goldfish.
In the three years since, that act of beautification has blossomed into the Collinwood Painted Rain Barrel Project. As director, Wood has shown other people how to create decorated rain barrels they’re proud to have in their front yards.
“I’m looking at my neighbors and I know they all have rain barrels, and they haven’t hooked them up,” says Wood. “They’re ugly, so they had theirs way far back out of sight and didn’t use them. And they started a saying to me ‘Can you paint it?’ So you could have it in front of your house and not be embarrassed.”
Now Wood’s Rain Barrel Project has put together a traveling display of 12 of the 55-gallon barrels, decorated by local artists. They will go on view for a month at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, both inside and outside, debuting on Saturday March 1. After that they will move around for the next year to various area institutions concerned with both sustainability and aesthetics.
Wood’s project addresses both of these important issues. Rain barrels, hooked up to downspouts, collect rainwater and prevent it from going into the sewer system, taking pesticides, fertilizer, and pet waste with it. The water collected can then be used for gardening, car washing, and other non-drinking purposes. That’s why the city of Cleveland gives away around 400 rain barrels a year and has a program that employs youth to build and deliver them.
As beneficial as it is to get people to use rain barrels by making them attractive, birthing the Collinwood Painted Rain Barrel Project involved a lot of work and some setbacks before Wood located the local partners who got behind it.
She applied for a CPAC (Community Partnership for Arts and Culture) grant to hire other artists to paint the barrels and was initially turned down. She strengthened her proposal and resubmitted it. This time she got the money.
“I put out a call for artists,” she says. “We got 35 designs; a jury picked the top ten.”
She held an auction party at Arts Collinwood (now Waterloo Arts, on Waterloo Road) in April 2013. She hired local restaurants and the nearby Coit Road Market to cater; her husband Doug, an accomplished professional acoustic guitarist, provided the music.
“We had 70 people,” she says. “People paid $25; we hoped to break even. And all of [the barrels] went. So many people said ‘We want one,” we did 20 more. People have been so thrilled with them.”
She began to expand into workshops, landing funding from Neighborhood Connections and the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District to teach others how to decorate the barrels. Her first one, last August, attracted 30 people. She’s got another coming up at the Coit Road Market on May 10. People who already have a rain barrel can come and learn how to paint it for free.
“After the first big workshop, I decided to take it to the Natural History Museum and offer them an exhibit to raise awareness of using rain barrels,” she says. “I approached David Beach [who runs the museum’s in-house sustainability center Green City Blue Lake] and pitched it to him. He said, ‘Great idea, I’ll pitch it to exhibits.’ They said, ‘Great idea, but we have no money.’ He got funding through the Sewer District.”
The City of Cleveland Water Pollution Control and Cleveland Lakefront Parks Conservancy are also sponsors. Participating artists include Michele Biondo, Joe Bruzas, Judy Campbell, Michael Greenwald, Cyndi Konopka, Scott Pickering, Rachel Strongoli, Omid Tavakoli, Ryann Upp, and Wood.
In April, the barrels move for a month to the Great Lakes Science Center, just in time for Earth Day. Wood is talking to a number of area institutions to host the barrels through the remainder of the year. It’s a lead-in to Sustainable Cleveland 2019’s focus area for 2015: the Year of Clean Water.
“It’s a perfect way to engage people,” she says. “People go, ‘Why would I want a rain barrel? It’s ugly.’ I’m making water conservation cool.”
Wood will be hosting programming at the Natural History Museum on Saturday, March 22 — World Water Day — when families will be invited to help paint a barrel. It’s free with admission to the museum. She’s hoping to do the same at the Great Lakes Science Center for Earth Day.
She’s got an indiegogo campaign going on to raise money for more programming. Check it out here.