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October 24, 2020
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Combining Art and Education

  • Crisarlin Vasquez, Gio Benedetti, Melia Marcoux, Cristian Colon Vazquez, Charlize Colon Vazquez and Envirichment's Stephanie Lennox are seen painting environmental art for our water shed safety on Lynne Conde Way in front of the Library. Photo by Robert Grant

By: Cassandra May Albaugh
October 2, 2020

“A picture is worth a thousand words” is a phrase that’s been used a thousand times over. Some attribute the origin of the concept to Napoleon Bonaparte who said, “A good sketch is better than a long speech.” Yet many others are also referred to when trying to find the origins of this quote to include Leonardo da Vinci and Confucius. Nevertheless, it is an apt description of the collaboration between Envirichment and Artstart. Working with local high school students from Technology and Credo High School, the project illuminates the connection between Rohnert Park’s storm drain system and our creeks.

As previously reported in our December 27, 2019 edition, the project was funded by the Rohnert Park Small Grants Foundation. They awarded Envirichment a $5,000 grant. Using environmentally themed art consisting of hand-painted fish labels and related text such as “Ours to Protect,” the educational effort hopes to draw attention to where the city’s storm drains go; and to enlist residents to help prevent pollution entering those drains and flowing into our creeks. Artstart, a non-profit educational arts organization, guided local youth with materials and art instruction. The kids produced the actual art.

The project was originally intended to be completed by the end of the spring semester this year. However, as with many events and activities, COVID-19 impacted the project plans. Stephanie Lennox, Owner of Envirichment, and Gio Benedetti of Artstart had to be creative in how to go forward in a social distancing, shelter-in-place, schools closed, and in-person gatherings limited to essential activities environment. 

Now, the actual artwork is being done by project team members. For example, two drains at the high traffic location of Rohnert Park’s Public Library in the City Center were recently completed on September 22-23. A six-person crew was putting the finishing touches in place on Wednesday afternoon the 23rd when I visited the project site. They were Lennox, Benedetti and his apprentice Melia from Artstart and the Technology HS family of Crisarlin, Cristian and Charlize Colón-Vazques. Credo High students also provided painted fishes for the project.

These drains empty into Hinebaugh Creek. This creek and other creeks in Rohnert Park and Cotati feed Laguna de Santa Rosa Watershed. That watershed covers 250 square miles and is the largest tributary to the Russian River. The river in turn flows 

to the Pacific Ocean. The educational message is simple – water flowing down these storm drains contributes to pollution to the creeks. This then becomes a major pollution problem that threatens water quality and wildlife habitat. The hope, using art, is that folks will be inspired to care for our creeks and avoid improperly disposing materials that end up going down these drains.

The project isn’t over. Lennox said they’re in need of more middle/high school aged students to be involved in the next round of drains to be done before November this year. Specifically, the painting of fish/salamanders to be placed on the next set of drains. This fish painting is done at home with a kit and an on-line video tutorial. It’s very distance learning/social distancing appropriate yet still creates public art together as a community. She said it would be great if an art, biology, or other teacher got involved too! If interested contact, her at: Stephanie@envirichment.com. You can also view Artstart project videos at https://youtu.be/uuyQiKxb19Q and https://youtu.be/I9zD63lI8h4 to get a sense of how to paint these fishes at home.

Lennox said, “I am so glad we are able to bring the beauty, joy and caring message of this project to benefit Rohnert Park and local creek health. And, especially at this time, I am grateful to be actively filling our world with positivity!”. But take it from the kids. Charlize said, “It’s fun to work with people that have similar interests especially if the work can help the environment”; and, her brother Cristian added, “I’m proud of being able to take part in a beautiful piece of art that is going to inspire others to protect the environment”. 

The next time you visit the Rohnert Park Library take a glance at the drain art on the street across from it. Admire what the kids did but also ponder the meaning behind those images. Working together, we all can thank Stephanie@envirichment.com n contribute to solving environmental concerns.