Perth Amboy Artworks recently produced five Catch Basin Murals for Earth Day. I sent out an email promoting our project and got a response from Sen. James Kennedy saying “very cool.” That is a real compliment, coming from a former mayor and leader of the NJ Creative Placemaking movement, who used arts to drive the successful revitalization of Rahway.

Catch basin mural projects have been used across the US. and are considered by Bloomberg Philanthropies as an innovative public art intervention using public infrastructure. In Perth Amboy, the Catch Basin Murals are quality works of art painted in high-profile locations on city stormwater infrastructure. The projects not only supported local arts and beautified the city, but also raised awareness about flooding and recruited residents to volunteer to keep the catch basin free of debris that can block drainage.

The talented local and regional NJ mural artists who participated put a spotlight on Perth Amboy. One resident said, “Perth Amboy look at you!” The artwork included a mermaid in the style of Mondrian, an Octopus grabbing water bottles out of a storm drain, an abstract nature scene, a bright sunrise with hands holding a glass of water, and an image of a child picking up a water bottle and throwing it in the trash. Residents said they “absolutely” loved the work. One resident said, “I’m a Perth Amboy native. This mural is so beautiful! Feels so happy and uplifting.”

What made this project really special was the inclusiveness of different groups, including young people, who made it happen. Perth Amboy youth were recruited by the Recreation Department to volunteer to adopt the catch basins and keep them clean. Production and installation of the murals was done with the involvement of the artists, the City Arts Council, the Department of Public Works (DPW), and the Police Department all working together to create a positive community experience. Mayor Helmin Caba said, “Thank you to everyone who worked to make the Catch Basin Mural Project a success.”

In Perth Amboy, innovative arts projects are possible to execute because we have the governmental pieces in place to support the projects. We created an Arts Council, a Mural Ordinance, and a Mural Application process. We invested in creative placemaking and recruited, organized, and educated artists and stakeholders throughout the community on how the city was planning to use arts and culture for economic and community development.

The Catch Basin Murals project was envisioned and funded by the Director of the Perth Amboy DPW Clean Communities Program, who had participated in the Perth Amboy Creative Placemaking planning process. Perth Amboy Artworks, the local arts nonprofit that DPW contracted to create the murals, was an outgrowth of the Creative Placemaking process.

Here are some tips on how to produce a successful catch basin mural project in your city:

  • Meet with the Arts Council, the appointed board made up of local artists and arts stakeholders.  Let them advise you on best practices on how to find and work with artists, select mural locations, what materials to use, soliciting community feedback, etc.
  • Plan two months to get the murals done. Work includes scouting locations, selecting and scheduling artists, deciding on theme, collecting sketches, presenting sketches for community feedback, presenting sketches to the Arts Council for approval, and coordinating city services for the production. Our five murals were painted over two weekends.
  • Pay artists. Artists should be treated as skilled workers and compensated. Their work is valuable. Perth Amboy Artworks paid $500 per mural, which included creation of a sketch based on a location and theme, supply funds, and the mural production.
  • When presenting the mural proposal, superimpose a sketch of the mural onto a picture of the site location to give people a sense of what to expect.
  • Ask artists to do a second draft of the mural to incorporate community feedback. Murals should bring us together. One of our artists did a second draft based on resident feedback which helped to have their mural embraced in our Waterfront District.
  • Work with the Recreation Department to recruit youth to adopt the catch basin murals. Catch basin art is a fun way to engage youth in taking responsibility for the community.
  • The Police Department provided barriers and security for the artists while they were painting the murals in the street. It was a great opportunity for positive interaction, with officers and artists speaking to community members throughout the production.
  • Project funding is available through NJ Clean Communities program, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Sustainable Jersey PSEG grant, or use your community reinvestment funds, BID funds, or Recreation Department funds. Funding for creative placemaking is available through the NEA Our Town Grant.