Smart art: Public project in New Haven sends message to fight water pollution | #students | #parents

NEW HAVEN — It is pretty much the perfect summer job.

Artist JoAnn Moran, who has been doing murals since she was a teenager, most recently with a focus on the environment, trained a number of high school students on this and on the creation of singular pieces of art at storm drains and on rain barrels all with the bigger message of preventing pollution.

“When someone sees art and kids doing it, they then read about pollution and runoff, which no one would normally do,” Moran said of the larger educational message of her public art that is popping up all over the city.

Moran’s website is Lots of Fish, where her many projects and the art that has been created can be found.

Throughout her career, Moran, 57, said she has worked hands-on with more than 75,000 people of all ages in the United States and overseas, creating large-scale community and K-12 school permanent and temporary works of public art.

At one of the most recent projects, Runoff Art, three of her students could be seen painting a huge green fish, its mouth open at the edge of the storm drain on Grand Avenue and Fillmore Street with the message: Dump No Waste. Drains To River.

Moran said people mistakenly think storm drains are there to keep the streets clean — a place for litter.

But any debris pushed into the drain will just end up in the Quinnipiac and Mill rivers and then into Long Island Sound, something the many children and adults who have participated in her projects over the years are now aware of.

Moran tries to incorporate art, music and dancing into the work. While this one was art-centric, she said sometimes her teenage students will incorporate a dance shared on TikTok when they finish.

That additional creative touch fell to Jordan Wabahati, 15, a Wilbur Cross High School student, who also studies the flute and percussion instruments at the Educational Center for the Arts.

“We are doing TicToks to bring awareness to water pollution. We dance on top of our paintings,” he said.

The teens are funded by Youth@Work, a program they apply for, but Moran adds her own vetting.

They don’t have to know how to paint, but the work is more difficult than it may sound, she said.

She tells them that this is different, you are outdoors all day in the heat of summer, setting up and breaking down the new sites, and of course, there is the painting.

“Are you willing to do that?” she will ask and apparently she has never had a problem attracting workers.

Joining Jordan for the July 13 to Aug. 13 program was Yahayra Llacxaguanga, 16, who attends the Sound School.

She said she likes to sketch and has been inspired by her family who are artistic, particularly her father and uncle who are musicians. While art is important, Yahayra said when she graduates, she wants to be a social worker.

Trinity Ford, 15, attends the Hill Regional Cooperative High School. She said the project “is a good experience. JoAnn is teaching us a lot.” She said the three teens, who all go to different high schools, have bonded over the summer.

For the season, Moran said her students painted several murals and crosswalks at schools, as well as banners, 10 rain barrels and some 20 storm drains. She said she will often choose the public space outside a school to get the most public exposure.

Moran said the students were versed enough in the ecology of what they were doing to be one of the presenters at a webinar sponsored by the Connecticut River Conservancy.

The three paintings on Grand Avenue are around Columbus School.

Moran puts out a call for artists to submit designs for her projects. One of them on Grand Avenue was done by Yvonne Gordon-Moser, an artist, art teacher and therapist who founded the Branford Art Center and YMG Wellness LLC.

Gordon-Moser’s piece at one of the storm drains is a mandala showing the tree of life with its roots heading for the drain. Unable to attend the painting event, she spoke to the students on the virtual Zoom platform to add another dynamic to the project.

Moran said she likes to introduce the students to the creators of the art as an important element.

The artist said the city has a lot of impervious surfaces that increase the amount of runoff. The rain barrels collect water that can then be used in community gardens.

Moran said her funders include the Fair Haven Community Management Team, as well as the Quinnipiac East Management Team, New Haven Bioregional Group and Sustainable CT, among others.

As the team quickly moves from one site to the other, Moran, dressed in paint-splattered jean shorts, will draw the outline of the piece and the students will roll on the paint. She travels in a van stuffed with equipment, including a step ladder she can climb on to get the best angle to record the finished product.

Her method is to create programs that can be easily and efficiently replicated by other artists in other communities, while also incorporating a maintenance component.

“I’m always losing a job, because I am teaching my way out of it. What is good about it however, is I can then get my next idea out there,” Moran said. “As an artist, you have to do that.”


mary.oleary@hearstmediact.com; 203-641-2577.


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