Member Spotlight

The City of Tacoma Environmental Services Turns Art into Education

May 2, 2024

In 2019, the City of Tacoma Environmental Services (ES) launched an art campaign to educate and inspire the community about stormwater. Stormwater flows directly into local waterways from streets, sidewalks, and other outdoor areas. This stormwater can bring toxic pollutants into the Puget Sound and then the Pacific Ocean. The campaign, with the catchy slogan, “If It Hits the Ground, It Hits the Sound,” uses visual, meaningful local art pieces to communicate the impacts of stormwater pollution.

In 2017, a customer study indicated that half of the residents in Tacoma surveyed believe that stormwater is treated. In fact, 90% of the water that hits the ground, enters storm drains and goes directly into local waterways is untreated. For example, in 2021, a 300-gallon ES garbage container fell into the Puyallup River. Two weeks later, a scuba diver in Victoria B.C. (113 nautical miles from Tacoma) discovered the container in their waters. To address this gap in public knowledge, a cross-division ES group came together, in partnership with local artists, and launched the “If It Hits the Ground, It Hits the Sound” campaign.

The campaign started by designing murals in areas of Tacoma that have historically not had public art. One such mural is located on the east side of Tacoma and includes messages in various languages spoken within the neighborhood. In total, seven murals have been completed and another two are in development. Each art piece in the campaign is fashioned by Tacoma artists for residents. At a local elementary school, outreach efforts resulted in the conception of various art pieces focused on stormwater education, including a tote bag designed by a student. Additional pieces include stencils, concrete stamps, vehicle wraps, videos, and other media showcasing the impacts of stormwater pollution. 

Stencil_Final_Orca_COT (1) Stencil_Final_Otter_COT (1) Stencil_Final_Salmon_COT (1)

Utilities sometimes have a challenging time crafting effective messaging for stormwater issues that ratepayers can understand. However, in Tacoma, simplifying the message and creating engaging visual arts makes the education accessible to all residents. Art transcends mere aesthetics and serves as a medium for expressing values and ideas, which gives rise to emotionally impactful creations. The campaign will continue with an upcoming film festival, additional murals, community events, partnerships with the local school district, and more!

NACWA awarded the City of Tacoma Environmental Services a 2024 National Environmental Achievement Award in the Public Information & Educational Program category for its creative informative campaign. Congratulations to everyone involved!

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