Abbey Ahmed paints at the zoo

Onlookers watch as Abbey Ahmed paints animals and flowers on and around a storm drain at the Lincoln Children’s Zoo.


Ten local artists painted storm drain inlets in Lincoln July 17-23 to promote protecting local waterways and the environment.

The UpStream Art project, organized by the Watershed Management Division of the Lincoln Public Works and Utilities Department, was created to emphasize the message that storm drains lead directly to local creeks and lakes. The project displays the message “Only rain in the drain” along with various nature art themes.

“The inlets usually go unnoticed, but we hope to draw attention to them so observers stop and think about where the water goes after it enters a storm drain,” said Erin Kubicek, project coordinator with Watershed Management.

Local artist Jenna Raef painted a pond scene with ducks, turtles and frogs, along with cattails and lily pads, on a storm drain at the Sunken Gardens parking lot.

“Basically, I wanted a pond theme that would be familiar to anyone who lives in Nebraska,” she said.

Raef is a Lincoln native who attended Lincoln Public Schools’ Arts and Humanities focus program. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English with a minor in art from Iowa University. For the past two years, she has run the Etsy shop Cats, Crafts and Geekery, through which she makes and sells artwork and crafts online.

Across 27th Street at the Lincoln Children’s Zoo, artist Abbey Ahmed painted a scene of a bobcat drinking from a stream leading toward a storm drain near the zoo’s live bobcat exhibit.

“Originally I was going to paint a fox, but I changed it to a bobcat since the storm drain is right next to one,” Ahmed said. “I’m also including flowers that attract pollinators like the monarch butterfly – milkweed, black-eyed Susan and some purple gayfeather.”

As a graphic and web designer at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Ahmed said the UpStream Art project was a good fit since her job is funded by a grant through Nebraska One Health, a program that connects human, animal, plant and ecosystem health.

“My supervisor really encouraged me to do this,” she said.

In another part of the zoo, artist Grace Gaard painted a wetland animals scene around a storm drain.

Other artists and their storm drain art locations were Isabella Catalano, UNL Student Union; Sally Cox, Antelope Park; Joseph Humpal and Richel Jordan, West Haymarket; Rosalia Roger, Lincoln Children’s Museum; Jeanie Sterns, Lincoln Station; and Mallory Williams, Pinnacle Bank Arena.

Kubicek noted that the artists used acrylic paint and a concrete sealer that should preserve the paintings for three to five years.

“If this project goes well, we’ll do it again on 10 more storm drains,” she said.


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