Second grader’s drawing becomes anti-littering ‘street art’ in Germantown

Esme Fa Harrison, an adorably introspective Germantown Friends School second grader, just saw a picture she’d drawn last year become a work of “street art” outside her school.

Fellow students, environmental activists, her brother and parents had just finished the installation Thursday afternoon. The young girl was asked what she thought of seeing her crayoned work become a painting affixed directly to street and curb near a Germantown Ave. and Coulter St. stormwater inlet.

Harrison initially responded with a nonchalant shrug. That prompted her father Howard to ask “is it exciting?”

She quickly nodded her head and made her way back to class, leaving the don’t-litter message that won first place in a Philadelphia Water Company contest on the ground for all passersby to view in perpetuity.

“I’m beaming with pride,” Howard Harrison said of his daughter’s accomplishment.

What it’s all about

Each year, the Philadelphia Water Department and the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary sponsor a “Green City, Clean Water” art contest.

Students in grades K-12 are invited “to create an original work of art showing how we can all help make Philadelphia a greener city with cleaner waters.”

The winning entries are displayed in a calendar and on buses and subways during a year-round advertising campaign. Esme’s drawing won first place last year — more than 700 entries from 13 schools were submitted — and graced the May 2014 page.

She drew a woman standing in front of her house imagining litter floating in a body of water near two fish. It also includes an image of her dropping a bag of potato chips into a trashcan, sending a firm anti-littering message.

A good educational tool

Karen Cherubini, who was Esme’s first-grade science teacher, said students keep class journals in which they’re asked to “notice and wonder” about things going on around them and “capture the observations by drawing or writing.”

It’s a natural leap from those class requirements to submitting contest entries. In fact, the winning entry was treated just like a run-of-the-mill homework assignment in the eyes of the winning artist.

“They are all so aware of the litter they see, and it disturbs them,” Cherubini said as students swept up dirt with mini-brushes and dust pans before installation began. “They ask whether the class can go outside and pick up trash.”

What made this year’s contest different, according to GFS lower-school science teacher Geoffrey Selling, is the fact that the winner wasn’t confined to calendar and transportation-ad viewing platforms.

“This one gets to go where we can all see and enjoy it often,” he said of the street-based installation. “There’s another storm drain down the street, but they wanted it to go here, on a busy corner where the Germantown community can see it since everyone can help protect the environment.”

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal