Public Art Conveys Important Messages About Water's Importance

Public art in Boynton Beach adds visual appeal to a water treatment plant and conveys a message about water’s importance.

Public Art Conveys Important Messages About Water's Importance

A portion of the Haiku at the top of the 14-foot-high Water Pavilion.

The haiku inscribed at the top of a public art structure at the East Water Treatment Plant in the Florida city of Boynton Beach celebrates the source of water:

Water, you and I Sky falling thru sand and stone

Are you thirsty yet?

“It’s something different that promotes thought,” says Joe Paterniti, P.E., interim director of utilities. The haiku is a component of public art that is the focal point on green space next to the plant site. One element, a 16-foot square pavilion, consists of stainless steel plates mounted on a structural steel frame. Designs on the plates, created by flame cutting or drillings, allow light to enter, suggesting the flow of water from the sky into the earth. The haiku is on the inside surface of an opening that rings the top center of the 14-foot-high structure.

Called the Water Pavilion, the structure includes a drinking fountain with an integral pet fountain near the bottom, along with a bottle-filling station. Access is by a paved walkway that meanders through the half-acre Edward F. Harmening Arbor Memorial Park.

Art on the wall

The second element of public art is displayed on part of a 164-foot-long, 6-foot-high wall that separates the plant from the park. It includes five 3-by-10-foot aluminum panels covered with vinyl reflective film. Colorful graphic images of sky, flowing water and an aquifer blend with blue paint on the wall. By day, sunlight reflects off the Water Pavilion plates and the vinyl on the decorative wall. At night, LED lights and spotlights illuminate the artwork.

The Iowa-based artist team of David Dahlquist and Matt Niebuhr created the art. Their concept, “Water, You and I,” was chosen from some three dozen proposals from a call to artists coordinated by Debby Coles-Dobay, the city public arts manager. Respondents were asked to propose works that would be educational and represent the city’s drinking water and water reclamation systems.    

The city’s Arts Commission Advisory Board chose two proposals, each to receive a $2,500 honorarium. After interviews and presentations of the proposed work, the board made its final selection. The artist team was responsible for planning, management, installation and hard costs of the project, which was coordinated by Coles-Dobay and the utilities staff.

Part of the culture

Public art has been a part of the Boynton Beach culture since 2005, when the city commission passed an ordinance requiring 1 percent of each public project’s value be applied to art.

In 2015, the East Water Treatment Plant began a $30.8 million project to increase capacity, update equipment and add an ion exchange resin system. The public art was installed in 2016, and the next year, the utility received the Envision Bronze award from the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure.

During the project, a 168-foot-tall, 2.5 million-gallon pedestal-type water tower on the plant site was fitted with a programmable LED array. The lighted tower complements the art pieces, and its colors can be changed to support seasonal themes, special occasions, charity causes, and sports teams, such as the Miami Dolphins. Built in the 1970s, the water tower serves as a navigation aid to boaters on the Atlantic Ocean.

Coles-Dobay says the art is intended to create a connection for visitors. The art will be integrated with the community outreach program and will be a part of local school curricula. Paterniti observes, “It’s really nice and is a good addition to the front park area of our plant.”


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