South Renton Connection is adding some flair to its neighborhood in unsuspecting spots.
The project calls for artists to paint fire hydrants. And the first one is nearing completion.
Unlike other public art projects on street signs or utility boxes, hydrants come in different styles with curves and angles for an artist to consider.
The first artist is a south Renton resident, Sybil McIntyre. She’s working on two hydrants. McIntyre said challenges can also include the weight.
The hydrants are about 150 lbs. McIntyre said it took two public works employees to lift it onto her front porch, and then her and her husband’s combined strength to drag it into the living room.
There wasn’t a chance of her getting the hydrants to her upstairs studio.
McIntyre is new to public art, but the interdisciplinary artist said she’s been expanding into painting on objects.
One hydrant is painted as a train conductor, a historical tie to the old Spirit of Washington Dinner Train that used to chug through the downtown area.
With research, McIntyre found many art hydrants had little characters like dogs or Minions. She said it was important for her to do something different, but relevant to the neighborhood.
A Haiku will be on each of her hydrants as well, as her signature for this project. It’s also a way for passersby to engage with the display.
The painting process will also include an anti-graffiti coating.
Jeff Dineen is president of the South Renton Connection, a neighborhood association for the residential area of Main Avenue South to Rainier Avenue South, below South Second Street.
Dineen said both of McIntyre’s proposals were fun. The art committee for south Renton neighborhood are choosing the artists.
Renton Economic Development Specialist Jesse Kotarski said the hydrant art project will go before city council next week and possibly unveiled the following week.
Public works ultimately gave the OK for the Connection and artists like McIntyre to start this project.
Renton’s Water Maintenance Manager George Stahl helped with that decision. He said he wanted to say more than, “No. Our hydrants are yellow.”
Stahl said the city does have a criteria: high visibility for firefighters, no political statements, and the water department doesn’t have to maintain the paint job if damage occurs.
Whether firefighters using the hydrant will wear down the artist’s work is the “$64 question,” he said.
When a building’s burning, that will take priority over preserving the art.
But hydrants rarely get used for the intended purpose, Stahl said. Most of the time, testing is its only operation.
“As far as maintenance staff, we don’t want any part of painting. It would probably look like a rock if we did it,” Stahl said.
The city took old hydrants from storage and gave them to McIntyre to paint. Then the city will replace the current hydrants.
The old ones will be cleaned and updated before placed, Stahl said. There’s no additional costs for water maintenance, except rebuilding with replacement parts they already have.
There are approximately 70 hydrants in South Renton, and the Connection has chosen 20 to start.
Depending on response, it could expand to those other 50, Dineen said.
The artist receives $300 per hydrant to the artist, both for compensation and to handle art supplies.
So far, Dineen said he’s received around seven artists interested. All of them are Renton residents.
The art is meant to reflect South Renton’s character, and Dineen said the connection intends to have more diversity in artists to reflect that.
Dineen hopes the project can increase interest in the neighborhood and even seek out each hydrant. It will also bring whimsy and color to those venturing into the area, he said.
McIntyre said she put lots of time into the project, and it wasn’t about the money. But she did have most of the supplies in advance as well.
“I think, with south Renton being adjacent to the downtown core and starting to grow, having public art people will park near and see as they go to the Farmer’s Market will also add value to the city as a whole,” she said.
The project also receives support from the Renton Municipal Arts Commission.