We are constantly monitoring our water across the city and testing at our lab to ensure we’re sending you high-quality tap, and we make that information available through our Drinking Water Quality Report.
That scientific data is great. It’s not, however, always the sort of show-stopper that would grab your attention and start a conversation.
With nearly 40 percent of Philly residents drinking bottled water, we want to have conversations about how excellent the water we send to every home truly is. That means we are always looking for ways to challenge Philadelphians’ often misconceived ideas about what comes from their faucets.
Tapping into our imaginative side, we’re sharing facts about the city’s drinking water through something a bit more eye-catching than reports—public art.
In an effort to elevate awareness of the city’s top-quality tap water, we partnered with Mural Arts Philadelphia to create works of public art in communities where buying bottled water is most common. The murals have a simple theme: Drink More Tap.
The Penrose Recreation Center at 12th Street and Susquehanna Avenue and the Cruz Recreation Center at 6th and Master Streets were selected as sites to feature new murals promoting the benefits of drinking Philly tap. With portraits of residents infused in the designs, they have an especially local touch.
Both are being created by artist Calo Lopez Rosa and were started in 2019. Penrose is scheduled for completion in summer 2020, and the Cruz mural is scheduled to wrap up by the end of the year.
With Stay At Home measures still in place, all work and community outreach are being done with safety in mind. Online meetings with residents are planned for May 14 and 15 – members of the community who want to join should email to request an invite.
Testing the Waters
The Drink More Tap projects were inspired by annual customer surveys asking residents about their relationship with tap water. Roughly 40 percent of Philadelphians report drinking bottled water at home instead of tap. An additional layer shows a correlation between bottled water use and poverty.
“We are interested in exploring other tools to get people’s attention around this topic,” says Tiffany Ledesma, PWD’s Public Engagement Team Manager. “We believe strongly in the power of public art and especially murals. In Philly, we can create a space to have conversations and build trust through the art-making process.”
The murals were created by working closely with Philly communities where, according to survey responses over the last four years, bottled water use is most common.
“We have a really awesome opportunity to work with Mural Arts and, hopefully, make this conversation bigger,” says Maura Jarvis, Community Outreach Specialist with PWD.
Alongside PWD and Mural Arts representatives, Penrose hosted community painting days, which drew volunteers from the neighborhood.
“I think (the mural) starts that conversation, and it's a lasting conversation, especially when children get to work on it,” said Penrose paint-day participant and 2019 Drink Philly Tap ambassador Michael Wilcox, a North Philly-based environmental and community revitalization advocate. “It’s a lasting effect—even on the neighborhood— when they get to see those murals and their longevity. A lot of them do stand the test of time. They show an impact over a period of time that you don’t realize—those hidden messages that seep into the psyche.”
The Penrose mural is receiving its final touches, as last installations will take place once the process is deemed safe by the city.
“We’re really lucky, because a lot of utility companies don’t see art as important at all – let alone as an absolute benefit to communicate with people,” says Kate Jacobi, a project manager with Mural Arts.
Say “Cheese” – and “Cheers” to Tap!
In early 2019, area residents gathered at Penrose to have their photos taken by Lopez Rosa, who had recently relocated from El Salvador at the time.
The residents’ portraits are woven into the final design.
“We talk about what they wanted to have in their mural, and that’s the most important part for us— is to be able to listen,” Rosa says.
Coming from a country where drinking tap water is dissuaded because of unreliable treatment, Lopez Rosa mentions how privileged he feels to drink Philly tap water.
He echoes our mission to foster Philadelphians’ confidence in consuming tap water and using art as a vehicle for discussion.
“It’s a matter of time for the city, everyone, to understand,” Rosa says. “It’s a campaign that has been going on, but it gets to the people more when it’s personal instead of seeing it on an advertisement. Once you see people from your rec center drinking water from the fountain, I think that has a better impact than having a huge billboard trying to convince people.”
Together, we can promote healthy water, beautify public spaces, and unify communities—all through the power of a paint brush.
As the Penrose Rec Center mural is finalized, PWD and Mural Arts will continue their community engagement process to finalize designs at Cruz Rec Center.