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Art and Infrastructure: Student Artists Bring the Story of Portland’s Water System to Life

Illustration of gravity fed water system

2,300 miles of pipes. 14,376 fire hydrants. 100 million gallons of water a day.

These are the impressive numbers behind the system that deliver drinking water to over a million Portlanders every day.

And thanks to 19 students at the Art Institute of Portland, we now have a clearer picture of how these numbers fit into our everyday lives.

Visualizing Bull Run and Beyond

Art Institute class with water system artworkBelle Bezdicek is a graphic arts instructor at the Art Institute of Portland in the Pearl District. For an entire semester, Bezdicek’s class of 19 art students took a close look at Portland’s complex network of pipes, fire hydrants, drinking water sources, and other system components. Then Bezdicek challenged her students to take what they learned and create artwork that could be used for a public display.

From whimsical to technical, the students’ work strives to communicate the complexity and detail of Portland’s often-times invisible infrastructure.

What inspired Bezdicek to use Portland’s water system as an exercise in creativity?

Bezdicek credits her neighbor Catherine Howells for the idea to use the city’s water system for her class’s most recent exercise. Catherine is an adjunct professor for Portland State University where she teaches a capstone class about the Water Bureau and Portland’s water. Bezdicek credits Catherine’s enthusiasm and deep knowledge of the water system for getting her art students motivated and creative.

Art Institute students show off artwork“We are all connected to each other in many levels including water,” says Bezdicek, “Portland’s water systems provided the perfect chance for my students to take vast amounts of complex information, decide what was the most important thing to communicate, then visualize it in a style appropriate for the target audience.”

Bezdicek notes that illustrating a city’s water system can be challenging, and through this challenge the students flexed their creative muscles by learning how to create designs that educate and inspire.

Thank you to the students at the Art Institute of Portland for allowing us to share their creations.

Do you have a favorite design? We’d love to hear what you think on Facebook and Twitter.

Discover the Students’ Artwork

Ready to see the artwork for yourself?

Click through to view large-format versions of the art on our Flickr page.