“Paint the Pipes” decorates downtown

Daniel Leahy/Sun Star Reporter
June 27, 2012

Bland, off-white vent pipes have cluttered downtown Fairbanks since the ultiliduct system was first built.  Standing eight feet tall, the vent pipes allow oxygen flow between the underground utility system and the air above. While serving an important purpose, the pipes were never considered beautiful.

This pipe was a different approach to springtime and flowers. These flowers remind us that spring will return and so will all of the colors that go with it. Sept 27th, 2012. Allen Obermiller/Sun Star

That changed on Monday, Sept. 24 when the Downtown Association of Fairbanks completed its “Paint the Pipes” program. Part of the “Art in the Heart” initiative, “Paint the Pipes” paid local artists to decorate 13 pipes in downtown Fairbanks.

DAF coordinated Paint the Pipes in partnership with Project Fairbanks, both local nonprofits.  DAF seeks to improve the scenery of downtown by adding artistic elements in response to frequent requests for more public art. According to Amy Nordrum, Communications Coordinator for Project Fairbanks, inspiration for the program came from similar art projects in other cities.

“It’s not an original concept, but we applied it to pipes in Fairbanks for a distinct twist,” Nordrum said.

Designs on the pipes include a painting of blooming fireweed, a portrait of a musk ox, an owl and a classic Marilyn Monroe photograph with an Alaskan twist. The artwork recreates the famous picture of Marilyn Monroe standing over a subway vent while wearing “bunny boots.”

Local artist Nikki Kinne painted a pipe named “Fireweed” on second Avenue. The self-described “Pilot Artist,” Kinne had never worked on a public art project. She says the public’s level of involvement made it both challenging and rewarding.

“I was profoundly moved by how many people were invested in the outcome,” Kinne said.

A committee was commissioned to select the best designs. The contest received 60 proposals. The committee members made their final decisions on August 2.

Artists with winning designs were awarded a $300 stipend for their work on the project. They were then given until Sept. 24 to add their final brush strokes to the pipes. On that day, a public unveiling ceremony in the Golden Heart Plaza of the Downtown Market marked the completion of the project.

The 13 artists chosen were Karen Austen, Sarah DeGennaro, Lucas Elliott, Mica Fairchild, David Hayden, Mica Hendricks, Dan Kennedy, Nikki Kinne, Laura Nutter, Gail Priday, Iris Sutton and Kate Wood. One team, the “Midnight Sun Junior Roller Girlz,” jointly submitted a winning design.

Sponsorship for the program came primarily from local businesses, who made donations between $200 and $5,000.

One pipe was supported entirely by the generosity of individual donors, who raised over $1,500. Donors who contributed over $50 had their name printed on the “Marilyn in Bunny Boots” pipes.

DAF is planning to complete a new art project every year.  While DAF has not agreed on a particular plan, the large amount of positive feedback they have recieved makes them excited for next year’s project. In the meantime, Kinne and Nordrom say “Paint the Pipes” is already impacting the downtown landscape.

“People will see the brightness in the dead of winter,” Kinne said.

Nordrom said she hopes such art projects will help Fairbanksans “fall back in love with their downtown.”


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