Artistic Innovation: Lancaster Gateway Bundle

It’s amazing what a simple paper placemat and some crayons can do for you.

In the case of the new Lancaster Brewing Company’s kids’ activity sheets—it gave my kids an opportunity to draw while learning about keeping our city clean; inspired a discussion on the role of functional art with my husband; and instilled a good dollop of civic pride — all while relaxing over a cold beer. Who knew?!

Earlier this year, on a busy Friday evening, my family and I journeyed to the Lancaster Brewing Company to check out the newly installed public artwork, the Lancaster Gateway Bundle.

The Gateway Bundle functions not only as a piece of public art, but also as a key piece of Lancaster’s Green Infrastructure plan—a plan developed to help prevent polluted stormwater runoff from flowing into our regions’ waterways. The cistern inside the bundle collects the water that flows from the Lancaster Brewing Company’s roof—water that would otherwise flow into the Susquehanna River and all the way to the Chesapeake Bay.

The Bundle serves as a striking example of our city’s creative and communal approach to problem solving: by combining public art with environmental initiatives, the project’s collaborators (The City of Lancaster, the Public Art Advisory Board, The Lancaster Brewing Company, Austin + Mergold and GSM Industrial) have beautified an intersection, spurred economic development, and created a shining gateway into our city—one that leads the region in environmental and artistic innovation.

While many are aware of Lancaster’s burgeoning reputation as an arts destination, few may know of the equally impressive reputation that our city garners in the world of green infrastructure and stormwater management. In fact, the EPA recently used the City of Lancaster as a case study to examine the economic benefits of using green infrastructure for controlling the problem of stormwater runoff. The study concludes that Lancaster is leading the way in creating cost-effective and innovative solutions to the stormwater challenges we face today.

How has Lancaster done it? By thinking outside the box of traditional mitigation solutions. There are so many great people in Lancaster who understand that solving problems like stormwater pollution isn’t just about pipes, roofs, and gardens: it’s about community engagement, improving our parks, and making the city a happier, more beautiful place to be. To this end, the City of Lancaster has integrated public art, community engagement, and education into many of its Green Infrastructure projects. A practice that is gaining recognition all around the region, good politics can make for good art and good art for good politics.

The Gateway Bundle is exemplary on this front.  As is the futuristic “Revolutions” of Brandon Park’s interactive lighting. Powered by solar panels, the artwork shines over the newly renovated park, complete with basketball courts made of porous pavement. And Crystal Park’s “Changing Gears” which uses LED lights to show visitors how much water is being collected in the park’s underground rainwater-field well.  

Community engagement and education is vital for each of the city’s Public Art Projects. For the Gateway Bundle, our planning committee worked with the Lancaster Brewing Company, the City, and with advice from the Urban Greening arm of the Lancaster County Conservancy to create an activity placemat for the Brewing Company’s visitors. The placemat teaches kids (and parents) about problem of stormwater, the function of the Gateway Bundle, and gives young ones a chance to design their own cistern.

After admiring the sculpture that busy Friday evening with my family, my husband and I drank our beer while our two boys quietly (a miracle!) decorated their own cisterns on the placemat. They quizzed us on how we could build a creative barrel in other places—our house? their schools?—to collect more polluted stormwater.

I was reminded of what the Mayor likes to point out about our City: In Lancaster “We are creating a feeling of pride and accomplishment among its citizens and leaving a legacy for future generations.”

I walked outside the other day, when the sun was out and the piles of snow were quickly melting. I found my children out frantically collecting water from the sidewalk curb with buckets and pouring it over the plants in front of our house. What are you doing?!? I yelled out. “We’re saving the water from the storm drains, Mom”. They proudly replied. “Just like the people who made that cool cistern.

By Libby Modern, Public Art Advisory Board