A blonde person wearing a red shirt and black shorts uses a rollerbrush to paint the street in River Falls
Artist Mos Rude, a May UWRF graduate, paints a base layer Tuesday at the intersection of Main and Division streets in River Falls in a collaborative street painting project in partnership with the City of River Falls. The project is designed to make the busy intersection safer and more attractive. UWRF photo.

UW-River Falls graduate oversees collaborative art project

‘Paint the Pavement’ effort improves safety, scenery at busy River Falls intersection

Aug. 23, 2023 - During their time as an art student at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, Moz Rude drove past the intersection of Main and Division streets in River Falls each school day on the commute to and from Hudson. 

On Tuesday, Rude, who graduated from UWRF in May with a bachelor’s degree in art, helped transform that intersection into a site that is more attractive and safer. Rude partnered with River Falls city officials on a project intended to beautify the busy intersection while reducing the chances of traffic accidents. 

“Every day when I went to UW-River Falls I would drive by this spot,” Rude said shortly after rolling a base layer of blue paint onto a stretch of Division Street that would subsequently be covered with brightly colored painted flowers. “I know this is a busy intersection, and it feels good to be a part of making this space not only more safe, but more beautiful too.”

The “Paint the Pavement” project is funded by a $10,000 AARP Community Challenge Grant and is the result of the City’s Bike and Pedestrian Plan, which the City Council unanimously adopted on March 28. The plan was one of three city planning documents updated as part of Focus River Falls, an 18-month effort that included updating the city’s comprehensive plan and outdoor recreation plan.
During development of those plans, residents identified the Main-Division intersection as an area of significant safety concern. Many said drivers travel through the right turn lane too quickly when turning there and sometimes don’t notice pedestrians and cyclists.

To address that concern, city officials decided to install temporary bollards – tall plastic orange barriers – at the intersection and to create a visible barrier between a bike lane and along part of a crosswalk. Rather than apply traditional high-visibility striping on the street’s surface to accomplish that task, they decided to make the site more attractive while also improving safety. 

The city sought and obtained the AARP grant, then reached out to UWRF Assistant Art Professor Hannah Freeman, who in turn connected with Rude about the project. Rude, who lives in St. Paul, was chosen from a group who applied to oversee the street art project. Rude researched wildflowers that grow in the region and decided to showcase Jacob’s Ladder. 

“This city and area are known for their natural beauty, and I wanted to represent that in this project,” Rude said. 

Rude also liked the collaborative nature of the project. Instead of creating the artwork alone, Rude was joined by a couple dozen others throughout the day. Volunteer artists helping Rude included city workers, UW-River Falls employees and community members. They endured searing heat as they painted; the temperature neared 100 degrees and the heat index was even higher. Two men, one wearing glasses, a red shirt and navy shorts, the second wearing a high vis vest, white hat and gray jeans hold paintbrushes and kneel on the street as they paint on the street.
“Wow, it’s really getting hot down here,” Wesley Kisting, dean of the UWRF College of Arts and Sciences, said as he painted a green stem and leaves on the hot street surface. “It’s hard to apply the paint as it’s thickening quickly in this heat.”

Despite the hot temperature, Kisting said he enjoyed taking part in the project. Making the intersection not only safer but more attractive “is another example of the value that art adds to a community,” he said. 

Ellen Massey, management analyst for the Community Development Department for the City of River Falls, said the city decided to try the street mural as a different way to make the intersection safer yet more attractive. The city may incorporate public art in future projects, she said. 

“City officials are interested in placemaking projects like this that benefit River Falls,” she said.

Nearby, friends Lilly Shipp, 15, and Kjersten Richter, 15, chatted with each other as they applied paint to leaf outlines. They discussed the value of public art and said they’re happy to play a role in making the intersection more visually appealing. 

“This is a really beautiful city, and it feels like we should do more to highlight that,” Shipp said.

That sentiment is music to Rude’s ears. As they finished outlining more leaves in chalk, Rude discussed their affinity for River Falls and for collaborative art projects.

“Not only are people getting to enjoy this space now, but they get to be a part of creating it,” Rude said. “That is one of the best parts of public art – to get people engaged in it, and in the process, to feel more a part of the community where they live.”

Photo inset: UW-River Falls College of Arts and Sciences Dean Wesley Kisting, right, and Sam Burns, an employee with the River Falls Planning Department, apply paint Tuesday to street art as part of the “Paint the Pavement” project at the intersection of Main and Division streets in River Falls. UWRF photo.   


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