Murals can do more than that, however. The Rivanna River Watershed mural, located at the intersection of First Street and
the train tracks, was painted by local artist Kaki Dimock in 2013 in celebration of the 40th anniversary
of the passage of the Clean Water Act. In collaboration with StreamWatch, the Rivanna Conservation Society,
Rivanna River Basin Commission and the Charlottesville Mural Project, Dimock received over $11,000 in
funding through a Kickstarter for the project, which she said celebrates the law as a successful public
policy that's benefitted many people.
The piece depicts the Blue Ridge Mountains above several iconic University and Charlottesville buildings all resting atop
an underwater scene featuring wildlife from the Rivanna River Basin — a symbolic representation of the
relationship between the human community and the natural environment, according to Dimock.
Though a celebration of clean water is hardly a controversial stance, Dimock's work subtly nudges its beholders to reconsider
their entire worldview in terms of their relationship to the natural world.
"My work … is a challenge to the human viewer to consider animals in a different way," she said. "I'm sort of trying to turn
the tables a little bit and accentuate the need to balance our use of the environment with the animals
we share it with. That is certainly an intentional and motivating thought for me as an artist."
This is a theme not only in this particular mural, but throughout Dimock's work, she said. Much of her work is in pen and
ink, and occasionally watercolor, so the mural was a break from her preferred mediums, yet it still contains
her signature focus on the importance of the animal world and its relationship to ours.
"The boundaries between the human world and the animal world … are more fragile than we think," Dimock said. In order to
get that message across, she often brings the two together in unconventional ways, breaking down those
boundaries with somewhat surreal artwork "accentuating animals over the built environment, or placing
them in strange environments."
In the First Street mural, that juxtaposition manifests itself in the thin brown line separating the ground beneath the painted
Rotunda and the vast expanse of water just below it. Though the buildings that define Charlottesville
and Grounds are present, they're hardly the mural's focus. Instead, the underwater scene takes up about
two-thirds of the space, with fish arranged in concentric circles that instantly draw the eye down. The
river environment serves as the foundation for the man-made landmarks that are central to the city —
demonstrating our dependence on the natural environment and, in particular, on clean water.
That concept of nature as the foundation on which humans are dependent is characteristic of Dimock's work. "You might see
a drawing of a town in my work, but the town is on the back of a giant red kangaroo," she said.
Though paint-on-brick murals are not her usual medium in which to work, Dimock expressed an appreciation for the inherent
subversiveness that accompanies the art form.
"I would suggest that … murals are an act of activism and a little bit assertive in that art used to
be the private domain of the rich," she said. "The idea of public art means it's automatically a little
bit subversive, it is to say that beautiful things with meaning belong to all of us."
She seemed to think that message was especially appropriate for a mural celebrating clean water — a natural resource on which
we all depend.
"Water is everybody's in the same sort of way," Dimock said. "It felt to me that there were a lot of parallels between the
water basin and the idea of [public] art."
Dimock environmental agenda means her murals carry weight as agents of community change. Water conservation may not be controversial,
but it's a worthy goal, and Dimock's murals advocate for change by distorting both physical and mental