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The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

Livening up DeKalb one hydrant at a time

DeKALB – DeKalb residents are being encouraged to paint the town red, blue, yellow, green and whatever colors they want.

Part of the DeKalb Public Art Initiative, Paint-a-Plug is a program that lets any citizen, organization or business create a design for any fire hydrant in DeKalb and paint it.

Funding for this program as well as other Art Initiative programs in DeKalb comes partly from a $50,000 grant, intended for revitalizing small towns, given to the city by T-Mobile in 2022.

The Paint-a-Plug program has been active for five years; and in that time, the program has had 35 hydrants painted, with hundreds still available.

Jeanine Holcomb, marketing and communications director for the Egyptian Theatre and member of the Citizen’s Community Enhancement Commission, said taking part in Paint-a-Plug was a worthwhile experience and encourages others to take part.

The Egyptian Theatre took part in painting the fire hydrant in front of the theatre,  adorning it with the same pharoah icon as the theatre. Holcomb said the Egyptian Theatre sees pedestrians taking photographs with the hydrant with the theater/theatre as a backdrop.

“People are stopping, and it’s eye-catching and really fun to see that the excitement that we had for something that was going to be representing our business generated that same amount of interest into the community”, Holcomb said.

The program has had a variety of people and groups take part, ranging from elementary school children, retired citizens, families, organizations, college students and even to those outside of DeKalb.

Brad Hoey, chair of the City of DeKalb Citizen’s Community Enhancement Commission, said that while it has taken some time to catch on, the program has taken off in the last few years as more participants have applied. 

Hoey said he would like to see more student organizations design a hydrant.

“We encourage the local community and the college community – just anyone who’s interested – to participate in one or all of the projects,” Hoey said. “We’d love to see applications for Paint-a-Plugs throughout the community.”

The participants can paint their chosen hydrant with their design after the DeKalb City Council approves of the participant’s application. While citizens are allowed to paint whatever they want, the submitted design must not have obscene language, images or reduce visibility of the hydrant.

Approved applicants are given a $50 gift card to purchase painting materials for the hydrant but can use their own supplies. A third-party can even be brought in to paint a design on the hydrants for the applicants.

Painting for hydrants is allowed between mid-April and early November but is dependent on long-term weather conditions. Those seeking to paint a hydrant are advised to submit an application before late fall.

Once the hydrant has been painted, the paint is expected to last between four to five years before it begins to wear away. When that happens, the Citizen’s Community Enhancement Commission reaches out to the artists to see if they want to repaint the hydrants. If not, and the paint continues to wear away, then the hydrant is repainted standard red.

Paint-a-Plug is part of the Citizen’s Community Enhancement Commission’s effort to recommend projects that enhance the quality of life in DeKalb. Other projects include the utility box artwork initiative and public mural program.

Those who would like to apply to Paint-a-Plug can do so through the City of DeKalb website.

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