Why do we drink bottled water? Perhaps that’s the wrong question, let’s rephrase. Why don’t we drink from public water fountains? Some people are concerned about hygiene. Others might not like the taste. Others again might not be averse to public fountains per se but rather are drawn in by the intoxicating campaigns pushing bottled water as a luxury.
Five years ago Melbourne Zoo celebrated their 150th birthday with fifty fiberglass models of the famous elephant calf, Mali, painted by various artists and put on display throughout the city. It was called Mali in the City.
Of the thousands of residents, tourists and professionals alike who saw and were inspired by this art installation, Gretha Oost got something that maybe no one else did.
The O Initiative, founded by Gretha, aims to reduce the plastic pollution associated with drinking bottled water and is using art and design to instigate social and behavioural change. Their inaugural installation can be found at Alma Park in St Kilda, Melbourne.
For whatever reasons people may have avoided public water fountains in the past, Gretha has sought to counteract them in her own.
The sculptural aesthetic of the water fountain was the first step in creating visual appeal. Then was the question of how to dress it. “We put out an official call for artists [and] we had six artists apply, then we shortlisted the six to three,” says Gretha. The artist’s fee was crowd funded which not only aided Gretha financially but also gave the community a sense of inclusion and control. To thank them for their support, Gretha gave them a voice: “all the people that pitched in for the crowd funded campaign were all given a vote. We had the three artists and then people could vote for which one they preferred to do the fountain, and that’s how Georgie [Faircloth] was selected”.
The end result is a hand-painted scene that depicts the wider Almaville/St Kilda East community including the Hank Marvin Markets, family picnics with children playing and dogs running as well as often marginalized transgender and multicultural minorities.
“I had to create [the artwork] on site and interact with people as I painted, so I took a number of personal requests and added them to the work. It was a new way to paint and very rewarding. I hope the final work was inclusive and that the community has a sense of ownership around it,” says Georgie.
In terms of hygiene, health and taste, Gretha approached Zip Water “and they literally jumped on board immediately,” she remembers.
Each Art Fountain is the sum of three parts and any additional fountains will require a company to fund the fountain, a community to vote on the artwork and the local counsel to install and maintain it.
World domination is firmly in Gretha’s sights – yet she is practical in her approach. “I want to roll it out worldwide [but] I see it as a kind of cluster first,” she says. “And then we can spread it out. We’re just taking it step by step.”
Words by Holly Cunneen