Electrician’s talent sparks bold new murals on an unexpected canvas

Marty is an electrician by trade. But his talents and passion as a painter have added a splash of color to help communicate the value of our clean-water work

Electrician Marty Zelinsky, inspired with art from Yolanda Kelly and encouraged by manager Hugh Sullivan, contributed his talents to three murals in our headworks building along a common public tour route.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, three new murals at our Southerly plant are worth even more.

Marty Zelinsky, a six-year employee and an electrician by trade, is the painter behind three murals in the Southerly headworks that made their public debut at our September 15 Open House. How they came to be is a story of connections, creativity, and community.

Hugh Sullivan is Southerly’s plant maintenance manager. Through an established good rapport with coworkers, he joined Marty and several colleagues in a conversation about art and artistic talent. It was there that Hugh learned Marty had painted murals at his children’s school; it made Hugh wonder if that untapped in-house talent could serve the District and its customers, too.

Hugh Sullivan, left, and Marty Zelinsky in front of one of Marty’s finished murals. This art was designed by Yolanda Kelly in celebration of the 2019 anniversary of the 1969 Cuyahoga River fire.

He and Marty talked further and considered a mural project to be a great outreach opportunity, seeing that more than a thousand visitors tour the plant every year.

The concept: Three wall murals on open space in the headworks building, a significant starting point for many Southerly plant tours. The art could be an opportunity to educate guests and catch employees’ attention, as well.

“The Open House was an event where we knew we could reach a lot of people at one time,” Hugh said.

Hugh obtained the approvals from plant superintendents in the spring and set out to establish the connections needed to make the mural a reality. “Kevin [Zebrowski] was an integral part in the coordination of the parties involved,” said Hugh of the then plant Assistant Superintendent and now Superintendent of Maintenance Services.

Hugh then worked with Communications & Community Relations staff to develop the artwork, Marty’s manager and Union leadership to allow Marty the time needed for production, and Building Maintenance to prep the walls and obtain the paint.

While Hugh handled logistics, Marty managed the art.

The second of three murals, shown here in progress, portrays the urban water cycle, educating visitors about the flow of water from Lake Erie, to the water treatment plant, to their homes, then to the Regional Sewer District for treatment, and back to Lake Erie. Original art by Yolanda Kelly.

Marty and Hugh met with and discussed several options with CCR to determine what art would best suit the space: “Some concepts were more complex than others,” Marty said. “What we recommended was simple and bright and tells the story of the work we do.”

They made their selections — original pieces of artwork created by Communications Specialist Yolanda Kelly — and Marty matched the colors. Then paint could finally flow.

Working after-hours to sketch the approved drawings onto the walls, Marty waited for darkness when the projector would function best in an area normally filled with natural light. Then layer by layer, he applied the coats of paint atop the dark blue outlines of all three murals until the work was complete, nearly a month earlier than planned.

“It was a hit,” Hugh said of the art’s public debut at the Clean Water Fest. “Many selfies and group pictures taken.”

Not only is this wall along a public tour route at our Southerly plant, it’s also in a high-traffic area with optimal visibility for employees. The words here raise employees’ awareness for safety purposes, but also pique the interest of visitors who use all their senses during a typical plant tour.