COMMUNITY SPOTLIGHT: Painted fire hydrants bring color to downtown area

By Breanna Amico

The Leeper family painted this fire hydrant as Sulley from "Monsters Inc." located off of Jefferson street by the courthouse.

The Leeper family painted this fire hydrant as Sulley from “Monsters Inc.” located off of Jefferson street by the courthouse. (Photo by Breanna Amico)

When driving through downtown Huntington, it is hard to miss the colorfully painted fire hydrants. These hydrants are connected by a common theme that changes each year.

“I always look for the ones that I haven’t seen before or look to see what they were repainted as this year as I drive through downtown,” junior Alyssa Jarrett said.

The painited hydrants exist because of the Huntington Arts Initiative. The HAI was formed by residents Richard Najuch, Debbie Dyer and Ann Siegfried.

“The goal was to spur interest in downtown Huntington to try to make it more attractive,” Dyer said.

In Aug. 2009, Najuch, owner of the New Huntington Theater, purchased two buildings located at the corner of Market and Warren Streets in downtown Huntington at an auction. This spurred the formation of the HAI.

Steve Leeper, associate professor of digital media arts, and his family have painted the same hydrant each year since this event started four years ago.

“Right from the beginning, people were honking at us while we painted,” Leeper said. “Honestly, I think it’s been the most open I’ve seen Huntington folks since we’ve been here.”

HAI provides a map of all the hydrant locations in the ticket booth outside the theatre to encourage the community to visit the different paintings. They also sponsor a walk-through once all the hydrants are painted.

“I get excited seeing the new hydrants each year,” Jarrett said. “It makes me want to go find them all.”

Each year, the HAI comes up with a theme to help inspire the artists. The themes so far have been “Dog Days of Summer,” “Downtown by the Sea,” “A’ Is For Alphabet,” and the current theme is “Lights! Camera! Action!” Some hydrants are painted R2-D2 from “Star Wars,” Napoleon Dynamite from “Napoleon Dynamite” and Buzz Lightyear from “Toy Story.”

“We loved the ‘Dog Days’ on the first year,” Leeper said, “We still miss the crazy pink poodle we did that year.”

HAI plans to offer educational, enrichment and entertainment opportunities by artistic professionals “with the aim of making this county an arts destination.”

The building purchased by Najuch for the HAI will house a professional art gallery, an educational recourse center and a nonprofit professional theater group. It will be called The Studio and construction will continue as fundraising efforts progress.

“Our hope is to entertain, to educate and to enrich,” Dyer said.

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