Plastic Tides mural is a step towards keeping Henrico beautiful

Muralist Nico Cathcart uses her art to spark conversation about the environment, pollution, and preservation in the Richmond Community

By: Sarah Burroughs

“I hope it inspires people to reduce the amount of single-use plastics they consume, as well as inspiring the community to take advantage of the recycling center,”said Muralist Nico Cathcart.

The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen constantly works to use their platform in the community to raise awareness about issues and challenges members of the community are facing.

Recently, the Cultural Arts Center has decided to address an issue that has become increasingly pertinent to the community: the ever-growing amount of waste and pollution in the community and its waterways.

Therefore, the Cultural Arts Center decided to have a mural painted on the fencing surrounding the recycling area at The Center to spread awareness about the importance of recycling.

The Cultural Arts Center and the County of Henrico began by putting out a call for artists who would be interested in painting the mural.

The Cultural Arts Center then went on to review numerous portfolios and, in the end, selected Nico Cathcart to paint the mural.

Cathcart decided to entitle the mural “Plastic Tides.” - depicting a school of sunfish native to the James River.

“There are two walls being painted and as one drives up to the mural, it will look like a school of fish, as you get closer and the walls widen in perspective, the back wall will reveal plastic waste that commonly ends up in the James River,” said Cathcart.

Cathcart chose to use blues and greens in the water and reds, oranges, and golds for the fish. These highly saturated colors were chosen because Cathcart believes they are inspired by the colors she sees in nature.

While the mural will be wonderful to look at, Cathcart hopes that while people enjoy the view, they also see the importance of the message.

“While I want the mural to be beautiful to look at, I do want the importance of recycling to come across,” said Cathcart.

This is not the first time Cathcart has used her artistry to send a message to a community about the importance of recycling and preserving the environment.

The mural will be one of many pieces in Cathcart’s Symbiotic Series. The series consists of numerous pieces of artwork which focus on the importance of nature and, more specifically, the symbiotic circle humans form with the environment.

“I’ve done a bunch about local pollinators, recently at RVA Createspace, Courthouse Creek Cider in the Highpoint, and the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden,” said Cathcart.     

Cathcart is using her art to communicate the importance of humans being aware of the many habits they create, taking responsibility for such actions, and making changes to revert the effects of those actions.

“If we don’tact, the earth will perish, and we need it to survive as a species,” said Cathcart.

For this particular mural, Cathcart has chosen to focus on the pollution plastic causes in the local waterways, specifically the James River.

“According to, experts estimate between 1.5 and 2.4 million tons of plastic enters the ocean through the US’ waterways. We can change that,” said Cathcart.

Cathcart has completed additional pieces of work for the Symbiotic Series in New York and Ohio. She hopes to continue the series in various locations throughout the world, spreading awareness about pollution and the environment.

“I plan on tackling these issues, pollinator protection, and endangered species conservation in any place I can. I have completed work in both New York and Ohio recently for this series and I would love to continue to work in both Richmond and around the world,” said Cathcart.

Cathcart has also taken the opportunity to use this mural as an educational opportunity for young, aspiring artists. For a two-day period, she worked with children from the James River Juvenile Detention Center and taught them the basics of mural painting alongside other introductory art skills.

“I taught them over the course of two days, starting with the priming process, then laying out a grid, and finally they helped me put the drawing on,” said Cathcart.

Cathcart expected to spend between 50 and 80 hours on the mural, depending on weather conditions. However, the time is not the most difficult aspect of this mural.In reality, it is the canvas.

“The wall itself has been challenging in material. It is made of Trex, which is a sustainable composite material which is not generally painted. Once I received this commission, I reached out to the company to get some expert opinions on the project. They informed me that they were not aware of any other project like this being done on their materials, but did send me some paint to try out,”said Cathcart.

Since she solved the issue with the canvas material, the process of painting the mural was smooth-sailings.

“There have even been a bunch of visitors coming out, which is awesome! The more people can talk to me and understand the piece, the better the message will be!” said Cathcart.

As both an artist and environmental activist, Cathcart is honored to have a platform in which she is able to share her talents in art as well as her beliefs about the environment, preservation, and pollution.

Her art functions as a platform for the viewers to tackle social issues that,otherwise, can be difficult to discuss.

“I hope the piece can be something they remember when they use a reusable plastic water bottle or choose to not buy groceries with plastic packaging. It’s a big responsibility to be allowed to work in public arts, and not everyone gets to do it. I am using my art as a voice to carry a big message, a message about the earth and how to make it a better place,” said Cathcart.

Her efforts to make her Symbiotic Series a global discussion doesn’t stop here. In the future, Cathcart hopes to continue her work in various areas, using both animals and environmental issues that are local to the areas she works on the art in.

“I’d love to do a piece on climate change creating red tide algal blooms in Florida or the death of the monarch butterflies in California due to the wildfires,” said Cathcart.

Through her mural at The Cultural Arts Center, as well as her other pieces of work across the country, Cathcart will continue to use her art as a platform to create change in communities across the nation.

“I think there are many ways for everyone to have a voice and I will continue to do that through my art, that is my voice,” said Cathcart.