by Scott Piepho
When two different groups independently arrive at the same idea at the same time, it boosts confidence in the ideas’ fundamental rightness. Because a community arts organization and a group of middle school students simultaneously arrived at the same idea, we now have monsters on Summit Street in downtown Akron.
Last month, local artist Random Cushing led students from a number of public high and middle schools who painted monster-themed designs on the crosswalks on either side of the East Market street in downtown Akron. The project, timed to coincide with artist reception for the Akron Arts Prize, also received support from the Downtown Akron Partnership.
The crosswalk was one of several projects that groups of students from the STEM Middle School devised as part of a problem-based learning unit. Art teacher Julie Hogarth presented her class with the problem: How do we make our community aware of Akron’s strong visual arts culture? The students were divided into groups, each of which developed a project proposal.
One group discovered that other cities have used creative crosswalks to highlight the history of a neighborhood or help identify arts districts. That idea may not have gone beyond the PowerPoint the group created outlining the project, but others in the arts community had similar ideas.
According to Akron Arts Prize coordinator Courtney Cable, organizers had long hoped that the prize would include a public art component. This year, the organization revisited the idea of including a public art component, specifically identifying creative crosswalks as a possibility. When Downtown Akron Partnership president Suzie Graham learned about the creative crosswalks idea at the STEM school, she suggested bringing those students into the public art project.
Cushing’s involvement in the project resulted from a similar happenstance. He originally came to Graham’s attention as a result of some work he did for the Akron Bike Kitchen. She passed the name on to Cable.
Then one night Cushing and Cable met for the first time at a Highland Square fundraiser for Summit ArtSpace. “I didn’t know who she was at the time, but I talked to her because she was wearing an interesting dress,” recalls Cushing.
Cushing designed the project in a way to bring the kids in and make them feel a part of it. He and his fellow artist Kade Cochran sketched out the designs with sidewalk chalk, and started painting. The painting was completed by students from National Inventors Hall of Fame STEM Middle School, NIHF STEM High School, Firestone High School and Miller South School for the Arts.
Hogarth hopes to complete other crosswalks near the Akron Art Museum and in the Northside neighborhood. In addition, a number of the projects conceived by her students have been implemented. One group developed a phone app that guides the user on a walking tour of Akron arts destinations. Another created a coloring book composed of public art from around town.