words by Noor Hindi, video by Patrick Richards

From pool parties to bubble fests to community murals, local artist Mac Love’s @PLAY project has invaded all 24 Akron neighborhoods.

Over the last 18 months, Art X Love has encouraged residents in Akron to connect to their communities in a meaningful way while installing public space improvements like benches and brightly painted sidewalks.

The team, which includes Josy Jones as Interactive Manager and Chris Harvey as Design Manager, recently finished the ambitious project. They’ve renovated parks in some neighborhoods, designed murals with the help of community members in others, and cleaned up neighborhoods while dancing to silent disco. The @PLAY project was funded by a $241,000 grant from the Knight Cities Challenge.

In each neighborhood, Mac, Josy and Chris walked around and asked people what type of art installation or community project they’d like to see, and then went to work designing and collaborating with local residents to create the projects.

I sat down with Mac to talk about his art and to reflect on some of his biggest achievements this year.

Noor Hindi: What’s your biggest accomplishment this year?

Mac Love: I’d probably say changing the narrative around neighborhoods. When we started this project, it didn’t seem like anybody was talking about the neighborhoods. When I applied to this project I thought all the money that was going into the (Akron) Civic Commons projects were disproportionately invested in Downtown. The analogy I gave was, ‘you can change the heart, but if you don’t change the diet, the arteries that flow to it, it’s not going to do any good.’

We’re surrounded by all of these neighborhoods and all of these people who need a reason to go there. And so I was like let’s do this insane neighborhood-wide initiative.

NH: What’s something you’ve learned this year?

ML: You can’t be afraid of investing in something. The benches we created that are going to be installed are over $1,000 each. They are sourced from local Akron trees. And every single time we mention that to someone, they’re like, ‘people are going to steal them.’ And it’s like, even if they did, so what? We try to do the right thing. Someone is appreciating it somewhere. You have to have faith in people.

The hard thing about this project is the scope of it. The best thing I learned, and it’s not necessarily akin to the project, but — I had a son over the course of this project. So being able to balance family and work means a lot to me. It’s one of the reasons I was excited about moving [to Akron]… Because quality of life and work-life balance was something I was interested in.

NH: Art X Love is a for-profit art business. How do you manage it?

ML: The brand background helps because that is an industry where the value of creativity is a little bit more understood. I don’t actually think it’s as difficult as people think. It helps that I worked a lot of jobs beforehand. I know a lot of artists who don’t want to ever have a boss or have any discipline or any structure, and that’s fine. A lot of the things artists sometimes complain about are, I think, sometimes their own making. Not having enough money, not having enough time, not having enough opportunities.

You have to care about the relationships… You have to keep every one of your promises, and you can’t make promises you can’t keep. You have to put yourself out there. You can’t get lucky unless you put yourself in a position to be lucky. You can’t expect it to come to you. You very often have to go out to it. The innovation is the only way you can survive and stay relevant. All of this stuff we’re talking about with change, I want to be on the front of that wave. Or creating it.

(Photo: Mac Love. Used with permission.)

NH: How do you stay focused and keep yourself from being boxed into one idea or project as an artist? How do you keep innovating?

ML: You only live one life. Your legacy, the actions you take, those are fixed, they’re permanent. So whatever I end up doing is my medium. For myself, it’s actually recognizing the moment of curiosity to pursue the thread to make a difference, or an impact. Oddly enough it’s taken me further away from making artwork. I love making, but in this project, it was more important to be a mentor and a facilitator. We really wanted to give a lot of the money and hire all local artists, all local residents. And so a lot of that was about passing on knowledge. Sometimes it was just asking a question. I can’t tell you how many things happened on this project just because we asked. And how many times that question was born while a dozen other people were like, ‘no, you can’t do that. It’ll never happen.’ It’s funny how many opportunities get stopped because people don’t believe in the possibility that you could do something.

I was always very confident in being able to create from an early age. But that’s because we didn’t have a TV. I was the first kid on the bus in the morning and the last one off. We had a house that was surrounded by forest. So I would make mazes and draw a lot. And I was surrounded by that in my environment, so I was comfortable with it. But when I’d go to school and the kids didn’t want to draw or anything, I was like ‘that’s weird that you don’t want to do the most fun part of this whole project.’ Like, I don’t want to write the essay or book report. I’ll draw the cover. And so I thought it was strange. And I made it my mission early on to find a way to bring it back into the hands of people.

I think art is as essential as going out for a walk in the woods. And not like, a mural, or like a poem — (anything) creative that’s not part of your routine. Call a family member, write a letter to somebody, make a paper airplane and throw it.

For more information about Mac Love, visit artxlove.com.

Noor Hindi is The Devil’s Strip’s Senior Reporter. Email her at noor@thedevilstrip.com.

Full disclosure: Josy Jones, Interactive Manager for Art x Love, is also a contributor to The Devil Strip.

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