Akron Neighborhoods Creatively Express Community Identity
by Claude Christensen
Akron burns with creative expression and its unique history glimmers into the 21st century. Every Akron neighborhood has something to offer and a rich identity to share. But how do we express that identity? And what could catalyze a new expression of that identity?
This is a question artist and designer Mac Love asks in his community art project @PLAY Akron.
Over the course of 18 months, Love intends to visit all 24 Akron neighborhoods. He and his crew will spend time getting to know each Akron neighborhood and working with community members to develop community-inspired projects that express the unique history and identity of each community.
Love considers his role as that of an enabler. @PLAY Akron, Love’s project, was one of the winning proposals in the 2017 John S. and James L. Knight Cities Challenge.
Although Love himself was raised internationally (he attended the International School of Brussels in Belgium while his father worked for a global marketing and communications company), his roots are in Northeast Ohio.
Love was a “die-hard” Indians fan growing up. Part of the reason was that Love’s grandparents lived in North Olmsted. When he and his family returned to the States to visit, they’d come to Cleveland and go see the Indians play in Jacobs Field. It’s a connection he has felt strongly throughout childhood and into the present.
Love began making art when he was a child, in part because he didn’t have access to TV.
“I learned to draw as a form of self-entertainment,” says Love.
To pass the time, he enjoyed making collages of figures from baseball cards and of superheroes. As a teen, Love went on to intern at Marvel Entertainment Inc., learning layout, graphics, and comic narrative. He later earned his B.A. in fine art from Skidmore College in 2001 and his Master of Fine Art from the University of Edinburgh in 2005.
Later, in 2010, while working at a brand agency in NYC, Love met his wife-to-be, Allyse Love. Allyse is from Akron. She attended Miller South and Firestone growing up. Both wanted to move back to the Akron/Cleveland area. In 2013, they did.
While working for a number of advertising companies in Cleveland, Love began a number of art projects. Enlisting coworkers and other Clevelanders, he’d create chalk art under freeway bridges and on the sides of buildings. Love loved making works that captured a community’s identity and that brought vibrant self-expression to an otherwise derelict location. He enjoyed it so much he started working part-time at the ad agency and started investing more time in his new art company, ART x LOVE.
As the “Chief Catalyst” for ART x LOVE, Love has been hired for a number of commissions and public art projects. He created the Believeland chalk mural at West 9th and Main Street in Cleveland, the Kaleidoscope Garden holographic mural on 5th Street Arcades and the Lose Your Marble game in downtown Akron. That last one had Akronites pushing 10-foot-wide “marbles” across the city.
Love has done a lot.
He intends to bring that creative energy to the @PLAY Akron project. From new murals to redesigned parks, colorful benches, and a musical journey showcasing local artists, Love has lots of ideas and an equal amount of enthusiasm for his new Akron project.
Too often public art projects have good intentions but leave the community out of the equation. Love doesn’t want that to happen with @PLAY. He wants his project to be as community involved as possible.
“We’re going to use our our artistic skills to give the community what they want,” says Love. “We want to let the residents be a part of the process.”
To start the project, ART x LOVE will host a kick-off event, “Amplify Akron,” on Saturday, September 2 at 910 East Market Street. Akronites of all kinds are invited to come and contribute to the five, eight-foot-tall mural walls which will be installed in the Middlebury neighborhood.
@PLAY Collaborative Murals and Brunch Event-FREE
8am to 5pm, September 2nd
910 E Market St
So come on out. Grab a brush. Meet this artist who believes in the ability of art to solve very real issues. He cares about Akron. And he believes in our ability (that’s you, dear reader) to do beautiful, awe-inspiring things.
(cover photo courtesy of Chris Horne)
Claude Christensen runs. A lot. It ties his mind to his body, bringing a clarity to his life he can’t do without. Plus, spooking hikers (and sometimes bikers) from behind never gets old.