By Susan Pappas
To a casual passerby, the vibrant colors on the steps at Lock 2 Park in downtown Akron might seem like superficial coats of paint designed to spruce up the weathered cement.
But the real story behind those colorful steps and the people who painted them runs deep.
In August, a group of 15 high school and college students gathered to paint the steps for a community arts project sponsored by Door #2, a Hudson-based collaborative studio with an altruistic mission.
Adriana Caso, a professional artist who studied in Florence, Italy and at the Cleveland Institute of Art, believes strongly in the power of art to heal, inspire and build bridges. It’s why she’s been director of Door #2 for 15 years.
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“Our mission is to use art to inspire beauty and hope in a world that is so divided by hate,” Caso says. “Everything is so polarized right now by one extreme or the other. We want to bring love through beauty, love and hope. We have seen so much hopelessness, even before COVID, but now it’s more magnified. Art can transcend boundaries that other things can’t.”
Caso says that the Lock 2 step-painting project brought a lot of joy to those who participated because it gave students a chance to gather outdoors safely and work together on something they could stand back, admire and be proud of.
“It was nice to make a connection over something that was fun to do and see the results right away,” Caso says. “We were very excited about the steps and it was so much fun to be together. We knew that the Downtown Akron Partnership needed someone to refresh steps. It was a COVID-friendly activity and we loved it because anyone could do it. Also, it was an opportunity to just love Akron and show them that love.”
Lock 2, which is adjacent to the Towpath Trail, was revamped in 2017 with lighting, tables and chairs as part of the Reimagining the Civic Commons project.
Using art for community outreach is one of the main focuses of Door #2. Caso credits her involvement with the City of Akron’s now-defunct Summer Arts Program a few years ago for inspiration, after helping high school students create murals at Lock 3, Luigi’s and in Akron City Hall.
“A lot of public art you see in Akron today was done through that program,” Caso says.
Door #2’s first public art project came in Summer 2019 at the Firestone Park Community Center, where colorful mural-like banners were painted to help residents find their way around the area.
Sara Hughes, studio assistant at Door #2, says the project drew students who lived in the area and could easily get to the painting site.
“We asked Firestone Park what they needed and they said people often needed help with directions since there are so many things all in one block, “ Hughes says. “So we made them some banner signs. The students painted three canvases and we tied it to the fence of the playground right outside of the community center. We called it Art in the Park.”
Door #2 planned on more outdoor community projects for summer 2020, but the pandemic postponed them until hopefully next summer. In spite of that, plans are still moving forward for two outdoor projects Caso says she hopes to complete before winter’s onset — a community paint day in October to create a mural outside of a church in Goodyear Heights; and a project called The Brushes.
“We are going to have a big painting of an Akron cityscape and everyone will paint themselves into the scene by painting their likeness on an old paintbrush. And the brushes will then be placed onto the painting. The idea is they are part of the city and part of the exchange.”
Caso also hopes to continue hosting open studios every Thursday from 4 to 8 pm, as the pandemic situation permits.
Inclusiveness and connection are common themes at Door #2, which is based in a renovated warehouse that is now a satellite building of Hudson’s Christ Community Chapel on Darrow Road. Funded solely by the church, the studio offers supplies and work space for all types of art, from sculpture to oil painting and photography. Though it initially began as a student outreach, Caso says anyone high school age or older is welcome to use the facility.
She’s quick to emphasize that though the studio is affiliated with a church, Door #2 ascribes to no other agenda than to bring people together to create art and forge connections.
“Most importantly, we want to bring hope where there isn’t any, love where there is hate and inspire where there is no inspiration,” Caso says. “Everybody has inestimable worth and dignity, and because of that, everybody deserves love and respect regardless of their status in this world.”
To get involved or find out more about Door#2, contact Caso at Adriana.firstname.lastname@example.org or follow them on Instagram @door2art or Facebook @door2art.