words and Photos By Courtney Malita
The idea began when Dara Harper, Emmanuel’s art director, asked the city if anything was being done in the triangular, vacant space across the street. When Dara got the answer back — no, there were no plans for the space — she and the school came up with the idea to create a space for public art to be displayed.
Emmanuel Christian Academy is a private Christian school for grades K-8 located at the Five Points intersection on South Portage Path.
To create the Art Garden, the school was awarded the Neighborhood Community Partnership Grant from the City of Akron and the Akron Community Foundation. With this grant, they plan to partner with Portage Path Elementary School and the I Promise School to create a year-round Art Garden connecting Portage Path, Work Drive and Exchange Street.
Dara and Emmanuel’s Chief School Administrator V. Rena Suber hope the Art Garden will allow people in Akron to appreciate, understand and talk about art.
Dara has always said that “art is her life.” Both her parents are artists. Dara has been winning awards for her art since she was five. When she went onto high school at Firestone, she took art classes there along with private lessons. She got a degree in studio art and a master’s degree in teaching at the University of Akron. She worked for the City of Akron as an art specialist and painted murals. For one of the murals, the community came together to create a triptych on canvas dedicated to to the victims of the 9/11 attacks, which was featured at the Akron Art Museum. Dara now paints professionally and sells art along with her mother under their business, Art Only Boutique.
“The art garden, to me, is an extension of what is already in my heart and there is nothing I have to make up or force, it’s already there and it just needs to come out to be shared to show people we can come together,” Dara says.
She believes this project will not only benefit the city greatly by bringing us together as a community, but also help her students and other children by promoting different hands-on skills that will be beneficial for their future.
The Five Points Art Garden plans to feature acrylic painted pillars to represent each of the three participating schools. Dara hopes to put a bench in the garden so people can sit while they wait for the bus. The garden will also feature rotating exhibits by students from the three schools and local artists in Akron.
The project includes students between 3rd grade and 8th grade.
When Emmanuel Christian Academy received a “yes” to move forward with this project, Dara was teaching a makerspace-themed class for her middle school students. She asked them to come up with some ideas about what they might want to see in the space. More than 100 students sketched plans for the garden.
Dara said the only challenge that they might face is when they have to clear out the space, because it is overgrown with foliage, but she is positive that everything will come together.
Dara hopes that the project will be complete in April or May 2019 and plans to have a grand opening sometime in May. When the garden is finished, she hopes that she and other teachers can use the space for their lessons.
Courtney Malita is a senior at the University of Akron studying psychology and philosophy. She enjoys longboarding and skateboarding, art and photography.