Kent, Ohio is an historical town located on the Cuyahoga River twenty minutes east of Akron. In recent years, the city has been expanding its restaurant scene, community events, public arts, and connection to the university, making it an exciting place to live and work.
In 2015, we moved our studio to downtown Kent, and ever since we have come to love the city, its diverse range of people, and the arts and business culture which thrives here. After working alongside the Wick Poetry Center and Main Street Kent to bring poetry and artwork to utility boxes around the city of Kent, we began collaborating closely with the City of Kent on various arts projects.
As we began, we wanted to better understand stakeholders and processes already in place—like city council, the architecture review board, and Main Street Kent—and to find ways bring a fresh approach to creating and promoting public arts in the city. We conducted an initial research and understanding phase which included:
We began by reviewing the Kent Public Arts Master Plan created by LAND Studio in 2014 to better understand the larger goals and context of the arts both in the city and on the university. We compiled a set of key takeaways.
We invited stakeholders from the City of Kent to participate in a creative brainstorming workshop to plot out the current processes in place for bringing public art into the city. The workshop revealed an overview of a current stakeholders involved in implementing public artworks in the city.
After forming a list of potential projects and descriptions in collaboration with city stakeholders, projects were selected to begin building on the Kent Public Arts Master Plan.
After our initial research, we wanted to help bring each selected project to fruition, as well as continue to partner with the City and Main Street Kent to promote the arts and get the community involved.
Throughout the consultation process, we found that public art in Kent should be focused on creative placemaking—where arts programming and community collaboration come together to form meaningful public spaces. In many ways, much of the art in Kent was meaningful, but often patchwork by nature. We formed three key tenets to always look back on:
Kent has a rich history, as well as a vibrant growing community that can be used as a driving force behind public art pieces. Programming and arts series can be formed around telling these stories throughout the city.
Kent has a deeply involved community that cares about being collaborative. Additionally, many assets already existed to be catalyzed: art galleries, artists, university students and faculty, and community members.
A primary goal for Kent was to be focused on creating a rich environment throughout the various districts it has—both downtown and in surrounding neighborhoods. Public art needn’t simply be murals, but should take on many forms through public infrastructure such as benches, signage, crosswalks, or facades.
This background understanding helped us to form a set of arts projects with which to engage the community, and to become more ingrained in bringing public arts to fruition.