CUYAHOGA FALLS — The city is starting the new year with an eye toward installing public art in downtown, near the river and on buildings. 

City Council recently approved a public art master plan that was developed by consultant Todd Bressi, who worked with an advisory committee consisting of city and community leaders.

Bressi, who is also an urban designer, educator and a writer, said he was "grateful" to work with city leaders on crafting the plan. He was paid $50,000 through a Community Development Block Grant to create the master plan.

Bressi explained he hosted public outreach events during the past year to gather opinions and conducted an online survey — which received about 250 responses — to learn why people are interested in having displays of public art.

"There’s a sense of wanting to welcome people here and create a good impression for people who come to visit," said Bressi. "A sense of wanting to improve the appearance of public spaces … [and] create memorable, recognizable landmarks."

Bressi honed in on what he considered the best opportunities for the display of public art in the city:

• continue building on the investments made along Front Street and the downtown riverfront area;

• find "new and exciting ways for people to connect to the river"; and

• figure out ways that a new shopping area, office building or park can be built "more beautifully."

Bressi said he thinks the downtown parking decks offer a "great opportunity for some kind of art project," and so do the points of entry to the Cuyahoga River. He suggested painting on the sidewalks that lead to the water way and putting up sculptures near the river. Other ideas offered by Bressi included painting murals on Front Street buildings, implementing streetscape enhancements, and decorating utility boxes.

Implementing these concepts, Bressi said, would "change the character of what it’s like to walk around the city."

Bressi added that having a master plan helps ensure the art work displayed is "aligned" with "the city’s vision," its investments and future priorities. He observed the city has a "grassroots" arts community that is currently leading civic efforts and a "growing creative community that’s organized around design, food and the visual arts." He said the city has installed urban design components that is focused on public space. With park space and a revitalized downtown providing good opportunities for public art, Bressi said now is a "great time" for the city to "build on" its assets.

Bressi recommends creating a public art board that would make sure the master plan is being followed, and decisions are being made in an open manner. The board would create an annual plan outlining projects that would be done in a given year.

The master plan offers some potential sources of funding that Bressi said the city should examine so that it can create a revenue stream for public art. The plan outlines a process for developing projects, accepting donations of public art and following a set of best practices.

Bressi also encouraged the city to collaborate on projects with businesses, the schools and organizations such as Downtown Cuyahoga Falls Partnership, Cuyahoga Valley Art Center, Arts Now! and Collide.

In the long-term, Bressi said the city should put together an inventory, conservation and maintenance plan. This would involve doing an inventory of all the art work in the city, assessing the condition of each piece and determining what needs to be done to maintain its condition.

Council members praised Bressi for the plan he crafted. 

"The city has a tremendous amount of spirit," said Council member Mike Brillhart (D-5). He noted he felt the master plan is recommending steps to take that will "add a tremendous amount of character" to the city.

"I’m excited for us to start on this path," added Council member Tim Gorbach (D-At Large).

Community Development Director Diana Colavecchio said officials worked for nearly a year to put together the plan. An advisory committee with city and community leaders "worked many hours" in meetings and public forums to gather ideas. She added city officials are willing to listen to more ideas.

The public art master plan can be viewed at www.cityofcf.com/news/cuyahoga-falls-public-art-master-plan.

What’s next

Both the planning commission and council will need to adopt changes to the development code to allow for the display of public art, according to city spokesperson Kelli Crawford-Smith. She noted regulations must be created for a public art board and added the current advisory committee will continue to operate until an art board can be set up.

"Other proposed changes will be minor such as defining a sign vs. a mural and putting public art in mixed-use areas for promotion of public art," stated Crawford-Smith.

Crawford-Smith added the city is in the early stages of rolling out small projects "such as wraps for utility boxes and public art in our downtown parking decks."

Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421, pkeren@recordpub.com, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.