Public art effort in Cuyahoga Falls starts to take shape

COVID-19 pandemic slows down plans; projects eyed for spring of 2021

Phil Keren
Kent Weeklies

CUYAHOGA FALLS — The COVID-19 pandemic has delayed the city's public art initiative, and officials are now hoping to move forward with projects in the spring of 2021.

City Council in December 2019 approved a public art master plan, which laid out a vision for installing public art throughout the city.

The city used a $50,000 Community Development Block Grant to pay consultant Todd Bressi to develop the plan.

"The goal with the master plan is to positively impact our city with public art by providing public access to artwork while bringing awareness to the immense talent that exists within our local arts community,” said Mayor Don Walters. “We are proud that this is a collaborative effort led by our community development team and Planning Director Fred Guerra in conjunction with local non-profit entities like Collide: Cuyahoga Falls, and many community leaders and partners."

Although major undertakings are not happening this year, some important procedural steps have occurred or will take place soon.

Council in July approved the creation of a public art board. 

"They will be making decisions on how public art is placed in the city," said Guerra.

Community Development Director Diana Colavecchio said the board will be busy when they start their work, but added she believes they will be "up to the challenge."

City spokesperson Kelli Crawford-Smith said Walters' goal is to provide a list of proposed board members to council on Sept. 21.

The planning commission in May and council in July approved text amendments to the city's development code that will help facilitate the installation of public art. Crawford-Smith said some of the revisions were regulations for murals, as well as allowances for public art in both new developments and public rights of way. Definitions for art work, artist, public art and mural were also implemented into the development code.

Guerra said other code changes backed by council included allowing public art to be installed on the medians of streets such as Broad Boulevard, and allowing art to be incorporated into fencing.

Colavecchio said she liked the parts of the plan that "incentivize" developers to "incorporate art into the new developments that are happening in our city."

When they approved creating the art board and making the changes to the  development code, council members voiced their support for the public art initiative.

Councilman Jerry James (D-7) said he was "very anxious" for the program to begin and see "what's going to be coming down the pike here."

"I think public art has a lot of positive benefits for a community," said Councilman Russ Balthis (D-At Large). "I think this is very exciting. Living in the downtown I see all the beautification that we're doing with flowers. I think that public art is going to be a great addition."

Examples of public art in city

Crawford-Smith said there is art on display in some public spaces now. She said the city partners with Western Reserve Hospital and Collide: Cuyahoga Falls to showcase works of art inside city hall. 

Crawford-Smith gave the Falls News-Press a tour of some of these examples of public art and discussed a painting that takes the shape of puzzle pieces. She also highlighted a painting depicting the Cuyahoga River in 1969 that was created by eighth grade students at Bolich Middle School who are enrolled in an Explorations in Art program.

Other examples of public art noted by Crawford-Smith are a metal sculpture of a blue heron that can be found near the Peninsula Shelter at Water Works Park and chalk art that can be found on the side of the Metropolis Popcorn building at Front Street and Portage Trail. The Downtown Cuyahoga Falls Partnership is handling chalk art projects, according to Crawford-Smith.

Looking ahead

Crawford-Smith added the Downtown Partnership "is planning to do some wraps on downtown planters. The project is going to the Downtown Historic Review Board [for its review] in October."

The city has applied for a National Endowment for the Arts grant that "includes the creation of a major piece of art and placemaking activities," said Crawford-Smith, who added officials should know in late spring if they are receiving the money.

"It's incredibly competitive," said Crawford-Smith.

She added the city will continue to look for more art-related collaborations, but said nothing is in the works at the moment.

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