Kent Walking Tour highlights public art downtown

The Mill District mural by Emily Anne Buckingham and Joshua Bentley located at 300 N. Water St.

Brynne Mann Reporter

The sky was full of dark gray clouds and raindrops sprinkled the sidewalk outside. Despite the weather, a young blonde woman stood between two buildings staring at a landscape painting of the same area. 

The painting has a deep blue sky with wispy white clouds, lush greenery and sunlit buildings depict a brighter day in downtown Kent, one that will remain for people to enjoy even when the seasons change and weather doesn’t match. 

“It is elegant. It brings me a sense of relaxation and peace when I look at it,” Layla Lauck, a 20-year old from Atwater, said about the Mill District mural on N. Water Street. “Even on a dark and dreary day like today, this mural will always make me feel like it is sunny.”

The Mill District mural took two years to complete with approval from the architecture review board and the city of Kent. The mural was completed Oct. 2020 by the designer, Emily Anne Buckingham, and the people who helped paint it. 

“Emily’s design got into the details of the Mill District,” said Jeff Ingram, Standing Rock Cultural Arts executive director. “We want the Mill District to be art-friendly. We want there to be coffee houses, art galleries and performance and public art spots.” 

This piece of art is one of many on the Kent Walking Tour. The tour takes people to view public art around downtown Kent either in-person or virtually on the website

Main Street Kent created the walking tour. There are 13 stops that begin at the Haymaker Farmers’ Market mural on Franklin Avenue. The tour includes murals, sculptures and poetry stanzas. 

The map includes stops that can be selected to bring up directions to guide you from one place to another. Each stop shows a short description of what the art piece is and the people involved in its making. 

Josie Myers, a master’s student in geography and the graduate assistant for Map It!, designed the online map. This program at Kent State helps community members make maps through the collaboration of the libraries and the Department of Geography. 

“Main Street Kent reached out to the Map It! program to create this map,” Myers said. “We wanted to group the pieces in a logical order that used crosswalks and sidewalks to allow people to get around safely.”

The public art featured in the tour has been implemented over the past two decades by the Wick Poetry Center, Standing Rock Cultural Arts and Troppus Projects. 

The Wick Poetry Center has been involved with two projects featured in the tour: the travelling stanzas and the Mapping May 4 poetry banners. Pieces of each project are scattered across the city. 

The city of Kent helped fund the first set of boxes in the travelling stanzas project. The project wraps utility boxes in the city with graphic designs and poems from community members to produce art. 

The boxes are transformed from plain metal boxes to eye-catching butterflies and trees with poems created by people representing the diverse community of Kent. 

“The traveling stanzas program has been aiming to help community members find a voice in response to workshops often led by Kent State students,” said David Hassler, Wick’s director. “We liked this idea of the poems in our community giving voice to our own identity.”

The program offers creative writing classes to seniors, hospitals, veterans, refugees and schools. The poems are also used to inspire Kent State visual communication design students to design the graphics for the utility boxes. 

The travelling stanzas are all over the city of Kent, not just downtown. An online map shows the locations of all the stanzas. On the website, people can also listen to the author read their poem. 

The Mapping May 4 project was made in honor of the 50th anniversary of the shooting at Kent State to teach people about what happened years ago. 

The center organized the Global Peace Poem to commemorate the shootings on the poetry banners. The poem consists of lines and stanzas that focus on peace, conflict transformation and advocacy. 

“We launched an interactive global community calm project leading up to May 4 and got over 1,000 responses from around the world, not just the United States,” Hassler said. 

Standing Rock Cultural Arts has sponsored two murals on the tour, the Love mural and the Mill District mural. 

“Our main goal coincides with our mission,” Ingram said. “Our mission is to build community through the arts and provide arts access for all.” 

Baby pink, deep red, teal blue and bright yellow work together to tell a peaceful, loving story that sticks out against the dull gray wall it is painted on. A colorful piece connecting animals, nature and humans in a deeper way than most people dare to think.

“This mural is a story, a refuge, a sanctuary, a house for the mind to enter. Call it a door. Step through it. What will you find? What will find you?” wrote Maj Ragain, a former Kent State professor who died in 2018, in a poem displayed next to the piece. 

The Love mural was designed in 2005 by Edwin George, an Eastern Band Cherokee Native American. George worked as a janitor at Kent State for 20 years before retiring and starting to teach himself folk art, Ingram said. 

“I met him, and we started talking about doing a mural,” he said. “I looked at all his pieces and I said this piece would be great here. We need more love in the world.”

The Love mural is on the side of Scribbles Coffee Co., and another mural is planned to go on the other side of the building, Ingram said. 

Bright teal and gray contrast each other in the form of modern flowers to bring life to the parking lot located on Columbus Street. The GROW mural is the newest mural featured in the walking tour and was created by Kelly Dietrick, owner of Troppus Projects. 

The GROW mural is a multi-phase project that was started a year ago on the back of the Hall-Green Agency building, Dietrick wrote in an email. It is still a work-in-progress and Dietrick hopes to involve the community in its completion by offering kits people can use to design flowers to submit for consideration. 

“People can swing by Troppus Projects anytime to grab a kit,” Dietrick wrote. “The idea is that by using the decals, we can have a unified visual language. That [way], even though it might be a lot of different people contributing, there will be a sense of unity.”

The walking tour does not include every art piece downtown. There are more pieces of public art to explore in the area, such as the other travelling stanzas located on Summit Street and other murals that have been painted by local artists.

“Community art projects have grown out of the fertile soil of creativity in Kent through writers, poets, musicians, dancers and painters,” Hassler said. “I think our public art installations are a manifestation of the spirit in our community.”

Brynne Mann covers the City of Kent. Contact her at [email protected].