Public arts collaboration enters first stage of planning


Rachael Le Goubin

The quirky knitted bike rack is a well known piece of art in downtown Kent. Plans are in effect to expand a public art collaboration between the city of Kent and the university to add additional public art to the community. Photo by Rachael Le Goubin.

Kelli Fitzpatrick

Planning is in full swing for a public arts collaboration between the city of Kent and Kent State. The project is currently in the hands of Cleveland-based LAND Studio, which plans and designs public spaces through art, landscaping and buildings. Its clients include the city of Cleveland and Cleveland Museum of Art.

LAND Studio is working to create a “road map” for the public arts plan by November. LAND Studio’s report will include ideas for fundraising sources, policies for implementing the program and specific areas in Kent that could serve as public art spaces.

“Kent and Kent State have a special place in Northeast Ohio,” LAND Studio project director Tiffany Graham said. “And having more public art and art in general will enhance the quality of life and sense of place and vibrancy.”

Art in the City

Kent City Manager Dave Ruller said he hopes to see the art program enhance the already blossoming town by attracting more residents, students and business owners.

“As more people visit or make the choice to live and work here, they … help drive the local economy,” Ruller said. “We felt early on that, as great as the bricks and mortar are downtown, the thing that is going to separate us is some of the cultural amenities, including the arts.”

Ruller pointed to current pieces “that you sort of bump into unexpectedly” as the type of art he hopes to see come from the plan.

“Odd gargoyles, random acts of art, knitting around bike racks — it can be a grassroots-level effort,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be high-brow; it can be something that is engaging and surprising in its location.”

Graham said her firm’s recommendations will include one or two “signature, iconic” art elements as well as a range of temporary pieces.

“We’re looking at things that could be smaller, maybe shorter-term pieces that will just make people feel the creative energy in Kent,” Graham said.

Tom Euclid, associate vice president of Facilities Planning and Operations at Kent State, said the university will focus on extending current on-campus artwork.

“The plan is not only to enhance and add art but to promote and find ways to celebrate our art,” Euclid said. “We installed art along the Esplanade with the intent that the art walk would extend all the way into the city.”

Budgeting the Project

Kent is using funds from its annual professional services budget, which is used to hire engineers and planners for public projects. Ruller said the city allocated $18,000 from operations and maintenance expenses to pay its half of the LAND Studio contract.

Euclid said the university uses funds from the Ohio Art Council’s Percent for Art Program, which allocates resources for art for public buildings with appropriations of more than $4 million.

As the public arts plan is in an early stage, no party involved has a projected budget yet, but they do have ideas about how to fund the project.

“The implementation is going to lean heavily on local arts programs and grants,” Ruller said of the city’s contribution. “Those stand a better chance of success if they’re a part of a bigger plan.”

Graham said the studio aims to offer a range of projected costs.

“We’re not going to come in with a multimillion-dollar plan,” Graham said. “(We hope to) build off the energy of Kent, rather than do something completely different.”

Research and Planning

LAND Studio began its research in May, including site visits and interviews with Kent residents and business owners. At a Sept. 16 stakeholder meeting, project managers spoke with 15 community members about public art ideas in Kent. Phone interviews will continue with more business owners, local program leaders and students.

“We’re careful to guide a process that is tailored to the community,” Graham said.

Once the city and university have LAND Studio’s master plan in November, Ruller said he has no specific deadline for the project.

“I don’t think we’re trying to meet any particular schedule,” Ruller said. “The timing is good now because a lot of the construction is wrapping up, and that creates the opportunities to fill in the gaps. I think public art can do that really well.”

Kelli Fitzpatrick is a city reporter for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at[email protected].