EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first in a four-part Solutions Journalism series on public art and its impact on a community.
Driving south on Ohio 13 one will pass through the little burg of Utica, which features a striking mural on a brick building. It's the most fascinating landmark in town, and makes me nearly stop every time to admire it.
Those cruising west on U.S. 30 can make a short detour through Bucyrus and check out the imposing murals there. In 1998, when originally conceived, they became a national story.
Locally, murals have been springing up at numerous locations in Mansfield, including some fascinating art at the Mansfield Richland County Public Library, on the side of Fork & Fingers Restaurant downtown, and various other spots. On Friday, local artist Allison Pence, representing Mansfield Murals Inc., finished a garden mural at the corner of Fifth and Mulberry.
But what if Mansfield went even further? What would that mean? What would that look like? What kind of impact could that make in the community?
In the Mansfield Rising Plan, No. 28 is the suggestion to "Commission local artists and engage the citizenry through interactive experiences."
"As communities redevelop themselves piece by piece, the art enhances the vibrancy and development of areas," said Jennifer Kime, of Downtown Mansfield Inc., "(Public art) is something we've been talking about over the past year or so."
In Marietta, Ohio, Sarah Arnold became the first chairman of that city's Public Arts Committee when it was formed in 2014. The entity was created under Marietta Mainstreet (that city's version of Downtown Mansfield Inc.), and receives funding from the Marietta Community Foundation. Arnold said creating the organization wasn't a difficult sell.
"Many of the donors of the foundation were really excited by that," she said. "Our community really loves public art."
Arnold dove into the research and found that public art decreases stress, increases safety, enhances connectivity and a sense of place by showing evidence of care.
Cristie Thomas, Executive Director at Main Street Marietta, recently presented at the Heritage Ohio Conference on Public Art, and its impact in Marietta. Among the intriguing statistics she cited:
-- 70 percent of Americans believe that the “arts improve the image and identity” of their community. (Americans Speak Out About the Arts, 2018).
-- Half of people with college degrees (49%) and a majority of Millenials (52%) and Generation Xers (54%) say they would strongly consider whether a community is rich in the arts when deciding where to locate for a job. (Americans Speak Out About the Arts, 2016).
-- Aesthetics is one of the top three characteristics of why residents attach themselves to a community. (Americans Speak Out About the Arts, 2018).
-- 70 percent of Americans say they experience the arts in a “non-arts” venue such as a park, hospital, shopping mall, or airport. (Americans Speak Out About the Arts, 2018).
-- 72 percent of Americans believe “the arts unify our communities regardless of age, race, and ethnicity." (Americans Speak Out About the Arts, 2018).
-- 69 percent of the population believe the arts “lift me up beyond everyday experiences." (Americans Speak Out About the Arts, 2018)
-- 73 percent of Americans agree that the arts “helps me understand other cultures better.” (Americans Speak Out About the Arts, 2018)
-- The Knight Foundation’s Soul of the Community initiative surveyed some 43,000 people in 43 cities and found that “social offerings, openness and welcome-ness,” and, importantly, the “aesthetics of a place – its art, parks, and green spaces,” ranked higher than education, safety, and the local economy as a “driver of attachment.”
The public art in Marietta includes vintage photographs of the community replicated on buildings, carved sculptures, a lock tree and Arnold's personal favorite, the Found Object Bench.
"I know its creators well and I had the opportunity to see them working on the bench throughout. I know the effort that went into its creation and the way they incorporated found objects that relate to its location in front of the theatre," Arnold said. "It's also an extremely comfortable bench - it was designed to be functional, not just looked at -- and it's designed to withstand the weather and last.
"It's not trying to look like a historic fixture, but it relates to the context of our community and that is what our hope is for all of our public art. It doesn't need to look like a ghost mural or be a historic photo. But it should feel like it belongs, and there are many ways to accomplish that."
The impression in Marietta spread across the Ohio River to sister city Parkersburg, West Virginia, which jumped into the artistic fray, too.
Kime said the idea of public art along with independent property owners working with independent artists is intriguing. She noted the historic photos Marietta uses for murals on public buildings as a way that community honors its history.
"I love what Marietta is doing," Kime said.
Maybe the most incredible public art display in the world was an immersive art festival in Paris featuring the works of Vincent Van Gogh.
Those that click on the link may see that spectacular show as a pie-in-the-sky project. But as any artist already knows, the first rule of imagination is there are no rules.