What happens when talented teenagers are teamed with design professionals and asked to interpret “green” concepts in billboard-like format? Plenty happens, as can be seen in The Outdoor Museum, or TOM, in Eden Park now through May 31, in Theodore M. Berry International Friendship Park June 13–July 26 and Mt. Airy Forest Aug. 15–Sept. 27.
TOM is a project of ArtWorks, the nonprofit arts organization that creates opportunities for artists of all ages and produces public art throughout the city. This manifestation of TOM began last summer when ArtWorks employed 12 teenage “apprentice artists” and three professional artists to work with representatives from 12 local design firms, each of whom donated approximately 10 hours to serve as professional mentors.
The Art Academy provided a studio where students came each weekday for six weeks to develop their designs, meeting periodically with their design firm mentors. Colleen Houston, ArtWorks director of programs, says, “They were challenged to learn not only about graphic design but to explore the theme’s multi-faceted meanings in a world where everyone (and everything) is going green.”
Each student contributed a minimum of three designs toward a pool of proposals, which in the end numbered almost 100. A jury of art museum and gallery professionals selected 30 for completion. These images, transferred to 16-by-11-foot plasticized canvas and mounted on metal poles, are displayed in groups of three around Eden Park’s Mirror Lake.
The “green” theme is expressed in the imagery of all the works. Nineteen-year-old Hillary Cutter, a University of Dayton student, links the familiar Genus of the Waters figure from the Tyler- Davidson Fountain to a cascade of flower blooms for “Fountain of Change.” Keloni Parks, 18, of Cincinnati’s School for Creative and Performing Arts, shows a pair of birds and a pair of squirrels, each on a sagging telephone wire, against a city skyline in “Balancing Act.” Ashley Wilson, 18, of Finneytown, depicts the familiar “Yield” sign against a background of grass and trees for “Yield to the Environment.” And Tony Mannira’s “Rain Barrel” contrasts the straight lines of a house with nature’s swirling growth, a key element of the composition being a rain barrel set to catch the roof’s spill-off.
Kip Eagen, curator for The Outdoor Museum, says: “Some are pragmatic, some thoughtful, hopeful, whimsical. But all have passion. We’re at an interconnecting point in our world, at our time.”
Eagen says that from an early visit he made to the installation it was evident the participants were moved by the project.
“I was really pleased to see people go from work to work, talking about the individual pieces,” he says. “It was as though they actually were in a museum.”
Eagen, an independent curator, found the entire process invigorating to all involved.
“The group symposiums were fascinating experiences,” he says. “It was exciting to see the students and professionals working together, their give-and-take dynamic, the bouncing and refining of ideas.”
Eagen liked the challenge of the “green” theme.
“It resonates with the kids and with the world,” he says. “It’s a way a person chooses to live life in a sometimes-wasteful world. We all know the word ‘green,’ but we asked how it could be expressed with meaning, resonance and power, so it becomes much more than a buzzword or slogan.”
Others involved, both students and professionals, agreed with that assessment.
“I loved it,” says Kat Swenski, 17, of Sycamore Township. Swenski, now a senior at Princeton High School, will go on to Ohio State University in the fall. “I learned so many new things, made so many friends, learned about ‘green’ and what that means, and explored downtown. I looked forward to coming down there every day.”
One of Swenski’s designs, “Hulk,” plays off comic-book style to get its message across.
“It was an incredibly hands-on experience,” says Tyler Dunbar, 16, a 10th-grader at Little Miami High School. “I learned the ins and outs of design. The entire project showed great ways for creating. I’ll probably incorporate design into my future in some way.”
The green background of Dunbar’s “Eartheart” sets off word play, combining “earth” and “heart” and drawing attention to the word “art” in each of them.
Scot Ross, an architect with Jack Rouse Associates, says, “I was impressed with how engaged everyone was — students and others — and how smoothly things went. Part of the fun is finding the students’ talents, and I was really surprised by the wit and playfulness the students brought to the project. After a meeting they would work individually, and when we reconvened I was struck by how thoughtful they were on their own. I think it was an exceptional group.”
Coming up next for ArtWorks
Ludlow Art Carpets, in partnership with the Ludlow Redevelopment Committee. Art Carpets will be works of art, each 5-by-15 feet in dimension, embedded into the sidewalk along Ludlow Avenue between Clifton and Middleton avenues.
Cincinnati metro area artists of all sorts are invited to submit proposals for art that evokes “the eclectic nature, rich history and evolving identity of Clifton,” says ArtWorks Director of Programs Colleen Houston. “Art Carpets isn’t limited to visual artists. For instance, a poem could be inscribed in the concrete.”
Deadline for submissions is 5 p.m. May 22. A selection from these proposals will be on view at the Clifton Cultural Arts Center, in the former Clifton School, McAlpin and Clifton avenues, in June. For more information, see www.ArtWorksCincinati.org/artcarpets/index.shtml.
THE OUTDOOR MUSEUM will be on view at various locations around town through Sept. 27. For details, go to www.artworkscincinnati.org. Buy tickets, check out performance times and find nearby bars and restaurants here.