Release Date: May 14,2019
International artists’ installation celebrates NIHF STEM Center for STEM Learning and value of public space
This May, the Roots of Rubber installation by Spanish arts collective Boa Mistura will beautify the plaza of the National Inventors Hall of Fame School for STEM Learning. The installation combines a large-scale painting on the surface of the plaza with a series of three-dimensional forms featuring an inspirational excerpt of poetry by Akron native, Rita Dove.
Downtown Akron Partnership (DAP) is teaming up with Akron Public Schools, STEM learners, the city of Akron and the public to enliven this public space with art featuring Rita Dove’s poetry with support from the John S. and James L Knight Foundation. Dove is United States Poet Laureate, Pulitzer Prize winner for poetry, and the only poet with both the National Humanities Medal and the National Medal of Arts to her credit.
University Avenue presents a unique opportunity to connect The University of Akron to the heart of downtown. Inspired by a series of recommendations from a Gehl Studio study funded by Knight Foundation, DAP is working with partners along the corridor to improve public spaces with light, art and activity. Identified as a key location along “The Link,” and with a 10-year anniversary to celebrate, the STEM school plaza is a perfect fit.
“Great public spaces have the power to transform and connect communities. Shaped by local-talent, this project will create a new meeting place for Akron residents where they can come together, reflect and enjoy a space that is uniquely Akron,” said Kyle Kutuchief, Knight Foundation program director for Akron.
The NIHF STEM plaza calls for a grand scale installation, one that changes the dynamic of space and invites pedestrians to walk around. This project brings activity and beauty to the edge of the sidewalk and creates a smaller and more comfortable experience.
Boa Mistura was selected based on the team’s expertise with large scale, dynamic installations, the level of community engagement involved, and a unique anamorphosis technique that incorporates science and math principles into the work. Anamorphosis is an optical deformation of perspective that forces the viewer to visualize the work from a predetermined point of view. In this way, all other views of the plaza will offer a distorted image of the poem and invite the user to playfully interact with the art piece in order to get the correct position.
“This project with Downtown Akron Partnership and Boa Mistura provided an authentic learning experience for our learners,” said Amanda Morgan, STEM school instructional leader. “It allowed them to take a problem from ideation to prototyping and now to implementation. These are the kinds of experiences that they remember for a lifetime. We are very excited to be part of the connection from The University of Akron to downtown Akron in such a meaningful way.”
The project also commemorates the 2019 celebration of the NIHF STEM Middle School’s 10-year anniversary. Last fall, artists from Boa Mistura held workshops with STEM learners, students from The University of Akron, and the community to share the team’s craft while learning about Akron and what inspires the city.
“Working with Boa Mistura in the classroom was truly awesome,” said Emily Butler, art learning coach. “To have such accomplished, dedicated and engaging artists working directly with learners on a project that will enrich their learning environment and community is huge. Having first-hand experience developing ideas for and working on a community project that ties into the global arts community and the work these artists create is something these learners will remember for a long time.”
Students were appreciative of the process as well.
“I had lots of fun working on this project, specifically because it allowed the other students and me to put our own unique ideas into a piece of art that would later be brought to life,” said seventh grade learner Elli Rambler.
“It was also extremely enjoyable because it involved us kids in a way that let us not be overparented, and let us express ourselves in a professional, yet exciting form,” STEM learner Dove Jackson continued. “It could make the city a bit more exciting and eye-catching. The bright colors would draw people in and the idea of words hidden from a certain angle would spark some interest in people walking by. I personally believe that this is an amazing idea.”
Pablo Ferreiro Mederos of Boa Mistura assisted in the fall workshops as well as the installation of Never Turn Back on the High St. parking garage during the 2018 High Arts Festival. During the workshops, the Boa Mistura team asked for significant voices of influence and inspiration to Akron.
“The work of Rita Dove was mentioned time and time again,” Mederos said. “We are so fortunate to have her permission to integrate her work. This project speaks with beautiful verses of the spirit of the city of Akron as a place with history. For us, these words try to empower the population and encourage the feeling of belonging.”
For the design, two different excerpts from Rita Dove’s poetry were voted on by STEM learners. The winning choice phrase from Dove’s Dawn Revisited, “If you don’t look back;The future never happens.”
The public may also participate in the painting of the mural by volunteering through DAP’s Urban Corps program. Details on the program and list of volunteer days is found at downtownakron.com/urbancorps.
The culmination of the project will be a community celebration of the Decade of STEM on May 24 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. The event is free to the public and features music, dancing, entertainment, food and tours of the STEM school. Register at https://stemplazaparty.eventbrite.com.
The project marks the fourth significant space-lift project for the DAP/Knight Foundation partnership with the goal to improve the quality of public spaces in downtown. This installation follows other creative collaborations with local artists: Northside Green with April Couch and Mac Love; North High Street with Dominic Falcione and the Art Bomb Brigade, and Lock Next with John Comunale.