Convincing people to look up from their smartphones and get out to experience and appreciate what's actually in front of them is becoming an increasingly daunting task.
That task has been made more difficult, in part, by mobile game phenomena like Niantic's Pokemon Go, which, since it launched in 2016, has been downloaded more than 150 million times by gamers all around the globe.
On Saturday afternoon, the Akron/Summit Convention & Visitors Bureau hoped to entice at least some of those gamers to experience the public art covering walls and storefronts downtown and perhaps catch a shiny Squirtle or secure a coveted mythical Celebi.
The event, dubbed Good Art Hunting, is one of three planned here over the next few months and is being spearheaded by Roger Riddle, the visitors bureau's marketing and social media manager, in collaboration with the game's creator. It came about from a Niantic/Knight Fellowship designed to enhance community programs and is among similar events in cities like Philadelphia; Macon, Ga.; and Charlotte, N.C.
Halfway through Akron's event on Saturday, more than 50 people were wandering the streets looking for the digital monster and, planners hoped, absorbing the public art.
People turn out
Akronites Jennifer Homan and her 6-year-old daughter, Alaina Showden, were walking near the Akron Civic Theatre hoping to sneak up on a Shiny Pikachu but also enjoying the nondigital visuals.
"I actually like the art," Homan said. "We come down at least once a week and see the different paintings that are on the streets anyways. Gives her a bit of culture."
Homan has been playing traditional Pokemon for more than a decade and has spread her love of the game to her little one over the past year.
"I found a Pikachu!" Alaina said proudly.
While the mother and daughter team often walk downtown to check out the various art offerings, Homan does think the event will achieve its other goal.
"It does actually bring people out," Homan said. "I never see this many people down here just Pokemon-ing. It's not what you see a lot, so that's good. Gives them a little bit of a workout."
"The art's my thing. Most are just here for the Pokemon, but I like them both," she said.
Playing the game
As part of Akron's Good Art Hunting, players were sent on a scavenger hunt with a map featuring 10 different "PokeStops" located near publicly displayed artwork, including Curated Storefront, Art Bomb Brigade and others.
At each stop, players answered questions about the art through the game and returned their answers to the event's home base at Cascade Park for a chance to win prizes. Prizes included special Niantic Pokemon Go anniversary posters and gift certificates to local businesses.
Players were also encouraged to take selfies with the art to post on social media with the hashtag #GoodArtHunting.
At Main and West State streets, a group of players stared determinedly at their maps, their phones and the wall, trying to figure out exactly which piece of art in the Curated Storefont they were supposed to locate.
Melissa Longfellow of Ellet and her friends have participated in past downtown Pokemon events and said they came back because it was fun and also to build their collections. But one player, Cory Sunshower of Hudson, also found the street art to be utilitarian.
"I like art too. I like how the city is so screwed up in this area but then you have something nice to look at, actually. It is a nice contrast," Sunshower said.
Only one member of Longfellow's crew managed to catch a Pokemon (the mythical Celebi), but all were still dedicated to hitting all the stops despite being a bit confused by the layout.
Meanwhile, Pennie and Aaron Hockenberry, along with their niece Sabrina Davis and friend Robert Price, were trying to hit all the map's PokeStops on Main Street as Aaron chased the elusive Celebi. The Hockenberrys incorporated the event into their traditional Saturday date night.
"It's a Pokemon date," Aaron said, noting that Pennie and their daughter got him started on the game.
"I've probably been 'divorced' five times for catching things she didn't have yet, and how it was unfair because she's been playing longer and she should have them," Aaron Hockenberry said.
The group said they enjoyed the art and warm weather but were really hoping to get some new Pokemon for more ammunition to maximize their affectionate teasing.
At Cascade Park, Riddle said there will be two more Pokemon Go events in the coming months — one in the Kenmore neighborhood and the other on the Towpath Trail.
But on Saturday, Riddle was eager to see if the event would bring some new faces downtown and encourage them to look up from their phones for a few minutes to enjoy the creativity on display.
"I just hope that people get out and see the public art that's downtown," Riddle said. "People love to have art in the background on a selfie on Instagram. Well, we have art downtown that you could be using.
"Another thing is to show that even though there is a lot of construction downtown, you can still walk downtown," he said. "You can still walk from one end to the next and have a good time."
Malcolm X Abram can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-996-3758. Like him on Facebook at http://on.fb.me/1lNgxml, and follow him on Twitter @malcolmabramABJ.