The public is invited to help turn a drab plaza in downtown Akron into a vibrant public space — all in a matter of days.

The concrete surface of the plaza of Akron’s School for STEM Learning will be painted — beginning Wednesday — so that it is covered with irregular blocks of color.

“It’ll be like a giant paint-by-numbers,” said Sharon Gillberg, spokeswoman for the nonprofit Downtown Akron Partnership, explaining that the outline of the shapes were painted Tuesday.

Beginning Wednesday, volunteers will fill in the shapes, using various colors of paints. Volunteers can sign up online to paint the plaza, at University Avenue and Broadway, with time slots available Wednesday through Saturday. See the accompanying box for more information.

Then, large three-dimensional triangular blocks will be erected on the plaza, boasting the phrase "If you don't look back; the future never happens." It is part of a poem called "Dawn Revisited" by Akron native Rita Dove.

This latest downtown Akron public art project is the work of a Spanish arts collective called Boa Mistura, which means "good mixture" in Portuguese.

The group, which began as teenage graffiti artists who tagged walls in their Madrid neighborhood, has painted giant murals in South Africa, the United Kingdom, Brazil and China, among other countries. The Akron project is one of few Boa Mistura has done in the United States.

Downtown Akron Partnership — which works to promote downtown — involved students from the STEM school, with Boa Mistura members conducting workshops for students at the school last fall.

After all, it’s their school's plaza. Also, the project commemorates the 10th anniversary of the school, a middle school that is part of the Akron Public Schools. The official name of the school is the National Inventors Hall of Fame School for STEM Learning.

The idea was for the students to learn about the artists and their craft, while the artists got ideas from the students about how to transform the plaza.

"I'm really excited to see how it all turns out," said seventh-grader Elli Rambler, 13, of Canton, who will help paint the mural with fellow students.

Elli said she liked working with the artists to come up with ideas. "We got to have a lot of choice in what we did," she said.

Last fall, Boa Mistura artists also were in town to install the big “Never Turn Back” signs on the High Street parking garage downtown. Rita Dove’s work came up frequently as the artists found out about inspirational voices of Akron, Gillberg said.

So what does the mural mean? The shapes to be painted on the surface are meant to mimic scars left in rubber trees by those harvesting rubber on plantations, paying homage to Akron’s rubber manufacturing industry, Gillberg said.

The installation is called the “Roots of Rubber.”

A panel that will be included in the installation says: “Through patterns, the work creatively tells the story of Akron’s intimate link to the use of these raw materials, reminding us of the roots of the manufacturing process that is now part of the inseparable history of our city.”

A portion of a $1.5 million grant from the Knight Foundation is paying for the project. The grant also paid for the “Never Turn Back” signs, as well as a host of other projects, including the Northside Green, a mural featuring flowers painted on pavement between parking spaces in the city's Northside district and signs directing people to downtown businesses during ongoing construction.

 

Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or kbyard@thebeaconjournal.com.