Overnight Thursday, a giant new sign popped up on construction fencing surrounding downtown Akron’s big dig.
“Someday you’ll tell your grandchildren about this. (We should be done by then).”
Another, in a perfect-pitch nod to the the philosophy of one of the city’s most famous rock bands, says: “Devo-lution is real.”
The signs, which are about 6-by-6 feet, look like vinyl album covers and use a font that’s strikingly similar to that used by another Akron band — The Black Keys — on its 2010 record “Brothers.”
Someone already swiped another sign referencing that band — “Main Street: More rock than the Black Keys” — from the downtown construction zone, which has made walking, driving or biking anywhere along Main Street challenging for months.
“I consider that an honor … that someone liked it enough to take it,” said David Giffels, who brainstormed ideas for the signs with Downtown Akron Partnership’s Suzie Graham.
Graham came up with the idea after attending a conference and seeing how Hartford, Conn., did something similar during its own construction nightmare.
She thought the signs could help Akronites laugh a bit through the pain of the construction overhaul aimed at transforming a decaying downtown into a place where thousands of people will not only want to work and play, but also to call home.
Hartford lets others reuse its sign campaign, Graham said, but it had some pop culture references that were dated — like “Getting diggy with it” — and it wasn’t Akron-centric. So Graham said she turned to Giffels for help.
Giffels, a fiercely proud Akron native, is a former Beacon Journal reporter, author and assistant professor at the University of Akron who teaches English. His wry humor has also landed him writing gigs for Beavis and Butt-Head.
“Everyone is complaining and angry about [the downtown construction]. It’s like Harvey Pekar,” Giffels said, referring to the late underground Cleveland comic book artist whose stories tackled the troubles and anxiety of everyday life.
“Everyone is walking around with hunched shoulders and heads down trying not to fall in a hole,” Giffels said.
Graham and Giffels hatched the downtown guerrilla art project just beyond the construction fences downtown, inside the The Lockview.
Once they had a list ideas for what the signs should say, they turned to Micah Kraus — who teaches art at Archbishop Hoban — for the design.
The first thing Kraus did was pick a font: Cooper Black.
“It’s snarky and sarcastic while being jovial and playful,” Kraus said. And once he started playing with it, he realized the signs looked like album covers, so he embraced that and brought in pop art colors.
“If you see a big pink sign that says ‘patience, hope, backhoes’ it’s hard to feel mad about that without feeling sort of silly, too,” he said.
The 23 signs cost about $1,000 to make, Graham said, and the Knight Foundation covered the cost.
Graham said they intentionally left Downtown Akron Partnership’s name off of the signs and hung them at night so people might think the signs appeared through a bit of magic.
Reaction — the first wave of signs went up in late April, the second last week and a third is planned in weeks ahead — has been mixed.
Some immediately embraced the humor.
Giffels posted a few pictures on his Facebook without explaining his involvement and all 175 people who responded either liked, laughed or loved the post.
But others have been critical. Many downtown workers’ commutes have changed, visitors don’t know where to park, and some who have tried to negotiate the construction are staying out of downtown until the first phase of the project ends early next year.
Downtown businesses have been especially hard-hit by the construction. Last month, the environmentally friendly salon Apotheclaire closed and the owners of some businesses like the Jamaican restaurant Pots and Pans have wondered if they’ll survive.
No sign can fix that. Graham, Kraus and Giffels get that.
But, Giffels added, Akron also needs to take a long view of downtown.
“I'm old enough to remember when you could sit in the middle of no construction on Main Street and not see a single car go by,” he said. “To have something being revitalized, to get through the hard times to get to the good times, that is a Northeast Ohio thing."
It took decades for the Cleveland Browns to find a franchise quarterback in Baker Mayfield, Giffels said.
It has taken downtown Akron even longer to find its footing after being hit by the double-whammy of sprawl and industrial decline.
Akron’s pioneering rocker Chrissie Hynde laid bare her own pain and anger in 1982 over what had happened to her hometown in The Pretenders' hit song “My City was Gone”:
“My city had been pulled down /
Reduced to parking spaces /
Ay, oh, way to go Ohio.”
Now, amid the construction, a sign offers a new riff on that: “My City Was Gone. (But we’re bringing it back.)”
Amanda Garrett can be reached at 330-996-3725 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @agarrettABJ.