Public art in Shaker is inspired and collaborative – and it’s just around the corner.

By Jennifer Kuhel
Book mural in the Larchmere district of Shaker Heights

Book mural in the Larchmere district of Shaker Heights.

Save your next stroll through the Cleveland Museum of Art for a rainy day. Now that Mother Nature has shown her more compassionate side, consider rerouting your daily constitutional to view Shaker’s collection – yes, collection – of public art.

Since 2005, the City’s outdoor gallery has grown to include more than a dozen works. They range from the conspicuous and whimsical (think Larchmere’s vibrant chair-back bicycle racks) to the discreetly ornamental (ever notice Winslow Road’s script-lettered hanging flower basket brackets?).

The plusses of public art transcend its ability to transform a utilitarian object or an empty space into something beautiful and inspiring. “Public art really has become a tool for revitalization and stabilization of neighborhoods,” says Vince Reddy, project manager at LAND Studio, the Cleveland-based nonprofit focused on enhancing public spaces. Today, LAND Studio is best known for its role as a partner in the Public Square renovations downtown, but the group’s work is spread throughout Northeast Ohio, including the Larchmere bicycle racks and Ludlow’s Colorfield.

Not every place can be an arts district, but every place can still benefit from the work of artists,” says Reddy, who oversaw the Larchmere project. Public art projects also foster collaboration, bringing together local governments with artists and neighborhood residents with nonprofit community groups, all for the common purpose of creating accessible art.

Indeed, this brand of art is both by and for the public.

“So many people just think public art is nice, yet they don’t necessarily understand all the work that goes into it,” says Shaker Arts Council president Liz Schorgl. “The City doesn’t just pick an artist and say, ‘Here, go do something.’ It really is a process that draws the whole community into the project.”

Stephen Manka’s Grist Mill

Stephen Manka’s Grist Mill is located in front of Shaker Towne Centre.

Collaboration was key to an installation of an art-covered utility box funded by the Shaker Arts Council. The project involved resident Susan Rotatori’s inspiration, the City’s Planning Department, the Shaker Heights High School art faculty, and a concept from a Shaker Heights High School senior, Maisha Lewis. For her senior project, Maisha created a design that will be screened on a utility box at the southeast corner of South Woodland and Woodbury roads, much like the utility boxes in University Circle.

The installation will be completed this summer. Such smaller projects have benefits that go beyond collaboration. “They provide a good opportunity for someone who doesn’t have a lot of experience in the public art world to get their foot in the door,” says Reddy.

City Planning Director Joyce Braverman says that public art was originally introduced in Shaker to enhance streetscape and redevelopment projects. For example, the massive etched sandstone blocks in Stephen Manka’s Grist Mill, located in front of Shaker Towne Centre on Chagrin Boulevard, function as a dramatic barrier, separating the road from the shopping center’s parking lot.

Public art in Shaker also defines neighborhood entrances, such as in Mark Reigelman’s Colorfield in Ludlow, and commemorates events, like Barry Underwood’s temporary installation, Lake Lights, which illuminated the trees at Horseshoe Lake Park during the City’s centennial in 2012. “When taken in total,” Braverman says, “the public art projects have enhanced our city.”

Public art serving a functional purpose as a fence for Shaker's apple orchard

Public art serving a functional purpose as a fence for Shaker’s apple orchard.

This summer, the Arts Council partnered with Shaker Historical Society to present the Bike Shaker Public Art Tour, enabling art enthusiasts to view a selection of public art in the City, including Arachne Weaves Her Web at Horseshoe Lake Park, Blowing Grasses at the corner of Avalon and Kenyon roads, and the smile-worthy Trumpet Flower on the Kenyon Walkway behind Shaker Commons.

Although the tour was originally designed as a two-hour guided bike tour, the Arts Council and Shaker Historical Society still have printed copies of the tour available for those interested in navigating on their own.

To date, public art projects in Shaker have been funded through several sources, including grants from the City, the federal government, nonprofits, and crowdfunding efforts. Oftentimes, those sources pool their money to fund a single project – again, emphasizing the collaborative nature of the art form.

“Public art often takes a small investment,” Reddy says. “But it can have a lot of impact.”

Originally published in Shaker Life, Summer 2016

Public Art Resources and Tours