In 2019, longtime Shaker resident Kim Harris organized a celebration for Hildana Park. The goal: commemorate several upgrades to the Chagrin Boulevard park, including a new public art piece, Strength in Unity, while also helping to introduce Hildana Park to the broader Shaker community.
“It’s a really family-friendly space, just as nice as any park in the City,” says Harris, who is also the founder of Shaker African American Mothers Support (SAMS), an organization that brings together parents from across the City. “But there wasn’t a lot of activity there, so I wanted to help draw attention to it.”
The event was a success (see below to view the video from the event). So when the spring of 2020 rolled around, Harris hoped to hold a second event at Hildana. Then COVID-19 arrived and put the kibosh on all community gatherings.
Harris quickly switched gears. “The question was, What could we do to get people to come and enjoy the park safely and on their own time?”
And then inspiration struck: comfortable chairs, spaced safely apart and decorated with inspirational artwork by Shaker students. The theme for the project was simply, Hope. “With everything happening in our world right now, this felt right,” Harris says.
Student artists, most from Shaker Heights High School, submitted designs to the City’s Public Art Task Force for approval. Students in the Making our Own Space (MOOS) program, run by Kent State’s Urban Design Collaborative, assembled the six Adirondack-style wooden chairs. The student artists painted them in July. Retired art teacher and Shaker Heights Arts Council board member André Taylor provided technical expertise during sessions at the park.
Meanwhile, Harris also asked Shaker residents to submit their own messages of hope, which were posted in the park over the summer. In addition, MOOS students painted dozens of rocks with messages of hope, which were hidden in the park as a scavenger hunt for children. To further activate the park, visitors were invited to write their own messages, using bags of chalk that they could then take home.
“These are messages of hope from and to the entire Shaker community,” says Harris.
The chairs are now a permanent feature in Hildana Park (located at the corner of Chagrin Boulevard and Hildana Road). Residents are invited to stop by, take a seat, and feel the hope.