The remaking of North Water Street in Kent — now known as the Mill District — is about to get a boost from a new mural, which is nearly completed at 300 N. Water St. on the south side of a building owned by City Councilman John Kuhar.
Commissioned by Standing Rock Cultural Arts, the mural will dominate the south-facing wall with its depiction of the Mill District as seen from the West Main Street bridge.
“Public art has always been at the forefront of what we like to do; it’s just hard to get funding in Portage County,” said Jeff Ingram, executive director of Standing Rock Cultural Arts.
Ingram said Emily Anne Buckingham created the design for the mural, which prominently features the silos of the former Star of the West mill.
“I’ve been following Emily’s work for awhile,” he said. “When I discussed it with our board, they said, ‘Let’s see some drawings and possibilities.’”
Buckingham said the Standing Rock Cultural Arts wanted to have a mural painted next to the peace garden on North Water Street, which features a display detailing Kent State University shooting victim Allison Krause’s story.
“Better Block sparked the idea of having a creative center in Kent,” she said. “Jeff was hoping by introducing a large piece of public art into the peace garden, the peace garden could then become a bigger part of that neighborhood.”
Ingram said Buckingham’s vision combining art with history was aligned with his own.
“It’s our wish to keep the Mill District creative and art-friendly because that’s been the long history of North Water Street,” he said, adding Chrissy Hynde, Devo and Joe Walsh are just a few of the musicians to perform there in the past.
The Better Block event was aimed at creating a temporary streetscape, aimed at controlling traffic and creating an environment appealing to pedestrians, including employees of area businesses and visitors to places like the Standing Rock Cultural Arts, coffee shops and the North Water Street Brewing Co., which Ingram said could open as soon as next month.
“During the Better Block event, we had benches set up; we had a bunch of flowers,” he said. “[Buckingham] didn’t do a full mural, but we had her do a chalk mural.”
Buckingham, who said she’s originally from Wadsworth, said she wanted to feature something iconic from the city.
“I am not a Kent native, so I really wanted to pick something anybody nearby or experiencing Kent for the first time would see and make them want to visit,” she said. “To me, the mill is the iconic building of Kent.”
Ingram said the mural won’t be the first Standing Rock has had a hand in creating. Since he helped with the Edwin George mural at Scribbles Coffee Co., he knew what to expect during the planning process of the new one at Kuhar’s property.
“When we finished that one, we realized it was a lot of work, but we liked what it meant to the community,” said Ingram. “Our mission is to build community through the arts.”
Buckingham said the biggest challenge of the project was staying patient through the approval process.
“This is a very foreign process to me, creating public art,” she said. “The project was in the works for probably a year-and-a-half to two years before we actually started the painting process. The leaders of the community have to approve something that’s going to influence the community; otherwise, anyone could say, ‘Hey, I’m an artist.’ Thankfully, Jeff from Standing Rock was right there with me the whole time.”
He said the mural would create picture-taking opportunities for visitors and also provide an interesting visual landscape and fodder for conversation.
Buckingham said she was glad to have help from fellow artist Joshua Bentley during the painting process, which is in its fourth week.
“He’s the other artist who’s been collaborating with me on this project and has been there every single day,” she said. “I think it’s safe to say Kent is his muse. He’s a Kent native.”
In addition to having help on the painting, she said the company has been nice.
“I think I realized that pursuing art by yourself is a lonely road,” she said. “Doing this collaboration is like sharing the woes of the project, as well as sharing in the successes of it, bouncing ideas off each other and just having that sounding board is really helpful.”
Reporter Bob Gaetjens can be reached at 330-541-9440, firstname.lastname@example.org and @bobgaetjens_rc.
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