Pocket park armory

OU students working on Creative Placemaking Week in Athens hope to improve the small “pocket park” next to the Athens Armory, along with the Fort Street stairway behind the building. Photo by Terry Smith.

Several Ohio University students have put together a week of community organizing to complete art projects in the uptown Athens area.

Creative Placemaking Week will take place from March 25-31 with events scheduled every day that week to plan and implement art projects near the old Athens Armory building at the North end of Court Street.

Lead organizer Nadzeya Ilkevich, a master’s student in Communication & Development Studies, said Friday that the concept for the week began with her own interest in giving back to the community.

“The city of Athens is so amazing, so I decided to do something for the city,” Ilkevich said. “I asked my friends to help me, so we have a team that’s also quite international.”

The small group of organizers is composed of four graduate students, including Ilkevich, Nikolai Rubanovskii, Gaone Manatong and Zoe Zralik. Ilkevich is originally from Belarus, she said, while the other three students have hometowns in Russia, Botswana and Ohio’s own Columbus, respectively.

Rather than develop their own arts project for the community, Ilkevich said, “we decided to ask the community to help us to create a concept.”

Planning for the project began in January, Ilkevich said. The group approached the city of Athens with its idea and were offered assistance in finding a location for the project.

Athens City Planner Paul Logue said he was surprised when Ilkevich brought up the idea.

“We sat down for a meeting or two, and she clearly knew what she was talking about,” Logue said. He showed them the long-abandoned Armory building, explaining that the city has been wanting to revitalize that space for some time. In addition, Logue said the city’s “Essence of Athens" design guide contains some ideas for improving outdoor stairways throughout Athens.

“So we thought the Armory and the Fort Street staircase would be a good place” for the project, Logue said.

Mayor Steve Patterson a couple years ago authorized creation of a “pocket park” in the area to the right (east) of the Armory building, Logue said, but according to Ilkevich the space could still use some color.

“Now, there’s only white wall and empty space and gray stairs,” she said. “… We cannot do something inside (the Armory building) because it’s dirty, needs renovation, but we can do something outside to draw attention… so it’s like the crown of Court Street.”

Arts for Ohio is providing various art supplies for the project.

Placemaking Week will kick off with informational presentations about the week’s events, other placemaking projects around the world, and the city’s placemaking goals.

“Tuesday and Wednesday (March 26-27) everyone is invited to take place in concept creation,” Ilkevich said.  “Once we have a concept, Friday and Saturday will be all-day, every-day workshops… to cut the wood, color, paint, whatever” is needed to implement the design.

Local artist Patty Mitchell, founder of Passion Works Studio in Athens, will be responsible for leading the project on the Fort Street stairs, Ilkevich said. “What we want to do there, for sure, we want to add lights and to color it,” she said.

Luke A. Black will help with concept development for the public space near the Armory, which will involve “more DIY stuff,” Ilkevich said. She hopes the working groups can make that space available for future artistic uses, perhaps with seating, tables and/or a small stage.

“We have no idea about the results,” Ilkevich said. “…If it will be not a very beautiful result, at least we did it together.”

Katharina Simo will create a mural that community members can help complete.

“It’s not a usual mural: it will be made with bold black lines, and the community will color it during the event (Friday and Saturday, March 28-29),” Ilkevich explained.

On Sunday (March 31) a potluck lunch will be held “to celebrate what we achieved,” Ilkevich said.

The goal of Creative Placemaking Week is not only to create a single space for the community, but to encourage future placemaking efforts.

“Athens for me has an amazing concentration of artists, musicians… There are more creative people than I’ve ever met in one city,” Ilkevich said, adding that these artists don’t always get together to collaborate on city-wide efforts.

“Everyone is kind of doing something in their own yard but not spreading it around through the city,” Ilkevich said. “...I hope that maybe (by) placemaking, we can motivate them to connect more and to create more projects for the town.”

Athens County Planner Jessie Powers has been helping the group reach other communities in Athens County, Ilkevich said, “to multiply the experience.”

“…Maybe Glouster and Albany, they also can use this experience to do something in their communities,” Ilkevich said.

She and the other three student organizers are all graduating in May, but Ilkevich said they hope this project will be the start of a placemaking tradition in Athens.

The art installment will remain long after the week is over, and so will the placemaking framework.

“We would like to leave all these materials and the steps and concept to the city and to the (county) Commissioners,” Ilkevich said. “...We hope this placemaking will be here next year, too, so that people can organize it without us.”

Logue said that he is “thrilled” about Placemaking Week, and that he’d like to see creative placemaking become something the city and community take part in on a regular basis.

“I would like it to be an annual thing, if we have capacity to do so and we have volunteers interested in doing so,” Logue said, adding that Placemaking Week could be an opportunity to “showcase how this could be done” in Athens.

Those interested in participating in any of the week’s events can visit the website at www.pwathensoh.org. Some events have limited space and require an RSVP. The venue for certain events is yet to be determined, but Ilkevich said the organizers will update the website and Facebook page once that information is confirmed. 

Brief program and participation details:

• Monday, March 25. Placemaking Week Opening, 6-8 p.m. Venue TBD

• Tuesday and Wednesday, March 26 and 27. Public Space Transformation Workshop. Part 1: Concept Creation. 6-8 p.m., Southeast Ohio History Center (24 W. State St.).

• Thursday, March 28. Presentation Night: "Essence of Athens." 6-8 p.m., Southeast Ohio History Center.

• Friday and Saturday, March 29 and 30. Public Space Transformation Workshop. Part 2: Concept Implementation. Noon to 6 p.m. Venue TBD.

• Friday and Saturday, March 29 and 30. Community Mural Coloring. 4-7 p.m. The Family Dollar wall near the Armory.

• Sunday, March 31. 2-6 p.m. Community Art Potluck, public space near the Armory.

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