Art and community development

Artist Richard Klann paints dead trunk near Canterubry School.

Landscapes are an integral part of a community, and landscaping is a prominent aspect of community development. The idea is less about raising awareness of the environment, and more about bringing people into a neighborhood. Yet more goes into landscaping than planting and weeding.

Many commercial districts throughout Cuyahoga County have programs to beautify their streets with hanging flower baskets or flowerpots. Coventry, Larchmere, Cedar Fairmount and Cedar Lee all have flowers. Along the Euclid Corridor, curly concrete flower pots resembling paper wrapped around a bouquet—designed by Mark Reigelman II, a 2006 graduate of the Cleveland Institute of Art— were a gift to the city.

The lasting effects of these and other aesthetic efforts may improve an area’s real estate value. In the short run, things like crime, violence, and vandalism may all be reduced with the presence of artistic elements.

Chinese-born Lily Yeh was the guest speaker at the Cleveland Foundation's annual meeting last June. She is the founder of Barefoot Artists, Inc., a group based in Philadelphia. Yeh transformed vacant properties in distressed neighborhoods into artful spaces and outdoor meditation centers.

Today, Barefoot Artists has worked throughout the world to create public spaces of peace and comfort. Recognizing that creativity and beauty are powerful means to bring on healing and change, Barefoot Artists works with poor communities around the globe practicing the arts to bring healing, self-empowerment, and social change.

Barefoot Artists may have inspired Richard Klann, a graphic artist and Canterbury Street resident. A tall dead tree trunk stands in front of the Canterbury School in Cleveland Heights. On July 4, Klann painted swirls of red, yellow, and blue on the tree. He used interior wall paint, so he figures it will fade by January. Klann had decided to beautify the desolate timber, which the city had not yet cut down.

Like any piece of art, critiques soon emerged. Many people complimented Klann, but a man who lives across from the tree didn’t seem to like it. Klann approached his neighbor one day and said, "Look, I realize I basically put this thing right in your living room, and if you don’t like it that’s fine. I just felt like I had to do something."

Klann takes the situation lightly, saying with a chuckle "The tree’s been there forever. I spent all that day painting and now finally someone wants it taken down!" To Klann, art is a means of beautification and progression. To someone else it means highlighting the blighted tree. Either way, art stirs the human emotion. "Art causes conversation. Whether it’s good art or bad art, it brings people together to question it," said Klann. That is community development.

Joe Gruber is an intern with the Cleveland Foundation, and a senior at the University of Dayton.

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Volume 3, Issue 8, Posted 1:42 PM, 07.26.2010