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Highland Square gets tattooed with mural

6/27/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

Fourteen Akron Public Schools’ high school students participated in this year’s Arts LIFT public art project, which saw them transform the exterior wall at Angel Falls Coffee Co. into a work of art with University of Akron art students.
Morgan Csejtey, a Firestone High School junior, adds to the mural in Highland Square June 20.
Photos: Kathleen Folkerth
HIGHLAND SQUARE — Where many see just an empty wall, Elisa Gargarella sees a blank canvas ripe for a mural.

That’s what happened about a year ago when Highland Square resident Gargarella, a University of Akron (UA) associate professor of art education, started thinking about the Angel Falls Coffee Co. wall when she was considering the next project for the Arts LIFT program.

“I thought it was a prime location to enhance with art,” said Gargarella, who originated the Arts LIFT program in 2002 to enable high school and college students to work with professional artists. It was funded through the Lola K. Isroff Arts Assistance Endowed Fund.

Gargarella approached the coffee shop’s owner, and he was happy to offer the space.

“I don’t think he gave it more than 30 seconds’ thought,” she said.

Now, the project is finished and Gargarella and the Akron Public Schools and UA students who worked together on the project are ready to celebrate with a public party tomorrow, June 28, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the site, 752 W. Market St. 

For the project, Gargarella enlisted the help of West Akron resident Jesse Strother, co-owner of Good Life Tattoo in Highland Square.

“He’s tattooed so many of my friends, and I’ve always appreciated his color sense and design aesthetic,” she said.

Strother agreed to work on the project. He and a group of students from APS’ Firestone and Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) high schools started working on the mural project June 10.

While admiring the work as it neared completion last week, Strother said he was happy with the finished product.

“It came out great,” he said as students applied more paint and detail. “It’s been a really awesome two weeks.”

Among the students who participated this year was Morgan Csejtey, a Firestone junior from West Akron.

“It’s been fun to see it evolve,” Morgan said. “It’s cool to see how it changed and has become even better.”

Her classmate Izzy Maguire, of Highland Square, said she appreciated the collaborative effort the mural became.

“Our age group likes to do things independently, but this gave us a chance to do something together and get something done,” she said.

Hilbert Mobley, a West Akron resident and Firestone student, said it also helped him to learn more about creating art.

“I learned a lot about painting and understanding something about murals and what you need to do to prepare,” he said.

Gargarella called the mural a “homage collage” to the neighborhood. She added its design was conceived by Strother to represent the many facets of Highland Square’s history and culture, from its welcoming attitude toward people of various sexual orientations, to its ties to Native American cultures in the region, and its connection to the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous.

During the June 28 event, Gargarella said there will be music by Fast Molasses and refreshments. All are welcome to stop by, and there will be family-friendly activities such as sidewalk chalk art.

In the meantime, both Highland Square walkers and drivers have been expressing their appreciation — with words and horn beeps — for the new piece of art, Gargarella said.

For more information, go to the Arts LIFT page on Facebook.

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