There goes the sun….SAD though happy in Cleveland

22 Oct

The unrelieved greyness of Cleveland yesterday

Many a visitor has been fooled by these colorful plaster mangoes.

Today the sun is supposed to come out again, but it’s too early to tell. The week has been one of rain and gloom, reminding us that Old Sol will be running off to Florida soon. I have to give the last two winters their props, though–snowy and cold they may have been, but there was regular sun throughout. I noticed, because it makes a difference to me and to my outlook. Unrelieved gloom doesn’t usually start here till November, but it carries on for many, many–did I say many?–moons. People always wonder why Clevelanders aren’t more upbeat about this wonderful city. Putting on my diagnostician’s hat (I wonder what that should look like?), I proclaim it is due to SAD–Seasonal Affective Disorder. My prescription? COLOR.

W 25th St geraniums soldiering on!

A chameleon a day banishes SADness away

Not being a native, I’m used to cold with sun. Without it, I’ve taken a page from my shivery Trinidadian friend Miss W–no, not her bliss at radiator heat that allows sleeveless dresses indoors, but her use of color to keep the house lively. There are no white or grey walls in my house. Its riot of colors encompasses Haitian tin decorations and my papier-mache chameleon (legacy of a Parade the Circle past), a cheery cluster of plaster mangoes, and other vibrant touches. That’s home decorating for you–but Cleveland’s in need of similar touches.

Nothing cheers a city like flowers. Admittedly our climate doesn’t allow for 12 months of them, but plenty of blooms are still blooming–though few downtown. Greenery planting still decorates the road dividers by Public Square, but the fabulous planters CIA grad Mark Reigelman II designed for the triumvirate of Downtown Cleveland Alliance, Cleveland Public Art and ParkWorks (the last two organizations soon to join as one and become LAND studio) are already emptied. It’s a little early, isn’t it? The impatiens (or are they vincas?) at Cleveland State are still frisky, and mums and geraniums are still going strong elsewhere.

Once--and this week. But great planter design!

Bigger banners are needed for more visual impact.

We need our touches of color. The addition of flowers to various restaurants on W. 25th have made it a more attractive passageway. In fact, vibrant neighborhoods like Coventry or Little Italy owe some of their perk to flowers. It’s that kind of atmosphere that Legacy Village and Crocker Park try to simulate. My recent trip to Columbus/Indianapolis/Bloomington was color-filled. From conventional plantings to the more imaginative or downright wild, these are needed touches of nature–and we need them till frost kills them off.

Fabulous Cleveland in 2003--Art Lumiere & Luminocity

And what of post-frost grimness? Our Public Square flags are too small for their pole size, as are banners on Euclid. Cloth and plastic strips do add a bit of artificial gaiety to the grey, as other big cities have shown. Think of imperial Rome through HBO eyes, alive with red and gold! Admittedly our wind is hard on both, but we don’t have to worry about the sun fading things! Imaginative lighting can help–E. 4th St. looks attractive and inviting because its narrowness is stranded with inviting lights–a European touch. Back in 2003, Cleveland Public Art worked in conjunction with the Cleveland Museum of Art and Case Western Reserve/OneCleveland to bring in Art Lumiere, creators of the overwhelmingly beautiful LUMINOCITYproject. It transformed the bleak cityscape into an exciting nexus of activities–perhaps it was ahead of its time, but even modest lighting that’s a bit out of the ordinary can create a feeling of excitement. What of experimental low-energy lighting and color?

The best way to be blue in Cleveland: Midtown's Applied Industrial Technologies

These miniscule flags don't fly our colors properly.

While flora and lux are temporary, some cities have gone further with color. Our architecture is fairly bland (with the exception of our very own Midtown Jetsons structure, headquarters for Applied Industrial Technologies), though some buildings elsewhere embrace a less neutral approach.

Even the bleakest of structures can benefit from murals–Philadelphia has transformed its urban landscape into a destination spot with its Mural Arts Program–it employs over 300 artists, involves kids and provides internships–as well as with the funky mosaics by Isaiah Zagar that have become a tourist draw.

Josh Sarantitis's Philly mural: "Reach High and You Will Go Far" (2000)

Today the Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative, a Kent State initiative headquartered in Playhouse Square, held a design charette in the Near West Side’s Ecovillage. From a community brainstorming discussion and their own research, they’re going to work up some designs and plans that have potential to benefit the neighborhood (more on that later in the week, when the ideas are presented). A great idea, and one that gets people thinking. And what were some of the ideas that came up? Visual ones, among others; ways of creating identities through public art and lighting.

Isaiah Zagar mosaics near Philly's South Street brighten the neighborhood even in snow.

What kind of alliances can we build among arts organizations like LandStudio, the Cleveland Botanical Garden, Cleveland State, and youth programs? Banish SAD in the home of Sherwin Williams and Glidden!


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