ParkWorks and Cleveland Public Art merge to form LAND Studio
CLEVELAND, Ohio --ParkWorks and Cleveland Public Art have decided they can do more to transform the city’s public realm together than separately.
In a move echoing a wave of collaborations and mergers sweeping the city’s arts and culture sector, the two influential nonprofits have decided to join together to form a new organization called LAND Studio.
The name -- an acronym for Landscape, Art, Neighborhoods and Development -- sums up the organization’s scope and field of action.
It hopes to leverage a $6 billion development boom to turn Cleveland into a city with more attractive, dynamic and beautifully designed public spaces, instead of a place that simply boasts isolated new attractions such as a casino, a medical mart and a convention center.
The joint mission echoes that of “Connecting Cleveland,” the 2007 citywide plan, and of Mayor Frank Jackson, who wants to lure new businesses and residents by making the city’s landscapes and public spaces more attractive to pedestrians and bicyclists, instead of simply speeding the flow of cars through town.
The organizations are announcing the merger today with the launch of their new joint website, www.land-studio.org.
“The issue is how can we do our part in terms of elevating the understanding of design and do what we can to help the city,” said Greg Peckham, director of Cleveland Public Art, who will become managing director of LAND Studio.
High-quality parks and public spaces “aren’t just amenities,” he said - “they’re necessities.”
Ann Zoller, director of ParkWorks, who will become executive director of LAND Studio, said that parks, public art and public spaces of all kinds are a field of urban competition Cleveland can’t afford to ignore if the city hopes to prosper.
“We’re trying to position the value of our work so it’s important on a larger civic agenda,” she said, adding that the need for improvement is urgent.
Although they started with different missions in recent decades, ParkWorks and Cleveland Public Art have in recent years followed paths that increasingly paralleled one another, when not actually working side by side.
ParkWorks, founded in 1977 as Rapid Recovery, morphed into Clean Land Ohio in 1981 and adopted its most recent name in 1998. Its original goals included planting thousands of trees in Greater Cleveland and creating a series of “City Side Gardens” on neglected pieces of turf around the city, including patches of ground near freeway interchanges and entrances to neighborhoods.
Under the leadership of Zoller, the group’s fifth director, ParkWorks took on increasingly ambitious missions in terms of planning, funding, building and programming new parks around the city. Perhaps most important, it has elevated standards of planning and design by recruiting some of the nation’s leading landscape architects and urban designers to its projects.
For the reconstruction of Perk Park in downtown Cleveland, a $3 million project that has taken eight years to complete, ParkWorks engaged the highly regarded New York landscape architect Thomas Balsley.
To jump-start a civic conversation about the future of Public Square in late 2009, ParkWorks commissioned James Corner, landscape architect of the internationally renowned High Line Park in New York City, to create three design concepts.
And in their work for Jackson’s new Group Plan Commission, ParkWorks and Cleveland Public Art together worked with Gustafson Guthrie Nichol of Seattle, the landscape-architecture firm hired by MMPI Inc. of Chicago to help design public spaces around the city’s new downtown convention center and medical mart.
Current ParkWorks projects include plans for the Lake Link Trail, which will join the Tremont neighborhood to Wendy Park on Whiskey Island, and for the revitalization of Rockefeller Park in University Circle.
Talks of merging ParkWorks and Cleveland Public Art began after the two organizations jointly formed an auxiliary organization called Building Cleveland by Design, whose goal is to weave concepts of environmental sustainability into large public and private developments, such as the $250 million Flats East project.
Cleveland Public Art, founded in 1984 as the Committee for Public Art in the Warehouse District, later became known simply as the Committee for Public Art and then Cleveland Public Art. Under founding director Kathleen Hickey Barrie, the organization focused primarily on discrete pieces of indoor and outdoor public art, including installations at the Gateway sports complex and the renovated and expanded downtown Main Library of the Cleveland Public Library.
Lillian Kuri, the second director of Cleveland Public Art, steered it toward projects focusing on large-scale urban environments, such as the addition of a pedestrian and bike path on the Detroit-Superior (Veterans Memorial) Bridge. Peckham, director of the organization since 2005, has continued in that direction, for example by shepherding a series of large-scale landscape and art installations on the downtown Mall.
LAND Studio will merge the 12 employees of ParkWorks and four from Cleveland Public Art into a single new entity with a base annual budget of approximately $1.3 million.
By December, it will occupy new offices in the Market Square Building at 1939 West 25th St., steps away from the West Side Market in a burgeoning food, retail and restaurant district that has transformed Ohio City.
They’re starting out life together with a joint portfolio of $7 million worth of projects, ranging from an entry arch in the Slavic Village neighborhood to $275,000 worth of public art for the new Inner Belt Bridge.
“It’s about raising expectations about public space in Cleveland,” Zoller said. “This community should demand the best, and now we believe we have the capacity to do it.”