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Big-ticket economic development projects get all the attention, but LAND Studio's Ann Zoller knows t

Big-ticket economic development projects get all the attention, but LAND Studio’s Ann Zoller knows that investment in public art and common spaces is what makes people care about it.

The Eastman Reading Garden at the Cleveland Public Library’s main branch has taken on an attractive blush this summer. Artist Scott Stibich’s Figure/Ground public art installment has filled the outdoor space with pink chairs and window coverings that are meant to challenge how visitors view the popular spot.

“The idea is that it triggers how you interpret environment based on contrast,” says Greg Peckham, managing director at LAND Studio, which commissioned the work as part of a partnership with the library. “The chairs were black and part of the background. By painting them in this bright color, it takes something that was in the background and draws it into the foreground. It’s this idea of playing with how people see urban spaces.”

The art installation is one of the ways LAND Studio (which stands for Landscape, Art, Neighborhoods and Development) is working to create engaging public spaces throughout the city. The organization is the result of a merger between longtime nonprofit partners Cleveland Public Art and ParkWorks. The group is also behind Ohio City’s Market Square Park, directly across the street from the West Side Market. 

“People take a lot of pride in place,” says LAND Studio executive director Ann Zoller,who held the same position at ParkWorks. “It’s the kind of thing that is hard to measure, but we know that it matters when you look at Market Square Park because it’s across from the West Side Market and it anchors Market Avenue. It is an entryway into a burgeoning district that’s really, really healthy.”

In a 2008 interview with Public Art Review, urban theorist and author of The Rise of the Creative Class and Who’s Your City? Richard Florida said, “Public art plays two roles in a community: It helps to create an authentic sense of place and serves as a tool for revitalization. Our research indicates that the higher people rate the beauty of their community, the higher their overall level of community satisfaction.” He also said investments in public art and common spaces provide public leaders with alternatives to large capital investments such as stadiums. Zoller says Cleveland has had a history of forgetting that it takes more than these large capital investments to be successful.

“We plopped down stadiums, rock halls and science centers thinking that those anchors were enough,” she says. “But people really value and relish the connective tissue. When done well, that is what creates a sense of intimacy in a large urban core.” 

IB: What is LAND Studio’s goal?
AZ: We want to affect change. We don’t look to duplicate services. We don’t look to sit at round tables that are overly crowded. It’s important for us to partner with the city, Greater Cleveland Partnership or Downtown Cleveland Alliance — organizations that have a much broader reach than ours — and really impress upon them the value of our work, and how elevated urban design really contributes to the vitality of a city and its economic health.

IB: So how does public art and improved green space drive economic development?
AZ: It doesn’t drive economic development so much as it complements it. When we did [the renovation of] Perk Park, it was because there was going to be a huge investment in the Avenue District. K&D Group had just put a million dollars into renovating Reserve Square, and we knew that people with choices wouldn’t live on a street that was anchored by a dysfunctional park. It’s a very complex, sophisticated system of layering from an urban design perspective. 

IB: How do you draw in the young professional population?
AZ: It’s creating places that don’t look like they could pop up anywhere. They look unique to the neighborhood or to that corner of downtown. They speak to what matters and give people a sense of pride and a sense of personality.

IB: How do you connect Cleveland’s new big developments — Horseshoe Casino, the Medical Mart and Flats East Bank? 
AZ: That’s really the focus of the Group Plan Commission, which the mayor appointed about two years ago and we provided the majority of the staffing for. There is a moment here that will not be here in five years. How do we capitalize on that? You do good work to show that it can be done.

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