Artists receive grant for community project

Allegheny professors collaborate to develop a community art trail

MARIA LIUZZO, Contributing Writer


Contributing Writer


The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) granted $75,000 to the Conneaut Lake Community Development Committee for a project that will involve the Conneaut Lake Middle School, local community members and faculty from Allegheny College. Amara Geffen, art professor, will be working on a public art trail in collaboration with her colleagues, Steve Prince, assistant professor of art, Ian Thomas, technical assistant and adjunct instructor of art, and Emily Yochim, ethnographer and assistant professor of communication arts. The idea is to create a time capsule that encompasses Meadville’s history but will also serve as a public trail in the community.

With hopes to discover more about community history, the committee will be visiting Conneaut Lake Middle School for their Title I Reading Program on Oct. 8, in hopes to evoke conversation and storytelling. David Hunt, nationally known organizer, storyteller and founder of the Community Building Storytelling Project, will assist with the arts-engagement events.

Geffen was motivated by a variety of factors to develop the time capsule idea.

“Some of them are personal, some of them are professional. Most of them are tied to the community of Conneaut Lake,” said Geffen.

The initiative will be working on the southeastern corner of the Conneaut Lake Borough, near Ice House Park and Fireman’s Beach, adjacent to the business district. Geffen has been in contact with Bill Eldridge, head of the Conneaut Lake Development Coordination, for the past two years. Geffen and Eldridge have been discussing opportunities that would build on the series of public projects Geffen has headed in the past. Some of these projects have included but are not limited to, Read Between the Signs (a 1200’ x 9’ sculpture made from discarded road signs that is visible along the chain link fence when entering Meadville) and the Market House Garden (designed to mitigate stormwater overflow during heavy rains, located next to the parking garage).

As always, the idea of community is a strong influence for the Geffen’s projects.

“I really believe in work locally,” said Geffen. “I really believe that we have the human capital here, natural capital. All kinds of capitals that would help strengthen our community. That’s what it takes to make a place a good place to live.”

Geffen invited faculty members to collaborate with on the project because of Prince and Thomas’s history with sculpting and Yochim’s experience in ethnography, the study of people and culture.

Prince was recently renamed an assistant professor of art from his previous title, artist in residence. He is one of many that feels passionately about this project and community involvement.

“I think that’s the beauty of the project [Geffen] has constructed,” said Prince. “She has built a project that not only allows students to be involved, but professors as well.”

Prince also touched on the idea that the community deserves to have a say in what will be done in their area. A project such as this allows for connections to be made within the community as well as with surrounding areas.

One of the ways Geffen plans to engage community members is to hold an event that will create energy and initiative in the project.

“We’ll ask people to give pictures and objects that they’re willing to put into the time capsule for a year,” said Geffen. “We are actually hoping that they will give them to us so we can use them in the project. We have several projects in mind that we loosely proposed but we want to see what stories and objects we’ll get.”

Though the community will not be directly involved in the creation of the project for the first year and a half, their history and stories will create the finished product.

“Community storytelling is really important work that brings life to the community, to begin understanding what the community feels that it needs, what it’s looking for, and what it’s always doing,” said Yochim. “There is vibrant life here in Meadville. Lots of people are doing very interesting projects; lots of people are engaged in industry and in the world in lots of different ways, and we can’t see that unless we really start listening to people.”