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Akron Civic Takes Effort to Amplify the Akron Arts Scene Outdoors

The Akron Civic Theateris undergoing a significant makeover. But the $8.5 million worth of capital improvements isn’t only focused on the inside of the building. The Civic is hoping to have a bigger impact on the neighborhood around it.

Downtown Akron’s Main Street is undergoing a transformation. The city has wrapped up a major street reconstruction project along several blocks, including the one where Akron Civic Theater is located. The long-vacant buildings next to the Civic are part of a major redevelopment project, and the Civic itself is doing its part to help bring new life to the block.

Ouizi with mural
Tim Fitzwater
Ouizi, the creator of the mural on the wall behind her, poses in front of her completed work.

While it may be winter, if you look up from Main Street at the wall of the Civic facing Lock 3, you may feel as if it’s spring. A mural covering the entire wall features an assortment of colorful flowers with two larger than life butterflies flitting among them. The mural is the work of a Detroit-based artist who goes by Ouizi.

“I picked flowers that were striking visually and also were kind of related to the environment, specifically the canal underneath. There’s a lot of water, the Cuyahoga River. So I picked irises, water lotuses, and another flower that I actually picked on site was the Heath Aster," Ouizi said.

Ouizi Painting Mural
Tim Fitzwater
Ouizi started working on the barren wall of the Civic overlooking Lock 3 in early fall last year. She had to use a lift that would give her access to the parts of the wall directly atop the canal.

Ouizi is known for her large-scale botanical murals. Her work on the south wall of the Civic drew inspiration from the remnants of the Ohio and Erie canal, which runs underneath.

Ouizi’s mural is one of two commissioned by the Civic. The other overlooks Lock 4 and completely covers the North wall facing Bowery Street. This creation was painted by two Los Angeles-based graffiti artists who go by El Mac and Aiseborn.

The three artists were introduced along with their works to Akron, at a socially distanced event organized by the Civic this past fall. El Mac says they wanted to play off what they saw in the city.

"We wanted to paint something that would be uplifting and relatable, accessible, something that could be an iconic image for the city. Something that could become kind of a landmark, and something representative of the city,” he said.

Artists Aiseborn (left) and El Mac (right) pose with Monty Vale (center) in front of their completed mural overlooking Lock 4. Vale's daughter was one of the subjects of this mural.
Monty Vales
Artists Aiseborn (left) and El Mac (right) pose with Monty Vales (center) in front of their completed mural overlooking Lock 4. Vale's daughter was one of the subjects of this mural.

El Mac says their idea was to capture two toddlers at play. One of the subjects is based off El Mac’s son Max. The other is modelled from a girl they came across at Akron’s Gorge Metro Park. Their toys in the mural take on the other-worldliness of planets. Behind them, colorful, geometric patterns swirl out of the very core of these children.

"The imagery of the mural hopefully conveys, mutuality, friendship and also just innocent playfulness of youth, but at the same time it’s suggestive of maybe something bigger because there is this cosmic element to it where they’re playing with the planets in a way,” El Mac said.

Both murals represent a change for the neighborhood, but one that was guided in part by an on-line survey of residents. Linda Lyell is the co-chair of the Civic’s Capital campaign committee. She says they asked people to describe Akron: "And the two words that started to bubble up were diversity and arts and culture. So based on that we moved forward as we selected the artists and told them to really embrace the thoughts we had.”

Lock 4 Wall of the Civic
Tim Fitzwater
The Civic's bare wall facing Lock 4 before it was adorned by El Mac and Aiseborn's mural.

Lyell says the murals are the start of a process that makes, both the inside and the outside of the Civic, a draw to the city.

“In the past the façade of the civic and the whole street that it was on was falling apart, and when people walked inside the Civic, they saw the beauty of it. And our intention was to be a culturally inviting piece of art to invite people inside,” she said.

The murals are the first phase in the Civic’s effort to connect artistically with the neighborhood around it.

Lyell says their next step will be a call for local artists this month to include selected works to be part of the newly restored interiors and the area surrounding the building.

Jay Shah was an associate producer for the “Sound of Ideas” until May 2024.