Local artists help beautify NEORSD green infrastructure project in Buckeye

Buckeye trees rooted to Woodland Hills / water flows as cascading streams / Lake Erie awaits clean raindrops” reads a passage of Dawn Arrington’s poem, which will be inscribed on a wall along E. 104th Street within the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District’s (NEORSD) Buckeye Green Infrastructure project.

Set for completion by January 2018, the project is part of Project Clean Lake—a 25-year plan to reduce pollution in Lake Erie by four billion gallons per year. Michael Uva, NEORSD senior communications specialist, explains that through a combination of large tunnels, treatment plant improvements and expansion, and green infrastructure, a plan is underway to reduce the volume of combined sewer overflow discharging into the lake.

A section of Buckeye Road between E. 99th and E. 104th Streets (near where near Woodhill Road and Shaker Boulevard meet) will become green space to accommodate the project.

“The four-block section involved knocking down properties that were in disrepair and [converting it] to 60 yards of fully landscaped green space with seating areas,” explains Uva. “In 2015, LAND studio approached us for collaboration on this.”

LAND studio was all in, putting out a call for literary artists to work on the planned green space and securing a grant from Saint Luke’s Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and other various foundations. The grant provided funding to create and implement a plan throughout the Buckeye neighborhood to better connect commercial districts, transit centers, and natural resources through art and resident interaction.

LAND studio then recruited public artist Stephen Manka for his Water Tower sculpture—originally a part of a now-gone streetscape at E. 18th Street and Superior Avenue.

“The sculpture takes the shape of an industrial water tower found on the rooftops of many old buildings,” explains Manka. “It sat in storage for nearly eight years with no pressure to find a new home until the NEORSD project in Buckeye. The water theme was fitting for the sewer district’s green infrastructure installation from the Buckeye neighborhood.”

At the same time, LAND studio enlisted literary artists to contribute their words to the project's public art component. In tandem with NEORSD, they selected poets Arrington and Damien Ware for their submissions. Arrington is an engagement and training consultant, and Ware works for the Department of Veterans Affairs and is poet-in-residence at the Wade Park Domiciliary; both are Buckeye residents who are quite involved in both community development and beautification projects.

“Public art, particularly in Buckeye, has presented a fantastic opportunity for artists,” says David Wilson, LAND studio project manager. “It’s an opportunity not only to display their work, but really bring a voice and identity to the neighborhood.”

Arrington’s words will be placed at various locations throughout the installation, including a seating area at the top of a hill, near the Morningstar Baptist Church parking lot. The words “culture enriches a trusting community, each soul rebuilding” will be etched in a circle, with English on one half and the same words in Hungarian on the other half.

Arrington says she chose the English/Hungarian words as homage to the neighborhood’s strong Hungarian roots. “These words are a nod, in part to the community’s creators, but also a nod to the community it has become,” she says.

The remainder of Arrington’s poems reflect upon the activity taking place in the sewer district’s infrastructure hundreds of feet underground and Lake Erie’s preservation: “rain dances down drains meeting brooks flowing towards / our lake / returning blue and healthy,” “meet me where the storm clouds / cover the sky and watch / as cascading streams return home,” and “downhill from Buckeye roots the children of rain clouds splash into Lake Erie / clean and pure ready to play again.

“When people walk by it, too often things happen in my neighborhood without any knowledge,” she says. “I wanted to explain what was happening.”

Ware originally submitted his chosen calligram—a poem that is in the shape of what it describes—in the shape of a wave. (He also submitted calligrams in shapes of a drain and an umbrella.) “Ode to Lake Erie” was edited to be shaped like water swirling around the base of Manka’s 20-foot-tall water tower sculpture.

“It represents the underlying importance of this project, the neighborhood’s access to green space, and the technology that allows for proper draining of [storm] water,” Ware says. “Lake Erie is a valuable asset, and I wanted to write something that celebrates the lake.”

Looking ahead, Manka’s sculpture will be cleaned, a decorative stainless-steel lampshade will be added around the drum, and several new, brighter programmable LED lighting fixtures will be added.

“The move gives the sculpture new life and purpose, and it illuminates a beautiful poem at its base,” says Manka. “It becomes a colorful beacon for the neighborhood, and it marks a trial of connected interpretive moments that ring the new Green Infrastructure park.”

Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.