One magnificent bench to unite Clevelanders east and west on April 4th

So, what are you? East sider or West sider?
 
Clevelanders have fielded the glib question since, well, anyone can remember. The classic geographical divide in the 216 dates back to the 1830's and a dubious brawl on the first Columbus Road Bridge. Yet even today, the side of the river from which one hails still seems to matter in this town.

"You're asked to self identify," says Michele Kilroy, a native Clevelander who's decided to take on the the embedded split. "I understand that everyone has pride in their respective neighborhoods, but we're all Cleveland."

While she admits the classic Cleveland question isn't going away any time soon, about a year ago, an idea bloomed that would meld our industrial history, art and technology all while aiming to close west/east divide. The concept is about to come to fruition in a way that will make any Clevelander's face split into a toothy grin.

Cleveland Bench is 12-feet long, two-and-a-half-feet high and nearly as deep. It's constructed of 1,000 pounds of reclaimed Rust Belt steel and, perhaps best of all, its permanent home will be smack dab in the middle of the Terminal Tower's main entrance.

"The objective is to get a west sider and east sider on that bench, take a photo and upload it to Instagram or Twitter or Facebook," says Kilroy, noting that the project is part public art, part function and part social experiment. She imagines photos ranging from east/west marriage proposals to east/west college reunions. "Wouldn't it be hilarious to have a West Side grandma and an East Side grandbaby?"

The bench will face Public Square from the center arch of the main Terminal Tower entrance. The door in that arch does not open; a post office blocks it from the inside.

Kilroy commissioned Kevin Busta to create the unique sculpture, which will be constructed from industrial hoppers, angle iron, structural bridge rivets and flat stock steel. A long-time admirer of his industrial aesthetic, she was also compelled to his work because Busta creates it from repurposed metals plucked from our hulking past. That was important to Kilroy, who is a specialist for the Cleveland Climate Action Fund by day.

"I'm a tree hugger," says Kilroy.

Private parties are funding Busta's commission and ongoing maintenance, which Kilroy will manage. Financial details are confidential, but Clevelanders will get a peek beneath the mysterious veil on April 4 at 11 a.m, which is the bench's coming out party, so to speak. At that time, the financial supporters will be revealed via a small plaque.

For the curious, Kilroy, a lifelong Clevelander, has pitched her tent on both sides of the Cuyahoga. She's lived in Lakewood and currently calls North Collinwood home.

"I'm not afraid to cross the river," she quips. That ideology is symbolically represented in one of the bench's more subtle details.

"The way the back is oriented, the W is on the east side of the bench and the E is on the west side," says Kilroy. "We're already asking people to flip their mentality a little bit."

Read more articles by Erin O'Brien.

Erin O'Brien's eclectic features and essays have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and others. The sixth generation northeast Ohioan is also author of The Irish Hungarian Guide to the Domestic Arts. Visit erinobrien.us for complete profile information.
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