A field of giant daisies. A big pink zinnia. Trumpet vines and black-eyed Susans twining around a railing. Flower arrangements are popping up around Kennedy Heights and Pleasant Ridge.
These public artworks were created by artist Leesa Haapapuro and local residents as part of the “Garden of Hope” project sponsored by Kennedy Heights Arts Center.
In mid-March, when Leesa and KHAC staff were finalizing plans for her month-long residency it became clear that being physically in-residence would no longer be feasible due to the coronavirus. The team re-envisioned the project to be responsive to safety concerns and the current state of our world – making art together (but apart) during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Kennedy Heights Arts Center is dedicated to providing creative ways for our community members to come together and engage in meaningful creative collaboration, even during the pandemic,” said director of exhibitions and public art Mallory Feltz.
Working from her studio an hour north in Dayton, Haapapuro has been creating public art using messages developed through online crowdsourcing from community members, then translated into the form of plants using “floriography,” the secret language of plants. The sculptural installations will be installed outside throughout the neighborhoods of Kennedy Heights and Pleasant Ridge. An online code book helps viewers decode the messages.
Local residents were invited to participate in the project by creating their own art. Eighty six residents requested and received weather-resistant art materials and instructions for making a flower or plant. Once completed, residents placed their artwork in their front yard, door, or window. A core group of six residents are working with Haapapuro (remotely) to help create larger plants for public installations.
Resident Carrie Shotwell said, “We worked on our flower as a family. We chose a purple columbine because it’s a message of resolution that is so relevant right now. Community is such an important part of our neighborhood and we were very thankful to be a part of this project.”
Although Haapapuro’s official residency ended May 31, more art installations, messages exchanges, and pop-up street parties will continue throughout the summer.
“The response from the community has been very positive,” said Feltz. “We’ve found that art is a powerful way to connect and inspire. Especially in this time of self-isolation, we all need to feel like we’ll get through this together. Our strength comes from our community.”
Eventually, once it is safe to gather again, the intent is that community members can bring their smaller plant creations to the Kennedy Heights Arts Center to be added to an art installation created by Haapapuro, and to celebrate with a garden party.
“I so am grateful that the Kennedy Heights Arts Center gave me the opportunity to be their artist-in (virtual)-residence,” said Haapapuro. “When I first visited Woodford Paideia School (in Kennedy Heights) in February, we planned how to involve all the kids; it was going to be a chaotic/colorful project. Things changed and instead we passed out daisy-making kits along with the Cincinnati Public Schools’ free lunches at the school, while I staked out a field of flowers. The daisies now dancing on their lawn at 3716 Woodford Road mean ‘hope’ in the language of plants.”
“I think the Garden of Hope project gave us all a sense of connection while we were physically isolated, and now that we are starting to cautiously emerge, the neighborhood will see the vibrant and varied messages of hope. I will miss this project and hope to someday meet all the people I spent the last six weeks getting to know.”
Support for the project is provided by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, Ohio Arts Council, and the Eleanora C. U. Alms Trust, Fifth Third Bank, Trustee, and annual operating support from ArtsWave.
About Leesa Haapapuro:
Leesa Haapapuro is an interdisciplinary artist proficient in a wide variety of techniques from stone carving to welding to weaving. She has made socially-engaged, collaborative art projects and site-specific installations with more than 10 communities in Ohio. She received the City of Dayton’s Community Artist award and is a three-time recipient of The Montgomery County Regional Arts and Cultural Individual Artist Fellowship.
About Kennedy Heights Arts Center:
Founded in 2004, the Kennedy Heights Arts Center provides arts education programs, exhibitions, and cultural events for more than 5,000 youth and adults annually.