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State of the Arts: Akron's Kenmore Neighborhood Reimagined

A new coloring book features public spaces in one Akron neighborhood. It’s a mural project called the Kenmore Imagineer and residents hope it will add a splash of color to Kenmore Boulevard.

The coloring book is simple; each page has a black and white photo of a building or overpass in Kenmore, but the wall space has been erased to create a blank canvas.

That's where artists, young and old, drew, painted or digitally designed murals specific to the neighborhood all along Kenmore Boulevard. Which is, more often than not, a pretty busy place.

The Mural
"When I heard about the project they were having with the murals, I knew it was something that I needed to get into," Kenmore resident and artist Caleb Aronhalt said. 

Credit Mark Arehart / WKSU
Artist Caleb Aronhalt poses in front of one of the many blank walls featured in the Kenmore Imagineer.

He’s standing in front of one of the many sites from the coloring book: a bright red brick wall overlooking the street that could be the site for his winning mural. 

"Whenever we get this design executed, I want it to be an actually community done piece where I’m not the only one who does it. I want people to come by that I’ve never met before to help me paint it."

His design is simple: bright graffiti-like letters spelling out the word “Kenmore” with a small golden halo resting on top.

That’s a nod to the bygone hamlet of Halo which was once nearby.

"I added that in as kind of like an Easter egg in the design," he said. 

Behind the Imagineer
He wasn’t the only one to re-imagine wall space in Kenmore. More than 150 designs were submitted, from colorful squiggly lines, to poems, to complex geometric shapes and even photos.

"Kenmore Boulevard itself has over 40 locations that are really ideal for public art," @Play's Mac Love said.

He started the Kenmore Imagineer as part of @Play's Akron neighborhood initiative "to do custom-designed interactive art projects in every neighborhood in Akron. So that’s 24 neighborhoods over a series of 18 months.

"This is not a contest based on your artistic talent. It’s really based on the merit of the idea, the originality of it, and the impact it could have on the neighborhood."

Kenmore is the only Akron neighborhood to get its very own coloring book.

"It is a mural submission platform, but also just an opportunity for the community to have a conversation about what the future of Kenmore should look like."

On the Boulevard
"Kenmore gets a bad rap outside of Kenmore, and even sometimes inside of Kenmore," Tina Boyes, executive director of the Kenmore Neighborhood Alliance, said. 

It was once its own city, with a bustling downtown full of shops and theaters and even streetcars running along Kenmore Boulevard.

Credit Mark Arehart / WKSU
Kenmore Blvd. is home to a burgeoning music scene and several shops and venues.

"I think people have seen the decline of the neighborhood due to disinvestment of industry," she said.

But she believes the neighborhood is coming back. It has several music venues, a barber shop, guitar shops, comic book stores and even an indoor skate park.

“Kenmore has so much life and so much vibrancy that you don’t see on the surface," she said. 

The Kenmore Imagineer is funded for just a single mural along the street.

"So we can guarantee at least one of these murals can make it into the public space. But one of the fun things about this project, in my experience, a lot more than that ends up making its way into reality. It just takes a little longer," Love said. 

The Future
As for the first design chosen, the original site for that mural was recently sold and may not be available.

Credit Kenmore Imagineer
The murals aren't limited to just wall space as this submission by Arlie Holman shows.

But Tina Boyes is not deterred. She said there are plenty of blank walls that would provide a perfect alternative within a few short blocks.

"Those who live in the neighborhood, I want them to look up, see that mural, see that halo and say, 'Someone is looking out for me and I’m proud to live here.'"

Boyes hopes other pages in the Kenmore Imagineer coloring book will someday become a reality, transforming Kenmore into a neighborhood of murals.

Mark Arehart joined the award-winning WKSU news team as its arts/culture reporter in 2017. Before coming to Northeast Ohio, Arehart hosted Morning Edition and covered the arts scene for Delaware Public Media. He previously worked for KNKX in Seattle, Kansas Public Radio, and KYUK in Bethel, Alaska.