A small parkette to be situated just behind The George Washington hotel in the city will be filled with street art created by local students and artists, but it’s the underlying economic impact and cooperation between area groups that their leaders hope will be its lasting impact.
“It will be a gathering place where those who visit will be able to experience peace and tranquility, a place where relaxation will become contagious,” Washington Mayor Brenda Davis said.
The creation of the parkette on two vacant parcels at East Wheeling Street and Shaefer Avenue is a collaborative effort among city officials, WashArts workers and two job-training centers in the county. The key, however, was a $175,000 grant from the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation that is pushing for street art and better use of public space.
Jim Denova, vice president of the Benedum Foundation, applauded the partnerships and said there is statistical evidence to show parkettes such as these pack an economic punch around them because they attract businesses and new customers.
“Public art isn’t just good for the soul,” Denova said. “They can be significant economic generators for downtown. Where people congregate, they create business, and it’s easier to do in a city like this. This could be a vital arts corridor for the community.”
The one parcel closest to East Wheeling Street will include picnic tables, trees, a small pavilion and various artwork to spruce up the concrete pads. John and Shirley Richman, who own the vacant lots, granted the easements and will hand the properties over to the city if they are developed into a parkette within three years, Davis said. She expects the first phase of the project to be completed by next June.
“People working together for a great good, taking ownership of your community and uniting to strengthen community pride,” Davis said. “That’s what it is all about.”
That partnership will be led by WashArts, which will work closely with students at Southwest Training Services and Western Area Career and Technology Center, along with members of the Highland Ridge Community Development Corp. The programs by the students will include welding, enameling, fabrication, mosaic and recycled art projects.
The city’s street department worked recently to clean out and relocate a dozen planters on the parcel. Davis said the hope is that they will be rearranged and adorned with decorations and made into an attractive street art display.
Kathleen Madigan and Peg Wilson, both of Washington, marveled at the concept after a news conference Wednesday morning to announce its funding.
“This goes back a long way,” Wilson said. “This is the best thing for Washington because we need to bring the arts back here. It’s something we can be proud of to pass on to the younger generations.”
“I think it’s fantastic,” Madigan added. “This is what’s going to start bringing these nonprofit groups together.”
It also further bolsters the reinvigoration of WashArts after some had predicted its demise last year.
Becky Keck, the organization’s curriculum director, said this project will help to raise awareness of what the group is doing to improve the community and offer art education to the public.
“This is a personal journey for myself, but also a personal journey for WashArts.” Keck said. “(The parkette) is an ownership in the future and in this space.”