Downtown Steubenville, Ohio has the appearance of an ‘outdoor’ art museum, with magnificent murals painted throughout the community, primarily themed in the rich heritage of the historic Ohio Valley. Today Steubenville is beautiful and thriving, but in the late 80’s when the steel manufacturing closed down, this was a town on the brink of abandonment. The citizens rallied, and reinvented their city from a tired rust belt “has-been” into a vibrant destination for arts, history and culture. Steubenville now proudly brands itself as the “City of Murals”, and enjoys a newfound prosperity from tourism and small business, which these giant works of public art help to attract.
In his book The Creative Community Builder’s Handbook; How to Transform Communities Using Local Assets, Arts and Culture, Tom Borrup makes a compelling case that “cultural projects are not simply a luxury but play a fundamental role in reviving the fortunes and boosting the prospects for communities."
Public art; murals and sculpture are contributing to the revival of cities and towns throughout the United States, and the City of Imperial is a great example of what can be accomplished when the imagination and talents of its citizens are fully engaged. Beginning with the beautiful ceramic and mosaic mural “Coral Reef Playground” in Papa Eager Park, students at the Rainforest Art Project of Imperial have created over one hundred fabulous works of community art. Every single one is a unique reflection of its creator, and a solid testimonial to the visionary leadership that makes the City of Imperial such an extraordinary community.
Doug Evers working on a custom glass sign for the City of Imperial
Former City Manager, Marlene Best, was the driving force behind the revival of Downtown Imperial, and the creation of the Rainforest Art Center of Imperial. It was with no small degree of sadness that we said goodbye to her when she accepted the management responsibility for the City of Santee earlier this year. During the search for her replacement, all of us were seriously wondering if the city would be able to find someone with the same intimate appreciation for the vital role that art plays in the health and well-being of the community.
City of Imperial residents admiring the newly-installed sign at Papa A Eager Park
Two weeks ago while I was working at the Rainforest Art Center of Imperial, Stefan Chatwin, the new City Manager dropped by to introduce himself. As he began relating his insights and philosophy regarding the arts, I breathed a deep sigh of relief, knowing that this is a man who really “gets it”. I was so impressed, that I asked Stefan if he would relay some of his thoughts from our conversation for this publication. I think that you will be as impressed as I was.
One of the City of Imperial’s greatest assets is its people. There’s warmth and generosity here that is difficult to find in other locations. It is what attracted me and my family to this community. Former Mayor of Chicago Richard Daley once said, “Politicians don't bring people together...Artists do." I find it interesting that of all the great and influential giants of industry, education, finance, medicine, law, government, etc., Mayor Daley identified the artist as the one most effective at bringing people together. He undoubtedly discovered this great wisdom and truth through his own experiences leading the metropolis of Chicago.
To maintain and increase the quality of life in a community is a primary tenant of my responsibilities as a City Manager. The work done in this community through the Rainforest Art Project and those in our schools and community who promote music, literature, theater, visual arts, etc., impacts that quality of life in ways too often overlooked. “Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.” - Albert Einstein
- Stefan Chatwin, City Manager, City of Imperial
Recently, two large works of art have been installed in the Imperial Community Sculpture Garden, which is located between Imperial City Hall and the Rainforest Art Center. It is a real honor to have a Rainforest Sculpture named after you, and the beautiful red spotted toad is named Marlene, to honor Marlene Best, and her whole-hearted vision for the arts in the Imperial Valley. The elegant tortoise is named Stella, to honor Stella Martinez whose advocacy for the arts helped to get the grant from IID to create this beautiful public art sanctuary.
Stefan Chatwin (far right), City Manager of Imperial, standing with "Marlene" the Toad
The Rainforest Art Center of Imperial is located at 400 Imperial Avenue, just north of City Hall, and is open every Saturday from 10 to 1. Workshops are free, and open to anyone in the Imperial Valley Families love the idea of having their unique creations permanently installed in highly visible locations throughout the city, where they may return as children grow to admire their contributions. Art classes are available during the week, and you can contact City of Imperial Parks and Recreation to get that schedule.