Photo by David Swirsky.
Styrofoam couches and sidewalk chalk turned out to be a potent attraction to families with children at Akron’s First Night celebration thanks to a happy series of unexpected events.
First Night Akron invited the Akron League of Creative Interventionists to participate in the New Year’s Eve family-oriented celebration with music, theater and dance performances across a 12-block area downtown.
“We wanted to provide more interactive experiences during First Night where people could be part of the entertainment rather than just be entertained, and I thought the league would be a great addition to the interactive activities,” wrote Kelli Fetter in an email. Fetter is director of events at Downtown Akron Partnership, which organizes First Night. She met the Akron league’s leader, David Swirsky, during the Detroit Learning Exchange (#Akron2Detroit) bus trip for young professionals a few months ago.
Each month the League of Creative Interventionists builds an event or events around a theme set by the league’s founder, San-Francisco-based artist Hunter Franks, who has worked to create similar connections in several Knight communities. December’s theme was Warmth. January’s theme is Change.
The invitation to be a part of First Night spoke clearly to the league’s mission, Swirsky said.
The original plan was to set up a lounge area in the outdoor courtyard of the Akron Art Museum using Styrofoam love seats – which league member Doug Meyer made for a Cleveland arts event a few years ago. The league planned to serve free hot chocolate in exchange for warm thoughts and to play a video of a bonfire against a nearby wall, said Swirsky. And of course there would be sidewalk chalk to share symbols of warmth.
It was tough recruiting people to give up their New Year’s Eve so it was just Swirsky and league member Darion Edding on the big night.
They had to nix the free hot cocoa because they didn’t want to compete with the Akron Art Museum, which was selling hot chocolate nearby.
Shortly after they lifted the love seats off of Swirsky’s car roof and on to the pavement, they realized it was way too cold for an outdoor lounge. Temperatures on Dec. 31, 2014 hovered in the low 20s. Swirsky made an executive decision to move their exhibit indoors after securing an invitation from the Art Museum.
“Tons of people were streaming through the art museum,” said Swirsky.
But once they got inside the museum lobby they realized it was too bright for the video projection and they had to nix that too.
On the bright side, a band played music on one side of the museum lobby providing a sound track for the evening. The league’s lounge area was set up near an auditorium where performances were being held. While people waited in line to get inside, they wandered over to the lounge to check it out.
The kids loved it.
Children drew unicorns with crowns and kittens while Swirsky tried to encourage them to focus on warmth. But after a while he just let it go.
One family left and returned because the children wanted to go back to the chalkboard.
“Akron Creative League of what?” asked one parent, slowly reading the name chalked at the top of the chalkboard.
Swirsky took advantage of the interest and chatted with the parents and others about the league and its mission. Some even joined the league’s Facebook group from their smartphones that night. The group has swelled to 322 members from 182 in mid-November.
In the spirit of the January theme of change, Swirsky said he has been working to communicate more efficiently with the rapidly growing crew of interventionists. He plans to set up regular email and text communication and a regular meeting instead of polling the group each month. “Better communication is one of my New Year’s resolutions.”
Susan Ruiz Patton is a freelancer writer based in Northeast Ohio.