A new art installation offers a symbol of hope for residents aiming to revive their neighborhood.
When Franklinton artist Andrew Lundberg learned that the Hilltop's latest piece of public art would be the mythical Egyptian phoenix, he figured he was the perfect person for the job. According to lore, the phoenix sets itself on fire when its long life ends, and a new phoenix rises from the ashes.
“The point of it is that you can start over at any time, you can make something from what you have, and I had to do that with myself,” says Lundberg. More than six years ago he quit his lucrative job as a concept designer, sold most of his belongings and went all-in as an independent artist. Since then he's gradually built a business creating and selling one-of-a-kind furniture, signage and artwork in Franklinton.
The Hilltop, residents hope, is also heading toward a rebirth after years of struggling with crime and blight.
“The phoenix rising from the ground is so reminiscent of the whole area rising,” says Patti Von Niessen, executive director and founder of the annual Summer Jam West festival in the Hilltop. The festival sponsors a major piece of art for the neighborhood each year. Lundberg's piece reflects the festival's 2018 theme: Hilltop Rising.
His design was selected over six others, in part because it's made of both old and new steel, in homage to the former Delphi manufacturing plant that provided reliable factory jobs for Hilltop residents for decades.
Lundberg wanted his phoenix to appear to be rising, so he has its hawk-like head turned to the side and its feathers fluffed out as the top half seems to emerge from the ground. He designed a fierce, strong creature that almost looks as if it were in battle.
“I wanted people to find some inner strength from it, sharp but not stark, and more mythological,” he says.
In late May, the 800-pound, 10-foot-high sculpture was installed on a circular concrete pad near the Hollywood Casino, which helped pay for its creation. It'll be visible in darkness, illuminated by three lights between its wings, and is on the highest spot on the Hilltop.
This is the fourth piece the festival has sponsored as part of its mission to bring art, music and community pride to the neighborhood, says Von Niessen.
“The festival has a really laid-back feeling, a real family feel,” she says, noting that no alcohol is served. The free one-day event, held this year on July 14 at Westgate Park, includes live bands, food trucks, community booths, 17 local artists, art for kids and 25 craft artisans.
“It's geared to the economics of the neighborhood—all beverages are $1 and so are snow cones,” Von Niessen says. While about 1,000 people attended the inaugural event in 2014, she expects about 8,000 this year.
Von Niessen and assistant coordinator Rachel Pace work year-round on the festival and the artwork it sponsors, raising money from local businesses, grants and the city.
“There's a proven correlation between an artist movement and a revitalization. It brings people together. You don't have to look any further than Franklinton as an example,” says Pace, a Grove City sculptor.
“The festival is only one day, but we're leaving a permanent reminder behind.”
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