In Hamilton, OH, a renaissance is underway. In the past five years, downtown Hamilton has experienced over $65 million in investment, including construction or renovations of over a dozen major projects. Many factors create a success story. But one of the driving features is an investment in the arts.
A committee in the City of Hamilton, in discussing a strategic plan to help the city grow, identified 12 key ingredients to a successful revival. One of those 12 items was crafting an arts identity for the city of Hamilton. They acted on that notion with a pilot project, creating a mural featuring local birds on the side of the Hamilton Parks Conservancy building. The public took notice — especially Ian MacKenzie-Thurley, executive director of the Fitton Center for Creative Arts, one of the 100+ organizations and projects funded through ArtsWave. When he saw how the mural turned out, his first thought was, "How do I get the Fitton involved in that?"
That's how StreetSpark was born. StreetSpark is a collaboration between the City of Hamilton, the Fitton Center and the Hamilton Community Foundation. It was founded to further the creative identity of Hamilton through murals and public art projects. ArtsWave has been involved since the onset and continues to fund the StreetSpark project.
The impact of these projects is apparent. Walls that were stark and bare now burst with color throughout the city. Beyond that, a strong sense of community pride is growing. Both residents and visitors are taking note of Hamilton's commitment to the arts. Sara Vallandingham, owner of Sara's House Home Decor and Gifts, notes that some of her customers came to Hamilton specifically to see the murals.
"It looks great to visitors," she says. "It's a great way for people visiting Hamilton to see that there's an emphasis on beauty." The Vallandingham family made their own contribution to that emphasis. They moved to Hamilton five years ago, purchasing an old building and renovating it to create both their storefront and their home upstairs.
The StreetSpark partnership is not limited to funding, zoning or permissions. The city is a highly active partner in planning and logistics, helping to find new walls in need of paint, closing roads when necessary and more. Everyone involved takes the project seriously, knowing StreetSpark's projects are concrete proof of the city's plan to invest in a neighborhood.
At the head of the StreetSpark project itself is Jenn Acus-Smith, artist and project manager. Under her leadership, StreetSpark created two murals in their first year, and three per year since then. The murals that come out of the StreetSpark program are often focused on Hamilton. "Make Way for McCloskey" celebrates Hamilton's history and culture native Robert McCloskey, author of the classic children's book "Make Way for Ducklings." "Left Hander for Life" depicts legendary Hamilton native Joe Nuxhall, both as a young Cincinnati Reds pitcher and later in life as a philanthropist and popular local figure. "Alexander" is a stylized image of Alexander Hamilton, the city's namesake, based on John Trumbull's iconic 1806 portrait.
Acus-Smith's goal for StreetSpark is to beautiful all parts of Hamilton. They're already taking concrete steps in that direction. This year, one of the three new murals will be in Lindenwald, in the southern part of Hamilton. Those new murals join eight existing StreetSpark murals, in addition to eight others throughout the city, providing a total of 19 art installations. StreetSpark is also placing greater emphasis on community partnerships, working with Miami Hamilton to hire student artists from their new Community Arts degree program.
StreetSpark continues to grow in its impact each year, adding color and vibrancy to the region. As visitors flock to see the murals, they learn more about the area and visit local businesses, fueling growth. It's yet another example of how the arts enliven neighborhoods, leading to a stronger local economy.