UA's Arts LIFT students creating eco-inspired benches


Inspired by nature, 10 art students from Akron high schools will be working this summer with nationally recognized ceramicist Angelica Pozo to create benches for the Cuyahoga Valley Environmental Education Center (CVEEC) in Peninsula.

Among the many projects created by Arts LIFT participants are these custom rainbarrels. In 2009, with Drive by Press artists, the students produced 50 of these one-of-a-kind practical pieces of art that raised nearly $4,000 for the city of Akron's Greenplan initiative.

The eco-inspired benches will be unveiled at a free public celebration at the CVEEC’s November Lodge, 3675 Oak Hill Road, on Thursday, July 22, from 6 to 8 p.m. The celebration will also feature live music by local eclectic Bluegrass band Fast Molasses, free food and printed eco-themed T-shirts for sale by the students.

Designed to teach environmental responsibility, CVEEC's November Lodge features recycled and sustainable materials, geothermal energy for heating and cooling, and native and indigenous plantings that support biodiversity and use less water and fertilizers.

Fostering creativity

The bench project is organized by Arts LIFT, an award-winning summer arts apprenticeship program created by the Mary Schiller Myers School of Art at The University of Akron. The program is supported by the Lola K. Isroff Arts Assistance Endowed Fund at UA.

From June 16 to July 2 at the UA Myers School of Art in Folk Hall on campus, the high school students will work with Pozo to create unique benches with custom ceramic mosaics. Each bench will be designed for a specific area of the CVEEC: woodlands, wetlands and the new butterfly garden.

The students will also participate in a weekend retreat to the CVEEC and a trip to Pozo’s studio in Tremont, Ohio. Plus, Cuyahoga Valley National Park rangers and artists Aimee Sauls and Jerry Burris will talk with them about conservation, preservation and how to assist in developing a community through art.

This is the eighth year that Arts LIFT, conceived and directed by Dr. Elisa Gargarella, an art education professor at The University of Akron's Myers School of Art, is bringing together professional artists, high school and UA art students, and local institutions to create permanent artworks that support conservation and ecological efforts in the Greater Akron community.

Artwork widely displayed

Previous Arts LIFT participants have created public artworks and major installations for Keep Akron Beautiful, the Akron Zoological Park, Crown Point Ecology Center, the Corbin Conservatory at Stan Hywet, the Cuyahoga Valley Environmental Education Center and for the Cuyahoga Valley National Park Association.

Since the program began, Arts LIFT participants have created six major installations that are functionally used or visited by more than 20,000 people annually.

“Arts LIFT gives urban youth the creative and critical knowledge and skills necessary to become better stewards of their communities — both natural and manmade,” explains Gargarella. 

Deanna D’Amco, a past participant, says that Arts LIFT helps young artists capitalize on their potential to create positive change in their communities.

“Arts LIFT encourages teens because the community views them differently after seeing what they’ve created as artists. They weren’t spending their time flipping burgers or playing video games or stealing stuff from the mall — instead, they were researching their city, exploring it, seeing it with new eyes, and then creating a new artistic vision of it for everyone else to see.”

Gargarella and Arts LIFT were honored by receiving the Charley Harper Award for contributions to Ohio’s eco arts from the Environmental Education Council of Ohio in 2009. They also received the Collaborative Project Award given by the Akron Area Arts Alliance in 2005.

For more information about the Arts LIFT program, call the Myers School of Art at 330-972-8325.

Media contacts: Elisa Gargarella, Director Arts LIFT, 330-972-8325 or or, after June 23: Cyndee Snider, 330-972-5196 or