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Where Sidewalks End

Art show launches call to action for more walkable communities

“Where Sidewalks End” is as much a call to action as it is an art show.

The exhibition, which opens Friday at downtown Youngstown’s Soap Gallery in the first of three stops, was conceived to call attention to some of the obstacles area residents face in making healthy lifestyle choices.

Sarah Lowery, director of Healthy Community Partnership-Mahoning Valley, described walking as “the most basic form of getting from place to place.” It’s also healthier than driving, but it’s also not an option in many neighborhoods. In many cities, there are damaged sidewalks that are difficult to navigate or impassable, particularly for the elderly or the disabled. Many rural and suburban communities were designed without any sidewalks or safe walkways.

“‘Where Sidewalks End’ really is trying to start a conversation about what our built environment could look like and how to get better connected to the places we need to go as well as each other,” Lowery said.

Two photographers were selected from each participating county — Rachel E. Hathhorn and Mikenna McClurg from Trumbull, Michael McAllister and Joseph Napier from Mahoning, and Tim Cimperman and Gil Thurman from Mercer County in Pennsylvania — to document infrastructure in their communities. William Mullane is the overall curator for the project with a separate curator working on each county (James Shuttic, Trumbull; Stephen Poullas, Mahoning; Terry Polonsky, Mercer).

Those images will be displayed, first at Soap Gallery and later this year at Random Acts of Artists Gallery & Art Emporium in Sharon, Pa., and Trumbull Art Gallery in Warren. And the public is invited to submit images of their neighborhoods that will be shown on monitors in the galleries.

“It’s not only pictures of broken sidewalks,” Lowery said. “There are some pieces that really ask us to reimagine what is possible and a different vision of what the future could look like. It’s examining where we are now, but also where we could be.”

Hathhorn decided to focus on the efforts to remove dams from the Mahoning River, which should lead to cleaner water and increase opportunities for recreational and economic development.

“It was a great opportunity to bring awareness to what the Eastgate Regional Council of Governments and the Western Reserve Port Authority and the municipalities are doing,” she said. “I was pretty honored to be asked. I have to say, all of the artists and everyone involved, I highly respect them for what they’ve done for the area. Being a part of it is pretty special to me.”

One of the inspirations for the exhibition was “Urban Opportunity: An Art Show Dedicated to Revitalization,” which was shown at TAG in 2015. Six area photographers documented brownfields (properties where their reuse or redevelopment could be complicated by the presence of hazardous substances, pollutants or contaminants) in Trumbull County. Mullane also curated that project.

“That show involved a new group of people in thinking about that issue,” Mullane said. “A number of people who came to the exhibit were connected to the brownfields. They were employees of the steel mills. There were a number of people who came in who were born or had family die in St. Joseph (Riverside) Hospital, which became a brownfield. It was a way to connect people to that past, and there really was a discussion that came about from it … It was the first time we saw the arts community and the economic development community really work hand in hand, and it led to some much better collaborative programming.”

Shuttic was one of the photographers on the brownfields project, and he still hears from people who were impacted by it.

“It was a much larger issue than many thought,” he said. “You didn’t realize how much of it there was until you saw it all collected as a whole. Then it really sinks in.”

Both Shuttic and Mullane said “Where Sidewalks End” could have a lasting impact, not only on the infrastructure questions it addresses, but on the arts community as well.

“It’s bringing together people working on an issue and finding ways to intersect,” Mullane said. “It’s three counties, three galleries, three presenting organizations. We’re beginning to introduce each other’s artists to each other and crossing county lines. We’re forming community partnerships, bringing together different perspectives and laying out what are the solutions and how do you get involved with them … It’s giving artists and activists the opportunity to know each other and learn from each other, which often doesn’t happen.”

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