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The Arts Commission (Toledo)
AIGA Toledo is dedicated to inspiring our community and those who visit the area. Working towards the same goal, the Arts Commission of Greater Toledo works to strengthen our community, foster creativity and celebrate life through art. We were approached by the Arts Commission to create a new city-wide project that would be on display as the city hosted the International GAS (Glass Arts Society) Conference. The aim was to get the many visitors (locals, too) out to discover or rediscover our city over the summer months.
Prior to embarking on this project, AIGA Toledo had already established a strong partnership with the Arts Commission. We previously partnered with them to bring the Urban Forest Project to Toledo in 2010. In 2011, we collaborated again to create the Downtown Windows Project. Having proven our creativity and reliability to the Arts Commission, they came to AIGA Toledo to do another project timed to occur during the GAS Conference. Initially, the Arts Commission imagined another banner project, but we wanted to do something new.
Many of us were familiar with the red circle and “You Are Here” dot affixed to many directories throughout America. Funded by the City of Toledo’s One Percent for Art Program, and proudly presented by AIGA Toledo + The Arts Commission, the You Are Here Toledo Project (YAH) is a series of large one-of-a-kind outdoor “dots” affixed to various public sidewalks
throughout Toledo to promote positivity and enhance our sense of place. Using the circular shape of a dot (at three feet in diameter), Northwest Ohio artists, designers and students were asked to make a powerful visual statement in
response to their assigned dot’s location.
The YAH project also integrates mobile technology by developing a mobile app to allow for the audience to “check in” and log the dots they have “collected.” One hundred dots mark the city, each containing a QR (quick response) code that allows smartphone users to learn more about the artwork, its location and its artist. With the YAH Toledo app, collecting and finding all 100 dots was a fun and interactive component of the project where viewers could discover the dot images throughout the city.
The first 100 people to “collect” 25 dots received a special edition silk-screened poster. The project was unique to
Toledo and showcased the amazing artistic talent and places of this region.
Our budget was $26,000 based on our experience from doing the Urban Forest Project, but we actually came in about 8,000 under budget! Our printing was cheaper than we estimated because our vendor, CGS Imaging, was so amenable to our needs. We also received generous donations from Hanson Inc. and Wixey Bakery.
We reviewed and used CowParade—an art exhibit of life-sized cows painted by artists that has taken place in over 75 cities—as a successful example of this type of project.
Toledo is known as the Glass City for its rich history in glass innovation, and many of the locations for the project were chosen to highlight that history. Our research led us to relevant locations such as the Libbey Glass Outlet, The Libbey House, Owens Corning, The Toledo Museum of Art and Glass Pavilion and the Blair Museum of Lithophanes, to name a few. We also used Arts Commission and AIGA board members to add to our location list for the dots based on their historical or popular significance to our city.
To convince these locations to take part, we were able to reference our successful track record of previous Arts Commission projects and our own familiarity with the community.
To execute this project successfully, we wanted to include a wide variety of artists in the project. Therefore, we had a call for participation go out to recruit Northwest Ohio designers and artists by asking them to submit a portfolio of their work to our jury. Our jurors were artists and design leaders in the community who were not participants of the project itself. Once the 100 designers and artists were selected out of a pool of 218 submissions, each was randomly assigned their location and information, and they were encouraged to do additional investigative research.
To get the locations on board with the project, each of the 100 locations received a letter congratulating them on being selected for the project. They were also asked to contribute to the project by providing significant information about them for use on the project website and app. This helped us secure much needed information and generated more enthusiasm about the project.
The YAH app was intended for users to digitally "collect" YAH dots so they could participate in a scavenger hunt to discover the city of Toledo. Using the “capture” feature, the user opens the built-in QR reader for scanning the dot. Once scanned, the artist statement and historical information about the dot and its location are opened up for the viewer. Also, in the “capture” feature, the user can see which dots they recently scanned and collected.
To assist the dot collection process, users can directly use the “view map” feature to see how close they are to a dot location and to find remaining dots in their search. Finally, a user can go to the gallery of dots to see what they would like to add to their collection and then continue their search from there.
For non-smartphone users, each dot featured
the project’s URL so these participants could learn more about the work at their convenience.
All dots had to be located on city property as the project was funded by the City of Toledo. While all locations received an official letter about the project, some locations failed to communicate with their grounds crews about the dots. At the beginning of the project, about seven or eight dots were removed accidentally. When the dots were replaced, I went into the locations personally and spoke with necessary parties about the project. Problem solved.
The other challenge for the project was getting information on all 100 locations in the timeframe we had to put this together. We wanted to give the viewer as much information as we could find about the location; in some cases, we just couldn’t find the wealth of information we were looking for. To get what we needed, we asked librarians and local historians to help us fill in some of the gaps. In some cases, we are still looking, but that is the great part about the web component—we can add this new information to the dot gallery at any time.
The Arts Commission is absolutely thrilled with the success of the You Are Here Project due to the recognition it has received to date. The project has received amazing press coverage locally throughout the year, including a year-end article in the Toledo Free Press as one of the newsmakers of 2012. The project was also presented at AIGA’s Leadership Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah and will be featured in the March 2013 issue of HOW Magazine as an Outstanding Award Winner in their “International Design Awards” issue.
My favorite aspect was the amazing responses we got from Toledoans who fell in love with their city all over again. Some residents were getting smartphones just so they could participate in collecting the dots (In retrospect, I think we should have partnered with a cell phone service provider for a sponsorship.)
Some metrics collected from May 22 to September 18, 2012:
Toledo.com’s video overview of the You Are Here Toledo Project
This case study is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Looking for additional ways to design for good? This list of organizations and programs is a great place to start. There are many more opportunities out there—so if you know of a resource we should add here let us know!
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