Passers-by in downtown Toledo next spring may find themselves pausing to enjoy masterworks by artists from Van Gogh to Vasarely—not on canvasses but benches. A team of “Young Artists at Work,” under the guidance of Dr. Dominic Catalano, art, spent six weeks this summer recreating the works of art, from building the benches to painting the designs on them.
“I loved this program,” said Catalano. “The students were the crème de la crème. They were an inspired, engaged group.”
Administered by the Arts Commission of Greater Toledo (ACGT) and with support from donors and a National Endowment for the Arts grant for the “Live, Work, Create Toledo” initiative, Young Artists at Work pays students from around the region minimum wage for seven hours a day to work on large-scale projects that beautify the city.
The 19 students on “Team Matisse” identified 20 works from the Toledo Museum of Art as potential pieces for the project. “We weighed the pros and cons—would the images hold up on the benches? Would they be ‘readable’?” Catalano recounted. Working with him was assistant instructor Ross Roadruck.
Eventually, 10 paintings made the cut. They include a Greek vase mosaic and works by Matisse, Lesueur, Hofmann, Miró, Mondrían, Monet, Stella, Vasarely and Van Gogh. Steve Nowak, the museum’s director of education, provided high-resolution images of the artworks that the student artists first gridded onto paper and then the benches.
The Van Gogh group became particularly engaged with their painting and completed it in only six hours, Catalano said in amazement. “It was four kids working all at the same time. I felt like they were channeling Van Gogh.”
The benches will be installed permanently on streets within the designated Art Zone of downtown Toledo, an area rich in artist studios and galleries. The designation focuses on art as a means to economic development.
“The project was very important to the arts commission as a way to create a visual linkage within the boundaries of the Art Zone,” said Michelle Carlson, ACGT programs coordinator. “It also increases walkability and helps raise awareness of the zone as an inviting and safe place to be. The benches were very well received by our commission, our board and our sponsors.”
In addition to the actual artwork, participants received quite a bit of job preparation. Over the course of the summer, they attended workshops in interviewing and resume and cover-letter writing. Other activities included field trips and research. “It was just ideal,” Catalano said.
For many of the young artists, the fun and importance of the project will culminate with being able to actually sit on the benches they created.