Summit Artspace Kings and Queens Mural Initiative Celebrates Kirk Mangus’ Legacy and Akron’s Beautiful People
For over a decade, Summit Artspace’s visitors have been welcomed to the building by Kings and Queens, a 225-feet-wide by 9-feet-high mural depicting faces representing diverse ethnic groups living in Akron. Internationally-renowned artist and Kent State University (KSU) faculty member Kirk Mangus (1952–2013) and 25 Summit County teens painted the mural in 2006, with funding from Summit County, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Vernon L. Odom Fund of Akron Community Foundation. While the mural has deteriorated over time due to continued exposure to the elements, a new project is underway to replenish the mural and expand upon its original purpose.
The Ohio Arts Council (OAC) awarded Summit Artspace an Arts Resilience Initiative grant to restore and document the mural and further develop Mangus’ concept through a community-based project called Faces of Akron. “The project is an excellent, thoughtful example of how to empower creative professionals to work and contribute toward community revitalization,” remarked OAC Executive Director Donna S. Collins.
Internationally-acclaimed ceramicist Eva Kwong, Mangus’ widow, is spearheading the mural’s restoration. Student artists from Akron Public Schools are aiding Kwong with the restoration, mirroring the student engagement that helped produce the original work. “I am delighted to be part of this project. I assisted my late husband, Kirk Mangus, with the original mural and worked with some of the students,” noted Kwong. “This new phase revitalizes and extends Kirk’s original vision.”
In collaboration with the KSU School of Art’s art history department, Summit Artspace is creating signage and online didactics for the mural to share its cultural history and document Mangus’ legacy. Mangus’ work embraced a raw perspective on humanness, and his depiction of faces in Kings and Queens was both humorous and empathetic. He sought to document the heritage of all the immigrants who came to live in Akron. “He had a profound interest in storytelling and capturing the essence of the people he met in his world travels,” Kwong explains. “Kirk would say, ‘They are all beautiful people.’”
The grant also supports the commission of a new community-based digital mural titled Faces of Akron, led by local artist Alexandria Couch. Couch selected five local artists—Hope Hickman, Christine Ries, Micah Kraus, Meryl Engler, and Sylvia Sykes—to create portraits of community members as an homage to the original mural and to showcase Greater Akron’s diversity in 2022. “I am excited about this project because as artists, it gives us a platform in which we can engage with the community in a positive way,” said Couch. The portraits will be displayed at Summit Artspace starting May 27 and will also be digitized into a virtual mural and featured on Summit Artspace’s website in June.
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