Kathleen Coakley, Public Art Advocate


Through Kathleen Coakley's visionary leadership, dedication, perseverance and hard work, the Committee for Public Art grew from a grass-roots dream to become a highly influential force in the aesthetic development of public space in Cleveland, as well as a key voice in the debate about Cleveland's future cityscape.

The Committee for Public Art, founded in 1985 by a group of artists and civic thinkers, was led and galvanized by Coakley for 15 years. Its work evolved through such projects as the relandscaping of West Sixth Street, Viaduct Gateway Park on the riverfront, the park at Settler's Landing and Gateway Plaza. In each case the Committee, under Coakley's leadership, was the driver needed to catalyze architects, city planners and artists, persuasively making the case that the aesthetic and economic power of a major building project would be enhanced by the addition of public art. Over time Coakley and her committee forged a unique, broad-based community organization to strengthen the identity of Cleveland.

The most enduring legacy of Coakley's work with the Committee may well be the $1.3 million art project organized for the Louis Stokes Wing of the Cleveland Public Library. Without the authority and credibility of the Committee for Public Art, this building would be without the flourish and panache that thoughtful art imparts. Many Cleveland artists are represented with top-quality work in this space, and more (including a commissioned sculpture by Vietnam Memorial creator Maya Linn) are featured in the Eastman Reading Garden, completed in 1998.

The Committee continues to be a strong advocate for Cleveland architects, designers and artists and, in many cases, has facilitated the commissions and funding that enabled artists not only to pursue, but actually to thrive, at their craft. It has provided the constant “noise” necessary to insure top priority for public art. It has also been a strong force to unite neighborhoods around the design of public space.

For example, its “Arts in Transit” initiative positively affected a wide range of city neighborhoods as they came together to partner with the Regional Transit Authority on the creation of public art. Cleveland Public Theatre's marquee and storefront revitalization created a strong artistic image on Detroit Avenue, and the artist-designed playground at Karamu House brought an imaginative and uplifting presence to the Fairfax neighborhood.

All Clevelanders and visitors to our city can count themselves the beneficiaries of Coakley's deeply felt passion for the arts.

Cleveland Arts Prize
P.O. Box 21126 • Cleveland, OH 44121 • 440-523-9889 • info@clevelandartsprize.org