Spring is always seen as a time of rebirth and renewing, and is often characterized by the beauty that comes with colorful spring blooms. This spring, the Mid-Ohio Valley was gifted an additional visual treat in the form of vibrant metal artwork created by the artists of the Wood County Society’s Artbeat Studio. Folks traveling down Market Street can now spot a bee, a butterfly, and flowers attached to city light posts. The pieces were installed last Wednesday, March 10th by Parkersburg city employees in a collaboration with Wood County Society and Artbeat Studio, and as part of Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month.

These artful installations are the product of community partnership and took an average of 14 hours each to create, including the fabrication, sanding, priming, painting and sealing of the work. The City of Parkersburg funded materials, local artists conceived and painted the pieces, and Kincheloe Motors coated them with a sealant to ensure durability. This means that the pieces will be beautiful and rust free for years to come. 

As a collaborative partner, Wendy Shriver, Executive Director of Downtown PKB, said she was excited to see this project come together. “Downtown PKB is thrilled to be a collaborative partner with the City of Parkersburg and the artists of the Wood County Society’s Artbeat Studio to incorporate inclusive public artwork into our downtown’s landscape,” she said. “We thank the City for investing in this supportive employment opportunity and applaud the artists for their creative placemaking artwork.”

City of Parkersburg employees installing the artwork downtown

The idea for the artwork installation originated when Mayor Tom Joyce attended the grand opening of the Wood County Society in August of 2019. Seeing artwork completed by Artbeat’s artists, Mayor Joyce commented that he would love to see some of this art hanging in downtown Parkersburg. “This is when the magic started to happen,” said Wood County Society Executive Director, Brandon Gress, “and the collaborations were born between Wood County Society, Downtown PKB, City of Parkersburg along with Burkmerica Custom Designs to facilitate prototypes from the Artbeat Studio Artists original work.”

Public art with a direct link to the community provides an aesthetic focal point to the downtown.

“Public art with a direct link to the community provides an aesthetic focal point to the downtown,” said Mayor Joyce. “Coupled with the fact that the artists are not just local persons but those with a disability brings a level of authenticity that isn’t present with other commissioned artists.”

“Downtown Parkersburg has made great strides in the past 25 years and while there are challenges that remain, the downtown represents a large portion of the employment base for the MOV,” he continued. “This project is another piece of making it more walkable, livable and a destination for employment and enjoyment.”

Gress said that he hopes this installation will help the Society to continue to build its mission. “Wood County Society’s vision of ensuring all communities are united to ensure every individual is recognized and provided inclusive opportunities for their abilities is the central focus of all of our programs, resources and initiatives,” said Gress. “[We] continue to strengthen our mission and our impact by responding and collaborating with community need and impact. This industrial metal work project is just the beginning for our artists – and it is the desire that other communities will love their work as much as the City of Parkersburg – and we can continue to build our mission of igniting passion and the human spirit through the arts.”

Left to Right: Stan, Jennifer Eisenmann (Artbeat Assistant), Eric Eisenmann, Rosanna, Wade, Barbara, Matt and the Wood County Society Artbeat Coordinator Karla Burkman.

Watching their pieces get installed, Gress said that the artists were overjoyed. “As one artist stated – ‘This is the best day of my life!’  and another had tears as the artwork was displayed along Market Street,” he said. “There is much to say in regards to providing compassion, inclusion and accessibility – because everyone should experience joy, satisfaction and fulfillment!”

Executive Director Wendy Shriver has been a catalyst of change for our revitalization efforts downtown… her commitment to our downtown and providing inclusive opportunities for our artists and the community at large is humbling

The artists’ reactions lend credence to the value of the efforts of the Wood County Society. The Artbeat Studio is a collaborative and adaptive community arts center located in downtown Parkersburg. The talented artists of the collective create their masterpieces from up-cycled materials in an environment that fosters accessibility, inclusion, abundance, and compassion. Gress said that since the Market Street installation, Artbeat artists have two new contracts for additional pieces under development. The studio is open to working with other municipalities or businesses that would like to display art done by participants.  

“Wood County Society and Downtown PKB have collaborated for the past two years to ensure the security and the development of this project,” said Gress. “Executive Director Wendy Shriver has been a catalyst of change for our revitalization efforts downtown, recognizing the beauty and need for streetscape design – and her passion is unwavering while her commitment to our downtown and providing inclusive opportunities for our artists and the community at large is humbling.”

The Wood County Society serves individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Wood, Jackson, Roane, Calhoun, Wirt, Ritchie, Tyler and Pleasants Counties in West Virginia and Meigs, Washington and Athens Counties in Ohio. In addition to grants funds and corporate sponsorships, the majority of the funding for the Wood County Society comes from their annual telethon which will be held Sunday, March 28th. This event is aired live on WTAP and runs from 12:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Community members, schools, and more participate to encourage donations, which can even be completed via text message. Gress said that he hopes to see a tremendous response since, “the more money we raise, the more we can do for the community!”

Gress also invites everyone to get creative and participate in the virtual “Rock Your Sock” event planned for March 21st, which is Downs Syndrome Awareness Day. To participate, simply wear mismatched socks, snap a picture, and send it to the Wood County Society via social media. The Society has many events and projects upcoming, including a return to Camp Echo, a respite care program that had to be canceled last year due to the pandemic. This year the camp will have a Broadway theme and feature a visit from Broadway performers. To learn more, visit the Wood County Society website.