Delaware has a plethora of parks owned, managed, and funded by the city government – and one that isn’t.
It is the Boardman Arts Park at 154 W. William St. and is run by a nonprofit, run exclusively by volunteers and funded entirely by grants, donations and event proceeds, said the director Roxanne Amidon.
For 74 years, the 2.2-acre site was home to Ruth Boardman Elementary School and its playground, but the city’s school district razed the building in 1979, Amidon said.
For years thereafter, it was a recreation area for the nearby Willis Middle School, now the Willis Education Center of the City of Delaware Schools.
The last students left Willis in 2016, and the location quickly caught the attention of the Delaware Northwest Neighborhood Association, which approached the city to preserve the green space as a park, said Starch.
The ANI website says the group was formed in 2001 by residents and landowners to address civic and legislative issues facing the community. It has no regulatory authority, serving primarily as an advocacy and information group for the neighborhood and supporting local charitable causes through fundraising events and community service projects.
The city government, which lists 26 other places as parks on its website, had its hands full and was not interested in the organization’s speech, Amidon said.
With the cooperation of the school district, volunteers began coordinating art activities and events at the site in what Starch called a test of the concept.
By 2019, Amidon said, volunteers exhibited more than 50 works of art in the park and organized 22 events, including an antiques festival attended by more than 1,300 people.
That same year, the school district agreed to lease the property to the arts park volunteers, who formed the nonprofit organization and launched a long-term plan – which still continues – to fill the park with works. art, benches and unique trails and convert it into a site of events and activities.
“Schools in the city of Delaware are thrilled to partner with Boardman Arts Park to create a valuable resource in the Delaware community. The Downtown Arts Park is a great use of a space that was largely unused, ”said Superintendent Heidi Kegley. “We appreciate the vision and tenacity of the Boardman Arts Park volunteers to secure funding to continue to improve the park for the enjoyment of people of all ages. We look forward to seeing continued improvements, exhibits and events that will benefit the entire community. ”
“Local organizations like the Boardman Arts Park are what make Delaware an award-winning hometown,” city spokesperson Lee Yoakum said. “We have a great relationship with the group and look forward to continuing it in the future.”
Activity to improve the park is almost constant, Amidon said. Works of art are continually being added and improved, and most of the artwork has been produced by residents of Delaware and central Ohio.
The park has received numerous donations from individuals and businesses, including grants from sources such as the Ohio Arts Council. Some companies have carried out work in the park at no cost or at reduced rates, she said.
“Every penny goes back to the park,” Amidon said.
“Some days I’m like, ‘Woo-hoo! We’ve done so much!’ and other days I’m like, ‘There is so much to do,’ “she said.
The volunteers eventually hope to expand a building in the park to create a venue for events that could take place year-round and that could be rented out for weddings and other activities, Amidon said.
Goals for 2022 include further development of the event space and the addition of a small stage, she said, which would allow for free programming, festivals, musical performances, collaborative artistic programming, classes. yoga and jazzercise, among other activities.
A larger performance milestone would be built on the same schedule as the building expansion, she said, but funding needs mean those goals will likely take a few more years.
In the short term, volunteers develop a maze of wildflowers, continue landscaping work, and plan a water feature designed around a piano, she said.
The park also added commissioned works, including a 6-foot-tall unicorn, made from recycled bicycle tires by Nigerian artist Ernest Nkwocha Ogbonna.
Amidon said the volunteers started the park with the belief, “If we build it, they will come.” And they did.
To learn more about the park, visit https://boardmanartspark.org/.