When members of the Public Arts Network of Northern Kentucky set out to create a project to connect the communities of Northern Kentucky through public art, they questioned what they could bring to the table. The answer? Tables. Lots of tables.

The organization created the Northern Kentucky Picnic Project, an initiative that will add art and picnic tables throughout the region.

The concept is relatively simple. Businesses and organizations throughout Northern Kentucky were invited to purchase a specially constructed picnic table, which they would then design and decorate at two painting parties held by the Public Arts Network. The designs, which are completely at the discretion of the purchasing organization, should reflect the community or organization in some way—to convey through art the story they want others to know. It’s like Cincinnati’s Big Pig Gig but with tables. And food.

The project culminates on June 16 at a community picnic on the Purple People Bridge where all the tables and those who helped to create them will come together for a meal. More than 70 uniquely painted tables, each seating 10, will sit end to end, their varying designs and schemes creating a visual patchwork of the Northern Kentucky community.

“We’re expecting at least 700 people with the potential of 1,400 [counting guests] so it will be crazy and amazing. The cool thing will be the tables all lined up down the center of the bridge,” says Jill Morenz, who is heading up the project.

While the center of the bridge will be restricted to those directly involved with the project, the pedestrian walkways on either side of the bridge will remain open to allow community members to see all the tables together. After the event, the tables will be delivered to their final homes to be used throughout the year. Most tables will take up residence on the property of the buyer but some will make their way into parks in Newport and Covington.

“It was really just a way to get Northern Kentucky together through art but also get that identifiable object to link people together like the pigs in Cincinnati or the horses in Lexington. But this is more participatory. It is more than just coming together to see the tables. I love the pigs but with the tables you can also have a picnic on them,” says Morenz on why she thinks the use of tables for the project added to the overall impact. “People can utilize these tables. I think it’s an interesting additional aspect to just an object.”

Among the participants are schools and churches, civic organizations, veteran businesses and startups, each sharing a message about what they bring to the Northern Kentucky table. Some tables will include simple, fun designs like children’s handprints or community signatures, while others will be more elaborate with businesses hiring designers and artists to create the art. Prizes will be awarded in several categories including top honors of Best in Picnic. Winners will be awarded a plaque that will be affixed to the tables.

While some see the initiative as just a beautification project, those involved see it as so much more.

“It’s different and that’s what I like about it. We have 35 cities and three counties in Northern Kentucky. Part of our strategy with this is that we have to come together to get things done. We have to collaborate to have one voice. The Picnic Table project is symbolic in that we have to come together to do big things and we do that. We’re unique and special in that way,” says Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce President Brent Cooper. The chamber is supporting the project through promotion of the initiative to its members and by purchasing a table.

“Our role is to promote business growth and grow the economy and we think this was a great way to do both of those things. We want to attract, grow and retain talent. We think people will visit all the tables to see all of them,” Cooper adds.

The chamber table design is being created by a commissioned artist and is expected to highlight the organization’s key objectives—to lead, connect and advocate.

For Christopher Bednar of the Newport Parks Renaissance Commission, the project provides a way of helping the commission meet its goal of beautifying the parks and representing the people of the community.

“It’s an opportunity to kind of cover several bases at one time,” he says. “Picnic tables are useful to those who visit our local parks and green spaces. They will also deliver a message or artwork to areas that may otherwise be bereft of such things.  And the fact that they will end up in parks is a huge bonus for us as this is exactly the type of thing we strive for. The fact that we get to work with other nonprofit groups to make this reality is icing on the cake.”

Numerous sponsors stepped up to the plate to make the event possible, including ArtsWave, which gave a grant that provided 10 tables that were then given to deserving organizations who otherwise couldn’t participate.

“The Picnic Table Project uses art to deepen roots to the community. The review committee was impressed not only by the scale of the project—joining painted picnic tables across the Purple People Bridge, a visually stunning sight—but by the initiative to link our community together through art and food. We believe that the project will also enliven Northern Kentucky communities through both the picnic itself, as well as through the public art installations that will remain after the event is done. Supporting this project was a win-win for ArtsWave,” says Kathy DeBrosse, ArtsWave vice president of marketing and engagement. “A relatively simple idea, the picnic table project, weaves together creativity and community through a shared experience. It uses the arts to represent and celebrate the vitality of our neighborhoods, while creating opportunities for people from both Kentucky and Ohio sides of the river to make new connections and strengthen their ties to the Greater Cincinnati region.”

The June 16 picnic will kick off at 11:30 a.m. on the Purple People Bridge. For those who missed out on this year’s picnic, no worries. Plans are already in place to repeat the project next year. To learn more visit nkypicnic.org.



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