God’s Doors Are Open to All!

Regardless if our building is open or closed, God’s Doors are Open to All! First Church was proud to announce the unveiling of a public art installation, God’s Doors Are Open To All, (#GodsDoorsAkron) on Wednesday, August 26, 2020. This installation was located on the church lawn facing Market Street.

First Church created this installation as a visual statement of its support of diversity and inclusion. Consisting of 8 full-sized doors mounted side by side, this project contained many visual, conceptual and participatory levels of diversity and inclusion. Each of the 8 doors was of a different style or size, and each was painted one of the colors in the Philadelphia rainbow (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, brown, black) in support of the LGBTQ+ community.

First Church commissioned 8 local artists, each assigned to decoratively paint one door. First Church curated the selected artists to provide a wide diversity of ethnicity, race, and age, as well as inclusion of members from the LBGTQ+ community. Each artist was encouraged to decoratively paint their door in their distinctive and cultural style, adding an additional layer of diversity and inclusion.

Participating Artists included:

About the artists:

Red Door – Nirali Schrader: Nirali was born in India, and has lived in America for 13 years. She graduated from the University of Akron with a degree in Education. Since Nirali was a child, she worked with different art mediums, especially henna, a plant-based dye. Nirali wanted to participate in this project to represent her unique, cultural, ethnic art. This mandala-style Indian art is an ancient one, which she felt would add to the diversity of this body of work. Nirali chose the red door (the largest canvas she has ever worked on!) specifically because red is an auspicious color in her Hindu religion. Red in part, represents the color of blood, of liveliness and being alive. Red is also the heart, which stands for love and peace, which Nirali feels is also represented by this project.

Orange Door – Melissa Ferguson: A designer and illustrator born and raised in Akron, Melissa attended the University of Akron, and works with VIBE Collective, an organization seeking to create spaces for community transformation and healing. Melissa’s mother is a refugee from Vietnam, which influenced Melissa’s door design representing Pho, a Vietnamese noodle soup. According to Melissa, “Being half Vietnamese, I understand the important of active inclusion — that it’s not only important to include others different than you, but to embrace and learn those differences to better understand and interact with others in the community. I see this project as a piece of the bridge that’s trying to connect groups that have been torn apart for so long. It’s an honor to help our community build this bridge together!”

Yellow Door – Ann Snyder: A retired floral and graphics designer, Ann is originally from St Paul, Minnesota. After getting married, Ann has lived in Pennsylvania, Maine, Illinois, and Ohio, as well as living in Ghana for three years. Ann likes to make things out of vintage embroidered fabrics and lace. and enjoys painting furniture in funky colors and patterns. She has been sewing most of her life, and her quilting and patchwork projects were a direct influence on her door design. Ann’s door represents the diversity of God’s children, but also shows how they are connected as the squares of a quilt are connected.

Green Door – Jaxx Cheline: Jaxx is currently a junior at Firestone CLC, and is a part of the Akron School of the Arts program. He is often inspired by nature, and feels that plants, and flowers specifically, can communicate beauty just by being alive. Look for his foster pet turtle, Miss Myrtle – she is hidden in his artwork! Jaxx is also a member of the LGBTQ+ community.

Blue Door – Kat Stahl: Kat is an artist and musician who moved to Akron in 2016 to pursue a graduate degree in French horn. As a visual artist, Kat has always sought to capture people in her work. She has worked as a caricature artist, and a published illustrator, utilizing many mediums including graphite, watercolor, acrylic, and digital. Recently she has been using her art to explore and celebrate her queer/lesbian identity, and as such is very excited to be a part of this project and use it to shed light on a part of the rich history of the LGBTQ+ community. Kat’s door features illustrations of key people who have made a difference in the lesbian movement.

Purple Door – Stephanie “LEO” Leonardi: Stephanie, affectionately known as “Leo”, was born and raised in Akron (North Hill), and has a BA and MA in Art Education from Cleveland State University and the University of Akron. She has 10 years of teaching experience in Cleveland, Youngstown and Akron Public Schools. Leo has 10 murals throughout Akron, and has facilitated photography apprenticeship programs, community events, block parties and several other creative projects. Currently under the proud name of Summit Lake Build Corps, Leo recruits projects, lead builders, volunteers and youth from the neighborhood to come together with a purpose. When asked why she wanted to participate, Leo shared, “Art, church, purple door?? I was in!! Seriously loved the opportunity to participate in an art installation working alongside a church, loved the message it communicates, and the prompt to think how to bring depth and layers visually. Love the process and being a part of this art piece.”

Brown Door – Jamie Mutnansky: Jamie is originally from Lorain, Ohio, but has lived in Akron for nearly 4 years. As she put it, Jamie’s “just a small-town girl trying to give my life meaning in a big town world.” Jamie’s not much for labels, so she wasn’t going to do that for herself, but Jamie’s been through a lot, coming to Akron with nothing more than the clothes on her back. At 42 years old, Jamie says she’s living proof that it is never too late to start over again. As an artist, Jamie prefers acrylics, but does dabble in oil painting now and again. Her door design expresses her gratefulness to First Church for everything she has learned as a part of the Feed My Sheep Garden program (this is the third summer she has worked weekly in the garden), and shared that when asked to create a piece for this project, “I said yes with joy in my heart.”

Black Door – Lindsey Jo Scott: Lindsey Jo is an illustrator and designer whose work is recognizable through her use of vibrant, positive imagery and words. Inspired by the natural world, poetry, philosophy, her own journey of healing and discovery, and her background in yoga therapy, Lindsey Jo explores topics of self-acceptance and presence, focusing on the belief that art can help us to be more alive and more fully connected to ourselves and each other. In 2019, Cleveland Magazine named her “one of the top social media accounts to follow,” because of her “color-bombed feed and creative illustrations.” Lindsey Jo lives and works where the city meets the forest in Akron, Ohio.

Special thanks to Amber Cullen, lead facilitator at VIBE Collective, for her work with First Church to curate the group of participating artists.