Shifting Totems

Submitted by The Urban Conga


Client: City of Cleveland

Location: Cleveland, OH, United States

Completion date: 2019

Project Team


The Urban Conga

Public Art Agent

LAND Studio


City of Cleveland


The concept for “Shifting Totems” was to create a piece that would spark a moment of pride, empowerment, and inspiration within the Glenville community. We designed this piece through a series of participatory design workshops with the Glenville community. The piece is a series of three aluminum totems that appear to be growing from the ground and creating a connection between two local neighborhoods. With this design, we wanted to create a piece that would use a playful interaction to spark conversation on the past, present, and future of the neighborhoods. Each totem has a certain number of units that can be rotated to spell out a multitude of different words like strong, vote, and pride that help spark conversations. The units range in height from 9′, 7′ 5″, 6′ and all have a base of 5′ diameter. The steel base allows not only for structural stability but also functions as seating around each of the pieces.


"Shifting Totems" was created with the local community to bring a piece to this neighborhood that they could call theirs. We worked closely with their ideas to develop this public art piece. We wanted to use the playability and design of the piece to not only showcase the pride, empowerment, and inspiration of the community. Creating a place for people of all demographics to hangout around and converse about the past, present, and future of the neighborhood. The units rotate to spell out a multitude of words to spark conversation. These units also contain openings that frame ou views of the neighborhood, and serve as targets for kids to throw balls through.


"Shifting Totems" is an interactive piece we created through a series of participatory design workshops with the City of Cleveland and the Glenville community. Through these workshops, we designed a series of concepts that we had the community choose from. "Shifting Totems" was a piece that was created for the City of Cleveland, but was designed directly with the community of Glenville for the community. We wanted this to be a piece they could be proud of.

Additional Information

The Glenville neighborhood is a predominantly lower-income African American community in Cleveland that is consistently given a bad reputation. When doing this project we were constantly told that this was a rough neighborhood and the piece would not be appreciated. From our experience, these stereotypes couldn't be further from the truth. The community was extremely engaged and appreciative during the participatory design workshops, and multiple neighbors reached out and thanked us once the piece was installed. Working with this community was an honor for our team.