Think of Lorain County Community College’s Follow the Fish project as public art meets marketing, business and tourism. 

The project started when artists and businesspeople had an idea that a public art project like the ones that exist in other places — such as the guitars that graced downtown Cleveland several years ago — would be a nice addition to Lorain County.

“We wanted it to be countywide for stronger reach and broader pool,” says Joan Perch, chairperson of the project and operations coordinator at LCCC’s Stocker Arts Center. “And we chose to use fish knowing this would initially be a lakefront project. Since Lake Erie fish are one of our biggest natural resources and a connection to tourism, we wanted to celebrate that.” 

Next they needed to decide how to incorporate the fish. North Ridgeville artist Jim Gundloch designed and produced kinetic sculptures of local Lake Erie fish in three sizes, representing three levels of sponsorship available. Participating businesses and organizations can purchase a sculpture of their choice for display on their premises, with the proceeds go to the LCCC art program.

The norm with projects such as this is to place sculptures around town, provide a map or book, host a kickoff, then expect people to go around and find them — sometimes the sculptures are in front of businesses or in parks and people come to see the art and maybe visit a business. But Perch wanted a more cohesive plan. “It’s a bit of a random approach. There is no strong data that it works,” Perch explains.

“Instead of just having art, we decided to link the art to what we call Adventure Trails, which guide visitors around the county — and its businesses and organizations — as they look for the fish in different places,” says Perch. “At its heart, this is an arts and marketing project. Art is the lure. People will come to see the art, and this will bring traffic to local businesses.” 

The goal is that this art will play a part in sustaining the local economy and drawing attention to the many hip, cool things going on in Lorain County. Here’s how it works: A company or organization purchases a fish sculpture. The purchaser is welcome to personalize, decorate and display the fish any way he or she likes. The fish is recognizable by customers and tourists as a marker for the Adventure Trail. 

“The fish are like arrows that point the way to all the cool things that make Lorain County the authentic place that it is,” Perch explains. Each fish has a scan tag for a smart phone that calls up information about the project and tells where else you can go to follow the fish. 

Perch says one of the best parts of the project, which kicked off about a year ago, it the work it has created for LCCC art students. “Our students are able to be involved in a real project — creating an actual website, participating in a marketing campaign and working to develop partnerships with local businesses,” she says. “The project is really about relationship-building and connecting the dots between our businesses and our public spaces.”