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Steve Manka of Manka Design Studio

Meet Steve Manka, founder of Manka Design Studio, a public art firm in Midtown.
What is Manka Design Studio?
I founded The Manka Design Studio in 2004 to pursue public art and design projects for the community realm. Projects have expanded to include a wide range of design, from architectural work for residential clients and restaurants, iconic signage for Lincoln Electric and sculptural landscapes. The main thrust remains large scale sculptural work for public places.
Why did you start your business?
In 2004 I was also fortunate to win several design competitions. This made it too difficult to work full time and successfully complete these large scale public art sculpture commissions. It was the right time to go 100 percent on this unique work path as a sculptor and designer and move away from a traditional architecture and urban designer career.
How did you come up with the idea?
My love for cities grew from my architectural education. In grad school my focus of study was on the many forces that shape cities. It became clear our public domain is malleable and needs be shaped with sensibilities that respond sustainably and poetically to the unique realities of each place.
With public art I am able to apply this thinking to our public places. My job is to understand and celebrate these public places with sculptural expression that speaks to the heritage of place. I create things that provocatively tie people to that place and to each other.
 What was the biggest surprise in starting your business?
The deep valley between payments became an immediate scare and remains a challenge.
Where did you find your first employee?
Rather than hiring employees I have been fortunate to be part of a group of collaborators. A Manka Design team gathers when needed to tackle the tasks at hand. Architects, engineers, fabricators, builders, other artists in various disciplines have been rallied to refine ideas and to install final sculptures.
Who was your first customer and where did you find them?
My first commission was through a competition to build an ecological fence for the Cleveland Environmental Center back in 2003. My winning submission was an ecological fence that attracted birds. Upon revisiting the completed project I discovered bird droppings along several rails of the fence. I was very pleased.
What are some of the advantages to doing business in Cleveland?
Often the scale of my work concepts exceeds my abilities to achieve solo. The greatest advantage I have discovered here in Cleveland is the source of fabricators in this town. I am amazed by the talents of companies like Moritz Wood and Metal and several other industrial fabricators who can make anything I can dream up. The problem solving logic and execution of metal fabricators continually blows me away.
What advice would you give to someone starting a company here?
Take a giant step back often to re-affirm why you are doing what you are doing. I suppose it’s like hitting a rest button. Stress, exhaustion, and frustration unchecked can make you miserable. Re-love what you are doing often. I am still trying to figure that one out, but I have found that a detour to the Cleveland Art Museum is reaffirming, as is a stroll through Lakeview Cemetery, an idyllic place that represents generations of Clevelanders who made Cleveland what is. It is a beautiful place.
Can you share a funny or amazing entrepreneurial experience with our readers?
When I finish a project, I am quick to turn my attention to the next. When I can, I revisit the sites of the past projects to see how people are interacting, how the finish is holding up or if any attention is needed.

I recently completed sculptures for a dog park at the Michael J. Zone Recreation Cebter on W. 65 Street and Lorain Avenue. I cast enormous dog chew toys for seating at the entry and inside the park. People were sitting on the bones, enjoying conversation. I also noticed there were spots on the sculptures where dogs had urinated. I was pleased.
What’s next for you and your company?
I hope to continue working on public art and urban design at a national level.

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