The Next Art Capital of the World… Cleveland!?

What happens when an urban environment is a depressed industrial wasteland.

What happens when an urban environment is a depressed industrial wasteland. Well, usually artists move in fix the place up gentrify, get priced out by the white collars, then move on to the next busted ‘hood… At least that’s how it has gone in New York for the last 60 years. From SOHO, to the Village (East and West), to Williamsburg, and Bushwick artists have improved New York City 100s of folds over and again.

Well this scenario is about to be put to the test by an ambitious group of Clevelanders who want to bring the arts and culture into their city, in a bigger way. Two organizations CPAC and NSDC have focused on the neighborhood of Collinwood to attract and support a burgeoning artist community. But they are actually subsiding artist commercial and residential spaces for ownership, which they hope will change the community! Affordable live work space for as little as $6,500. No joke.

I had asked one of the founding partners, Seth Beattie, a few questions on this new venture, how did it all begin and who is footing the bills:

Who are the founders of Community Partnership for Arts and Culture (CPAC) and Northeast Shores Development Corporation? Can you give me background on yourselves and your interest in the arts.
The Community Partnership for Arts and Culture was founded by the Cleveland Foundation and the George Gund Foundation, first to lead development of a comprehensive plan for strengthening greater Cleveland’s arts and culture sector, and after, to begin to address priority areas for the arts community that were not being addressed elsewhere. That work has focused on public policy (perhaps most notably in our county’s 2006 passage of a tobacco excise tax that is generating about $15 million annually in dedicated support for arts organizations and artists); research; and programs and services that build the capacity of the arts and culture sector to do its work.

Northeast Shores grew out of the Waterloo Road Merchants Association, the grassroots group of commercial stakeholders on main thoroughfare of what today is the neighborhood’s Waterloo Arts & Entertainment District. The community development organization is today focused on a much broader geographic area and on the well-being of both businesses and institutions, as well as individual residents and workers. Northeast Shores employs a variety of different strategies for making North Shore Collinwood an even better place to live, work and visit …

Everything from assisting neighborhood block clubs to providing homeowner services to commercial development. Northeast Shores’ work is very much grounded in the priorities that neighborhood residents and workers lay out for the community. One of those priorities has been to strengthen the neighborhood’s growing arts community. As a result, the community development organization has been increasing its focus on helping artists and arts groups own homes and commercial space in the neighborhood and supporting their work over the past decade.

While CPAC has a much broader geographic focus, the two organizations came together in 2011 to launch a new series of artist support programs specific to North Shore Collinwood, building momentum on top of the extraordinary efforts Northeast Shores was already engaged in. We’ve coupled Northeast Shores’ ongoing services with additional low-interest loans, grants for community art projects and extensive marketing and research.

How is the organization funded? Do you have the support of local politicians?

Both organizations receive their funding from a number of different sources. A great deal of support comes from local foundations and corporations, and both organizations benefit from public investment as well. For CPAC, that support comes from both Cuyahoga Arts and Culture and the Ohio Arts Council. For Northeast Shores, that support comes from a variety of city departments, as well as from Community Development Block Grant funding, and from Cuyahoga Arts and Culture. Increasingly, both CPAC and Northeast Shores are finding high levels of support from national funders as well. Our artist programming has received large investments from Leveraging Investments in Creativity, the Kresge Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Educational Foundation of America and ArtPlace.

We have definitely had great support for our work from local public officials. That’s ranged from close relationships and ongoing communication with city officials in Community Development, Economic Development and Planning to suburban mayors to state senators to senior staff with our congressional delegation. Perhaps most notably, we’ve had strong support from Councilman Michael Polensek, the primary elected official of the North Shore Collinwood neighborhood. He has been a tremendous advocate for the work we’re doing to enliven the community through the arts.

What is the goal of creating a thriving artist community in Collinwood? What do the organizers hope to achieve through this initiative.
Both CPAC and Northeast Shores believe that arts can be a profound driver in neighborhood change. North Shore Collinwood has witnessed it first-hand. When our Beachland Ballroom first opened in 2000, Waterloo Road was 40% vacant. Just 13 years later, the street has an occupancy rate of around 90%. That has created a tremendous increase in pedestrian activity, neighborhood visitation and purchasing power.

Beyond this, artists, arts businesses and arts nonprofits are playing a profound role not only in bolstering neighborhood-level economies but also in building new relationships, opening stakeholders up to new possibilities and increasing the general sense that a place has value. We also feel that artists are uniquely positioned at the neighborhood level to create new opportunities for people of modest incomes and challenged backgrounds. The artists in North Shore Collinwood aren’t just reaching out to the “traditional art crowd”; they’re bringing creativity out onto our streets and directly into the lives of people of all backgrounds.

But in order for artists to play these key roles in transforming community, they need our help  we believe that it is critical to provide high levels of support to artists to aid in this process. Artists are able to play more active roles in their communities when they have stable home lives … when their employment prospects are good, when their space needs are met … When we reward them for their passion and their creativity and help them to escape financial vulnerability and volatility.
How do you see these artists being able to generate income and eventually a sustainable life style?

We believe industrial cities like Cleveland are particularly well-suited for artists wanting a sustainable life style. These cities have been rocked for decades by population declines; many, including Cleveland, are now home to less than half the residents they once enjoyed. This has created a whole slew of challenges for “Rust Belt” cities … Entrenched poverty, high vacancy rates and struggling school systems. Clearly, these are challenges disproportionately felt in older industrial cities and challenges that very much need to be addressed. 

But opposite this, this market dynamic (of big cities that have lost lots of population) has also created a set of cities that are both unusually amenity-rich in proportion to population size … and extraordinarily affordable. In Cleveland, this means that the cost to rent or purchase a space is a fraction of what an artist would pay for a similar property in a fast-growth city. At the same time, it means that artists do not have to sacrifice quality-of-life in exchange for affordability. Cleveland is a city that is stacked deep with cultural organizations and has an active arts scene … And good geographic proximity to other thriving arts markets in Chicago and on the eastern seaboard.

It’s also a place that clearly values the role of arts and culture to overall community well-being; in 2006, Cuyahoga County voters approved a first-of-its kind tobacco excise tax for dedicated financial support of the arts and culture sector. The tax, 30 cents per pack of cigarettes sold in our county, generates roughly $15 million in public arts and culture support annually, one of the highest levels of public arts and culture support nationwide (according to data from the National Assembly of State Art Agencies, in 2012, Cuyahoga Arts & Culture provided more arts and culture grant funding in our county than 56 of the nation’s 58 state arts agencies invested statewide). That investment in cultural organizations and artists means additional employment and income opportunities for artists here that may not be present elsewhere.

Beyond this, Cleveland organizations like CPAC and Northeast Shores are working very hard to build a full infrastructure of support for artists. That includes grants, like the $250,000 we’ve distributed to date in North Shore Collinwood to help artists and art groups carry out community projects. It also comes by way of funding from Cuyahoga Arts & Culture in support of CPAC’s Creative Workforce Fellowship, a program that annually provides $20,000 awards to 20 local artists. But it extends far beyond direct funding to business training, small business services, pathways to affordable insurance, affordable space offerings and continued advocacy for support of Cleveland artists in a myriad of ways. You can get a general sense of the support environment for artists here at
It often happens in urban cities that artists move into depressed communities where rent is cheap. They upgrade these communities and eventually gentrify neighborhoods, which they inevitably get priced out of. (As has happened in NYC many many times). How will Collinwood be different? Will CPAC and NSDC keep subsidizing this community?
This is something that both of our organizations are very mindful of … And one of the key reasons we started the program in the first place. In cities across the country, artists are priced out of neighborhoods, and even entire cities. This is not at all an unusual case for renters across the country; as a community improves and becomes desirable, rent rates go up, and long-term tenants are unable to cover escalating cost-of-living.

Our program changes that dynamic by stressing space ownership. In North Shore Collinwood, we are working aggressively to help artists own their own commercial spaces and their own homes. We see this as an opportunity for people to have more choice over when and how they would exit our neighborhood, rather than being subject to changes in market demand. We focus our efforts on obtaining vacant homes and commercial spaces, which we can then sell back to artists at incredibly affordable rates. For houses in poor condition, Northeast Shores does the rehab work itself, typically investing $125,000 in a property that we then sell for $70,000 to $100,000, immediately creating added equity for the buyer. For houses in fair to good condition, we allow the artist to oversee the rehab work themselves and sell the property to them directly for $6,500. The typical total investment of the buyer, including required rehab improvements, is $15,000 to $30,000. For less than rent rates in most American cities, an artist can own their own space in our neighborhood. At the same time, this model is helping to ensure that quality housing stock isn’t heading for the wrecking ball, saving the city of Cleveland the cost of demolition and lot maintenance and ensuring that our neighborhood remains dense and vibrant. It’s the ultimate win-win for a slow-growth community like Cleveland. You can learn more about our artist homeownership offerings at

These commercial and home ownership opportunities also achieve another great outcome for artists … The programs incentivize artists to review their financial situations. Working with Neighborhood Housing Services of Greater Cleveland, each artist who is interested in purchasing space from Northeast Shores is required to complete free homeownership coursework, financial planning and credit counseling. Regardless of whether the artist ultimately buys a space, this exercise itself is ensuring that artists are increasing their financial literacy and more fully understanding their credit, savings, income threshhold, etc. It leaves them more “bankable” and less subject to victimization of changes neighborhoods, wherever they ultimately may live.

Beyond this, we are continuing to develop an infrastructure of support for artists, beyond affordable space. CPAC continues to work throughout greater Cleveland to develop support systems for the arts and culture sector and to get artists and arts and culture groups more connected to the broader community. The newest effort on that front is the earliest stages of work to increase connectivity between artists, arts and culture organizations and our city’s immense health and human services sector. Northeast Shores, meanwhile, continues to raise funds for grants to support artists’ community projects in the neighborhood, as well as for targeted investments in artist live-work space, artist apartments and artist commercial space. It’s important to note, however, that Northeast Shores is developing programs and services not only for artists but also for other low- and moderate-income populations, too. While artists are a key part of that service delivery, our organizations believe healthy neighborhoods are ones with a diverse mix of socioeconomic backgrounds, so we’re developing a broad range of tools to minimize the harm of potential gentrification for everyone.

Why did you choose the neighborhood of Collinwood for this project?

Technically speaking, we actually didn’t. When CPAC received its first investment in the Artists in Residence program, a $250,000 grant from Leveraging Investments in Creativity, we launched a citywide competition to host the community program. We received 14 applications from community development groups across the city, which I think demonstrates just how much value Cleveland places on the arts as a key component of community revitalization. We then convened a panel of arts and community development professionals who narrowed the set of applications to 5 contenders, before they ultimately selected Northeast Shores and North Shore Collinwood as the strongest applicant.

This application process enabled us to structure decision-making about where we would locate the project on some of the key philosophies of the program … That we would be working with a partner that already had a strong strategy in place for working with artists, that was aggressively issues like neighborhood vacancy and that had a broader strategy for advancing low- and moderate-income residents, as well as other traditionally underserved populations. Engaging a panel in the process ensured that we were getting a lot of voices and perspectives in the process and being very thoughtful about where the program investment would have the most benefit both for artists and for the broader community. And clearly the panel chose wisely! Northeast Shores has shown a real depth of understanding and appreciation for artists, and it’s been an absolutely great partnership, with both organizations bringing their respective resources, expertise and energy to advancing the neighborhood in a new way.
Is there an audience and/or for the artists who move into this area? Can you tell me more about the cultural scene of Cleveland at large?

Absolutely. I don’t think that Cleveland has the national reputation that it should for being a community of arts-appreciators. One of the earliest studies CPAC conducted, back in the late 1990s, showed that the average resident of greater Cleveland was about 3 times more likely to have attended some kind of arts event in the past year than a sports event. Cuyahoga Arts & Culture 2012 Report to the Community demonstrates that broad level of audience interest, too. Among the organization’s more than 100 grantees, there is an estimated combined annual attendance of 6 million, taking place in nearly 2,000 different locations across the country … And that’s not counting a slew of patronage of for-profit arts businesses that don’t receive public funding. Clearly, there’s a lot of appetite for art here!

That being said, if the question is more about whether the local market alone can support an artist living solely on their artwork, I’m not sure I could say that for most artists. I’d wager a guess that that’s true almost anywhere an artist lives; outside of maybe three or four large cities, I think a great deal of artists find that their market has to extend beyond where they live or that they need to supplement their arts sales income with teaching, other employment, etc. For some disciplines in particular (writers, musicians, craft artists, etc.), I think the norm is that artists are already sharing their offerings across a very broad geographic area. When that’s the case, when your sales are coming from across the country or across the world, it just strengthens the case more for locating in a city like Cleveland, where there is a sizable local market but where you’re also benefiting from geographic proximity to a lot of different large art markets, as well as extraordinarily low cost-of-living that can offset investments in travel, marketing and other forms of business development.

In terms of overall cultural scene, I think Cleveland is similar to most of the cities in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Great Lakes regions … It’s a mix of large-scale “legacy institutions”, many with histories extending decades or even 100 years in age, and a strong, scrappy and growing indie arts scene “on-the-ground”. So on the one hand, Cleveland enjoys a top-tier art museum (the Cleveland Museum of Art) and orchestra (the Cleveland Orchestra), the second largest performing arts complex in the country (PlayHouse Square), the nationally visible Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and nationally competitive arts education programs at the Cleveland Institute of Art, Cleveland Institute of Music and Case Western Reserve University. On the other hand, you have a really strong grassroots arts scene, where you can see a musical career get launched at the Beachland Ballroom, see homeless men craft an extraordinary play at Cleveland Public Theatre or meet a printmaker from Dresden at Zygote Press. We gave participants at Welcome to Cleveland Weekend a good first glimpse of this immense arts community; you can see highlights at Collinwood.

I’d also say there’s a very strong and very special culture of arts accessibility in Cleveland. It’s the type of city where art is not just in concert halls and galleries … It spills out onto the streets and into bars and house parties and schools. There’s also a long heritage of making sure that arts activity is as affordable as possible. The Cleveland Museum of Art, for instance, has not charged a general admission in its 100 years of operations, and Cuyahoga Arts & Culture reports that half of all arts programming that it funds is free. I think it’s that attention to accessibility, reflected in our own artist programs in North Shore Collinwood, that has helped make this a city where there is such broad and deep support for the work that artists do.

Are the Collinwood grants open to artists from around the country? If so how do you see this population of artists interact and enhance the local community?

Yes and no. CPAC and Northeast Shores’ Artists in Residence Grants ($125,000 to date) are only available to artists who currently live or work in North Shore Collinwood. Northeast Shores’ Collinwood Rising Grants ($125,000 to date) are made available to arts-based businesses, nonprofits and other storefront stakeholders in our arts district. In both programs, the grantees can then commission participation from artists anywhere around the world. Particularly with Collinwood Rising Grants, we have seen a lot of engagement with artists from around the country and around the world, and we expect that to increase even more in 2014 as the program continues.

This model of grantmaking is very intentional. Both CPAC and Northeast Shores want to ensure that there are direct funding opportunities for artists invested in the neighborhood. We want to ensure that artists here are benefiting not only from affordability but also from ongoing investments in their work. We also want to invest in developing “dense” social capital … That is, we want artists to have greater opportunities to engage directly with their non-artist neighbors, business owners, students, etc. We want to foster a really deep sense of community and to make the experience of living here not only easy for artists, but also truly meaningful.

That being said, we also want to invest in “loose” social capital … Helping the neighborhood build ties with people from across the world. We believe that this wider engagement of artists helps to raise awareness that we are building something special and something unique here in North Shore Collinwood and more broadly across Cleveland. It also brings fresh, innovative thinking into our neighborhood and helps expose our community stakeholders to new artistic perspectives and fresh sets of eyes toward what our neighborhood is and what it could become.

So we see extraordinary value in neighborhood artist Linda Zolten Wood using grant funding to launch the Collinwood Painted Rain Barrel Project . The project has raised visibility of water conservancy and stormwater remediation as important to the health of our lakefront neighborhood. It has also raised Linda’s visibility, opening up new commission opportunities for her … And exposing hundreds of people to someone living just down the street around the block who’s working to make a difference. But we also see value when Waterloo Arts launched Zoetic Walls and invited street artists from around the world to share their creativity on walls across our arts district. Sure, residents probably won’t be meeting up for coffee anytime soon with Buenos Aires-based EVER, but we are certain that the incidental interactions he had with business owners and children riding by on bikes left a lasting impression on both the artist and the people who got to watch him at work. So we’re less concerned about where an artist lives and more that they have a sincere desire to make a difference in an alre