The modern version of Cleveland is booming as the city enjoys economic growth and national attention. New business, revitalization, young energy, and a general spirit of optimism are buzzing through the streets of downtown. It wasn’t always this way however. The old Cleveland felt dangerous – a depressing “mistake by the lake” – and the fragile frame of our city was nearly collapsed following the recession of 2008. Economic crisis hit not only in the heart of downtown as businesses moved away, but also in the housing districts. To this day, large foreclosed homes sit vacant in neighborhoods surrounding downtown. Many of Cleveland’s historic homes have been neglected following the economic downturn eight years ago. While economic recovery hasn’t reached everywhere yet, the spirit of the Cleveland renaissance can be seen in other ways.
After the burst of the real estate bubble in late 2007 and collapse of the housing market, the Broadway Slavic Village neighborhood was one of the most devastated areas in the country. On the frontlines of economic crisis, nearly 40% of the homes here were left abandoned. Of the residents who stayed, many were living in poverty. The once beautiful town was left gutted and its future uncertain, but as us Cleveland locals know, our steel resolve to thrive is not easily broken.
The locals who have remained are determined to stay, and the area is considered a positive investment for house flippers. Through a careful and long process, investors are slowly weeding out and demolishing unsafe homes, flipping the good ones, and are attempting to bring back life to a once devastated area. The process is slow, but while the skeptics are doubtful about the recovery of Slavic Village, hope springs up in an ancient and beautiful way – art.
Three years ago, a project called “Rooms to Let: CLE” was commissioned by Slavic Village Development – a nonprofit community corporation devoted to the comeback of this historic neighborhood. Each year, artists will transform the crumbling frame of abandoned homes into artistic spaces. Rooms become mazes of sculptures, paintings, streamers, and all forms of beautiful expression. A new street on the East Side is chosen to host the annual event along with a block party, live music, and local food vendors. Locals take the days to celebrate the undying spirit of their community in the shell of what was, hopeful for what will be.
Just last year, The Cleveland Orchestra held its annual neighborhood residency in Slavic Village along side the Rooms to Let: CLE event. While some homes were transformed into mazes of artwork, others became small concert halls, free for the locals to enter and enjoy world-class music. This past weekend, the Rooms to Let: CLE event returned for a third consecutive year to Slavic village. While economic growth in the area is still slow, artistic expression is sprouting from the hopeful and determined community.
The art on display each year in the village is perhaps the most authentic to be found in the Cleveland area. While many can enjoy and appreciate famous masterpieces in the city’s exhibits or museums, there’s nothing like feeling first hand the joy that creativity and expression can bring to a community of people. Though the event itself is an ephemeral weekend, the art created here is a clear and direct representation of Cleveland’s undying determination. When we come together to celebrate that determined spirit, the best form of art is born: the kind you live. Will Slavic Village ever recover? Many say it’s impossible. However, if the spirit of CLE can transform these desolate homes into concert halls and masterpieces, how impossible can a comeback be?
2016 artists included:
Jeffrey Chiplis, Ron Copeland, Dana Depew, Rick Ferris, Eli Gfell, Keith Graham, Jake Hochendoner, Kara Isabella, Jonah Jacobs, Charles Kiss, Robin Latkovich, Christine Mauersberger, Liz Maugans, Ella Medicus, Loren Naji, Rian Brown-Orso, Kristina Paabus, Cindy Penter, Scott Pickering, Nancy Prudic, Edward Raffel, Rebecca Rinaldi, Marc Spangenberg, Grace Summanen, Paul Sydorenko, Anna Tararova, Annette Yoho Feltes, Hector Castellanos-Lara, Roni Callahan, April Bleakney, Danielle Moorer, Latecia Wilson, Sampson Smiley, Latoya Webb, Stephanie Kluk, Melinda Placko, Rebekah Wilhelm, Jeannie Oakar, Michael Gill, teens from joint Broadway School of Music & the Arts/University Settlement after-school arts class, Catherine Butler, Kate Snow, Martha Lattie, Helen & Dot Von Schneider, Valerie Grossman, Peter Debelak, Anastasial Sobvola, Makenzie Tigert, Jeremy Smith, We Can Code It, Jason Radcliffe, Laura Cooperman, thinkBox, Amy Sinbondit, Sai Sinbondit
For more information about the historic neighborhoods of Cleveland’s Broadway Slavic Village, please visit www.slavicvillage.org.