Story by Bob Abelman
The Coventry area in Cleveland Heights is the latest neighborhood to encourage arts-oriented enterprises by creating studios and galleries, incubators for art-centric businesses and organizations, and performance spaces out of buildings originally designed for another purpose.
On the edge of Gordon Square, 170,000 square feet of the former home of the Baker Electric Motor Vehicle Co. and American Greetings’ Creative Studios became the 78th Street Studios. In Cleveland’s Collinwood neighborhood, long known for its industrial manufacturing, buildings have been transformed into the Waterloo Arts and Entertainment district.
And now the 5,376 square feet of the Coventry School building at 2843 Washington Blvd. that was unoccupied since the school closed in 2007 is Artful Cleveland. It is the latest component of the Coventry P.E.A.C.E. campus.
Artful Cleveland is a collaborative nonprofit enterprise whose mission is to bring affordable, quality studio and workshop space to the Heights area, which is home to the largest population of artists in Greater Cleveland.
All of this is the brainchild of Cleveland Heights resident Shannon Morris, who serves as Artful’s executive director.
“As a lifelong artist, business is not my strong suit,” said Morris, and yet she opened the doors of Artful Cleveland in March 2017, one year after she invited fellow artists to her home to discuss this project and form a founding board.
There are 18 studios on the second floor with five more spaces under construction in the open classrooms that exist there. Artful boasts full capacity and a waiting list, she said.
One artist renting studio space is Ann Epstein, a Beachwood resident and member of Kol HaLev, Cleveland’s Reconstructionist Jewish Community in Pepper Pike. She is the recent recipient of a fellowship from Jewish Arts and Culture Lab, which served to encourage her collage and mixed media art work.
Epstein was attracted to Artful’s nearby location, affordability and sense of community.
“The artists have frequent potluck critiques of each other’s work, where everyone brings a side dish and offers constructive criticism, and I leave my office door open all the time so artists and visitors can feel free to come in to discuss my work,” Epstein said.
Six months ago, Morris was notified that the building was up for sale for possible commercial development. All the tenants banned together and negotiated an arrangement where they, and not the taxpayers or the Cleveland Heights Library that now owns the building, will absorb the costs of keeping it operational for the next year.
“The plan is for this to be a permantent arrangement,” said Morris, who is in the process of orchestrating fundraising events to promote the facility and community buy-in to the six nonprofit organizations that reside there. “This way we can all control our own future.”