The Waterloo Arts gallery during a recent Walk All Over Waterloo art walk, which is held on the first Friday of every month in the Waterloo Arts and Entertainment District.

An array of visual arts galleries in the Waterloo Arts and Entertainment District reflect the diversity and creativity of their Collinwood locale

By Ed Carroll

Cleveland’s Collinwood neighborhood has a storied industrial history, from serving as a major railroad hub in the 1800s to being a leading World War II-era industrial center. But like many pockets of Northeast Ohio, it’s seen the manufacturing sector that helped build it disappear over the decades.

With characteristic grit, Collinwood has adapted. At the heart of the neighborhood’s response has been art, and its main artery has been Waterloo Road, home to the Waterloo Arts and Entertainment District.

Many (rightly) point to the opening of the Beachland Ballroom and Tavern in 2000 as the unofficial beginning of the district, but the galleries for visual arts that have arisen since play an integral role in infusing the district with creative character and foot traffic – as evidenced by Walk All Over Waterloo, the district’s monthly art walk held every first Friday.

The buzz coming from Collinwood these days has less to do with factory machinations and more to do with the artistic momentum generated by the Waterloo Arts District.

Waterloo Arts

The opening of Waterloo Arts in 2002 is where the “arts” part of the Waterloo Arts and Entertainment District was born. Executive Director Amy Callahan doesn’t necessarily consider her space an arts gallery, though. To her, it’s a “community center.”

“(Waterloo Arts) was the first nonprofit organization in this district and one of the drivers of the arts district developing,” she says. “We realized there already were artists living in the neighborhood and interested in showing their art. It seemed like a good catalyst for the community. The organization was born out of that.”

Waterloo Arts moved in 2004 to a donated building in the center of the district. Since then, it has physically and spiritually been the nucleus of the district, offering educational programs – think after-school programs, summer camps and workshops – and producing the Waterloo Arts Fest every summer, which has become one of the district’s signature events over the 16 years it’s been held.

Central to Callahan’s approach is a desire to make sure Waterloo Arts – and the district itself – don’t leave behind the neighborhood’s residents.

“We are in a neighborhood that (has) such poverty in it, a neighborhood where the majority of residents are people of color,” she says. “Our challenge is really to develop an arts neighborhood that is also an inclusive neighborhood. Over the years, I’ve really come to understand this is not a silver bullet. I do not pretend this arts development is going to trickle down and solve the problems of poverty and all the very real problems that people struggle with in this neighborhood. But I also believe that people in this neighborhood deserve to have beauty and public art and access to the same things that everybody does in our city.”

Praxis Fiber Workshop

Praxis Fiber Workshop Executive Director Jessica Pinsky says the organization, which opened in 2015, is the result of a changing curriculum at the Cleveland Institute of Art.

“They were moving some of the sections of study around, (and) the weaving and dying (portion of the) curriculum was kind of not included,” she says. “I was teaching and working in that department at the time and suggested we take the equipment and open up a separate nonprofit organization somewhere else in Cleveland where CIA students could still receive credit for classes there but still be open to the community.”

Praxis Fiber Workshop has a gallery space to showcase fiber art.
In addition to being a workshop, Praxis Fiber Workshop has a gallery space to showcase fiber art – as seen in the recent exhibition, “Landline: Works in Fiber from Coast to Coast.” Photo by Praxis Fiber Workshop.

Pinsky looked at a number of different neighborhoods for Praxis but “fell in love” with Waterloo.

“There’s so much exciting new energy here,” she says. “And artists were opening businesses or moving to the neighborhood, meaning there was a sense of community brewing.”

Praxis’ affiliation with CIA helps bring in people from outside of the neighborhood, making it a destination gallery for exhibitions of fiber art. Combined with its workshop, Praxis adds to the fabric of Waterloo, Pinsky feels.

“It’s a commercial corridor very much nestled in the middle of a residential neighborhood,” she says. “There’s a challenge there to integrate the commercial corridor with the remaining residential area, but it’s also really special because the people supporting the businesses are really part of the community. … It’s kind of a pocket neighborhood … like a little special island.”

Article/Art in Cleveland

Louis and Susan Ross’ Article/Art in Cleveland gallery has called Waterloo Road home for eight years, starting from what Louis Ross calls “humble beginnings” in an unfinished studio. The couple undertook a series of improvements to the space and now run a building with five tenant artists, each of whom has 24/7 access to the studio to come in and work when they desire.

“It’s a creative atmosphere,” he says. “It’s kind of low-key, but we have a following and we try to keep the place in a good atmosphere of shared collaboration and creativity.”

The gallery at Article/Art in Cleveland was packed in October for the opening of “Ceramic Invitational Show,” which was curated by Mary Urbas, gallery coordinator at Lakeland Community College.
The gallery at Article/Art in Cleveland was packed in October for the opening of “Ceramic Invitational Show,” which was curated by Mary Urbas, gallery coordinator at Lakeland Community College. Photo by Michael C. Butz.

The Rosses look for artists who believe in art as a healing activity.

“Many of the artists have been through different traumas, different events in their lives. It’s part of the reason they make art,” he says. “I’ve found that over the years, it’s amazing, the number of people who are making art for a reason. We try to promote that feeling, rather than just (be) a commercial gallery trying to sell art.”

Ross says one thing that makes the Waterloo Arts and Entertainment District special is that the residents and businesses that are there are all survivors, and share an understanding they’re not there to gentrify the neighborhood.

“We’re a very creative community,” he says. “I just wish more people would come down here and not be afraid to walk around. It’s quite safe. I’ve never had a problem and enjoy the art, (and) some of the artists here really need the (financial) support.”

Waterloo 7 Studio/Gallery

Waterloo 7 Studio/Gallery owner and sculptor Jerry Schmidt represents one of four generations of metal sculptors in his family, from his father, Fred, to his son, Tyler, and grandson, Nathan.

“Ginger Rogers” by Jerry Schmidt, owner and sculptor of Waterloo 7 Studio/Gallery.
“Ginger Rogers” by Jerry Schmidt, owner and sculptor of Waterloo 7 Studio/Gallery. Photo by Waterloo 7 Studio/Gallery

Schmidt opened his studio 17 years ago and moved into his current space about seven years ago. He works primarily with steel, stainless steel, aluminum and copper and feels his work adds variety to the neighborhood’s artistic offerings.

“I think my work allows the mind to expand and think outside the box. You go and look at an album and you know exactly what you’re going in for, or you go to the Beachland and listen to a specific band, you likely know what you’ll get,” he says, referencing the district’s record stores and concert venue. “My work is more; you come in and are like, ‘What the hell, there’s so much craziness going on.’”

That isn’t to say his work is inaccessible. In fact, Schmidt tries to educate children about art like his.

“The unfortunate part of what’s happening in our school systems is the art is being taken out of our schools,” he says. “So, I’m fortunate to work with the youth. I grab a couple kids from the neighborhood and I teach them to weld. They get knowledge of welding and fabricating, and it’s security and respect money doesn’t have to buy. In a neighborhood like Collinwood, which sometimes doesn’t play fair, you have to have respect. It allows me to have my sculptures up and down the streets and nothing gets pushed over or vandalized.

“I teach the kids the abstract, the value of art and what I truly believe: (that) your art is your best friend, your psychiatrist, your lover. In abstract art, there’s no color, religion, no sex, it’s absolute freedom … and this is what I get to teach!”

BRICK Ceramic + Design Studio

BRICK Ceramic + Design Studio founder Valerie Goodman says her studio, which opened in 2015, offers students and artists a cooperative and affordable space to create ceramic art.

“It’s really about creating a community around the work of ceramics. … Cleveland has a great art community and a big ceramics community, but (BRICK is) sort of like a little hub of artists who are all sharing space,” she says. “We bring people together who are interested in the medium.”

A sample of works made  at BRICK Ceramic + Design Studio.
A sample of works made at BRICK Ceramic + Design Studio. Photo by BRICK Ceramic + Design Studio.

BRICK also holds exhibitions in a gallery space next door to the studio in a building that also houses Six Shooter Coffee. In addition, Goodman says she’s working on obtaining grants that would allow BRICK to provide art classes for children in the neighborhood.

Educational programs that give back to neighborhood residents and making resources available to artists are what Goodman feels make the Waterloo Arts and Entertainment District special.

“It’s chock-full of maker spaces,” she says. “It is sort of quirky, but because it is so art-focused, there’s a lot of great art-related things all in one place.”

New kid on the block

Framed Gallery may be the newest gallery in the Waterloo Arts and Entertainment District, having opened Oct. 5, but managing partner Stacey Bartels is a longtime Collinwood resident.

As a result – and like other arts proprietors in the district – Bartels, who’s spent 27 years as an art therapist, brings civic and neighborhood pride to her gallery. Further, she feels her gallery, which she doesn’t foresee focusing on any one particular medium, adds a new element to the mix.

“I don’t think there’s anything like Framed Gallery in Waterloo,” she says, noting she thinks it’s important for art to reflect the community around it.
To that point, Bartels hopes Framed Gallery will bring attention to a group of artists she feels is underrepresented in Cleveland: African-Americans.

“I have a very good friend that has an African-American art gallery in Maryland. I’ve spent a lot of time going to Maryland, to her shows, meeting different artists and collecting myself. My parents also have been major collectors of African-American art,” Bartels says. “I’m biracial myself, and I just feel … that’s just where my heart is. I really, really love the artists I meet and I think it’s important – especially for our community.” CV

Lead image: The Waterloo Arts gallery during a recent Walk All Over Waterloo art walk, which is held on the first Friday of every month in the Waterloo Arts and Entertainment District. Photo by Michael C. Butz.