CH must do more to connect its artists to its children

When I moved to Cleveland Heights, the big attraction was that it was artsy. I was a recent MFA and a divorced mother of a preschooler. If I couldn’t go back to New York City, then I was determined to live in what I felt was the closest thing to it in Cuyahoga County. So, 15 years ago I settled into Coventry Village.

When my son started at Coventry school, I got involved in volunteering, teaching drama to elementary school students. This led to subbing, eventually earning my teaching license, and currently chairing a theatre arts department in a neighboring school district. In Cleveland Heights I found a safe, nurturing, affordable, beautiful, diverse, and artistic community in which to raise my son and get my life back on track. I didn’t know the data on how many other artists lived here, but I certainly felt the vibe.

According to a report put out by the Cuyahoga Community Partnership for Arts and Culture, Cleveland Heights is home to the largest concentration of artists in the county. In Coventry Village alone, 30.2 per 1,000 residents are artists, but there is a large population of poor and under- or unemployed adults with children. It seems that there is a strange disconnect between these groups. With the recent trouble with mobs of teens at the Coventry street fairs and the hoopla over the new curfew ordinance, I wonder if the city has an opportunity to effect real, meaningful and lasting change.

We hear about how artists move in and improve neighborhoods, such as Waterloo and Gordon Square, attracting home buyers and small-business owners. But we don’t hear about the human investment potential that artists can bring. The CPAC study notes that “artists have the ability to infuse creativity, spark community discourse and attract attention to their communities through their work.” Is it enough to make an area arty to attract businesses? What about the business of raising our children?

What if the artists of Cleveland Heights were more connected to the youth of Cleveland Heights, especially in the summer? What if the city made it a part of its mission to connect its young people to its artists--like a summer program that any child, regardless of socio-economic status, could walk into and learn an engaging art and skill that could lead to future employment, such as video production, animation, Web design and graphic design, as well as theater, dance and the literary and other visual arts. 

As wonderful as it has been living here, a few summers ago, my son and his friends were robbed at gunpoint by a teen and a preteen. As the community with the most artists per capita in the county, investing more in our youth is not only in the interest of public safety, but is our duty as the civically engaged and socially-responsible citizens we claim we are.

It’s time for the city to make a concerted effort to connect its artists to its children. 

Without an audience, there can be no art. In the theater arts, the product isn’t finished until the audience arrives. We have a large audience of bored, poor, and unengaged young people who are looking for some form of affordable entertainment/engagement/connection. How can the city of Cleveland Heights and its artists just sit back and ignore this potential development of our young people and our community? What exactly is it that we are creating?

Christine McBurney

Christine McBurney is the theater arts department chair at Shaker Heights High School, a performer, writer, and proud Heights High soccer mom.

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Volume 4, Issue 8, Posted 11:38 AM, 08.02.2011