Let's follow Cleveland's lead by creating space for artists

Cleveland has abandoned downtown living since the Roaring ‘20s. We tore down most of the mansions on our main street (Euclid Avenue). Further, shortly after WWII and continuing today, most of the downtown manufacturing spaces have been abandon, leaving their empty shells in a ring around the outer, mostly east-side areas of downtown. 

What can we do with these marvelous spaces, well  built with large windows and views of downtown and/or the lake.

Easy answer is to convert them into loft living spaces.

Then another idea emerged: How about converting these vast open spaces for artists to do their work? OK and how about places for artists to do their work and live at the same time.

The building and zoning codes of Cleveland and Ohio don’t automatically permit such a radical idea. But some individuals have managed to create clearance, allowing for great use for these marvelous open spaces.

My friends Bill and Harriet Gould were among the pioneers, leaving a comfortable first-ring suburban home and moving into a  5,000-square-foot loft space that allows Bill to practice architecture and planning in one large area, with another area for his art studio and still another for living space. In the meantime, Harriet, besides working with Bill in his practice, became involved in the politics of the neighborhood and of late has been the leader in promoting the live/work concept for artists with an organization called “art space.”

Recently, the Goulds organized an open house so anyone could visit with and see the artists at work – demonstrating how they brought new life into abandon buildings, neighborhoods and the city itself.

At the open house, I visited the Morgan art and paper making loft. I had never seen paper being made and didn’t know the process, so I got a close look at the whole effort. It all took place in a large loft space with the many accoutrements of the ancient art of paper making.

I met two students from Oberlin College who were learning hands-on how to produce all types, textures, colors and patterns of paper. Without the large space at a reasonable cost, this process probably could no longer take place. I bought three sheets of this handmade paper to print my digital photos – ancient art merges with new art.

Next I visited a fairly new building on the site of an old building; it housed Keith Berr’s photographic art and living space. It was large enough for vehicles to be driven in to be photographed, with additional studio space for other photo work and equipment. What a wonderful place to work. He also had a gallery of some of his “art photography.” To complete his living/work space, in the rear of the building he created a private park with a nicely designed wood shelter.

The signs of revitalization where these artists live and work are clear.

For many years, I have had a vision for something similar for Cleveland Heights, by converting some of the two-family houses adjacent to commercial areas into living/work space for artists, architects, very small businesses and other non-intrusive types of work. This could have the same spiritual impact as the live/work places in downtown Cleveland while increasing much needed tax revenues.

Phil Hart

Philmore Hart

Phil Hart, a 65-year Cleveland Heights resident, has served on CH City Council and the CH Board of Zoning Appeals. He is a retired architect and former associate professor at CWRU.

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Volume 4, Issue 9, Posted 4:45 PM, 08.05.2011