If Cleveland is "a laboratory for rethinking how slow-growth cities prosper"—via Cuyahoga Partnership for Arts and Culture (CPAC) — then artists are both its scientists and its lab rats.
In fact Collinwood has become the nucleus or petri dish of a massive experiment at CPAC's culturally attuned hands, one which encourages artists to move to the neighborhood by incentivizing long-term residence and providing funding for creative projects and engagement with the community.
One of the cooler things they've been up to culminated last month, when CPAC and Northeast Shores CDC hosted a dozen artists from around the country. Their goal was to attract them to the region and the neighborhood with an extensive "arts tour." Visiting artists had to get to Cleveland on their own dime. But once they arrived, meals and lodging were largely taken care of.
Northeast Shores executive director Brian Friedman said the weekend exceeded his and everyone's expectations. Seth Beattie, CPAC's strategic initiative director (sweet title) said at least three of the visiting artists broke away from the group to sign leases, or at least registered for the home-ownership course for the $6,500 fixer-uppers available to artists in Collinwood.
You read correctly. Artists can buy a home for $6,500.
"It's really affirming for us, as outsiders to see people have such a positive experience," says Beattie.
Essence Woodard and Chioma Okotiero, two best friends and roommates living in New York City, certainly had a positive experience. They intend to move to Cleveland as soon as possible.
"I'm a die-hard New Yorker," said Woodard over the phone. "I've lived in a lot of places: Miami, L.A., Puerto Rico, but I always come back. Nothing resonates with me in the same way. No place is going to be exactly like NYC, but I think Cleveland is the change I've been looking for."
Why does she need a change at all?
"The rents here are astronomical," Woodard says of NYC. "They keep getting higher and higher, and the pay is not getting any higher. The food is expensive. And you pay more than half your paycheck to live in a tiny box."
Okotieuro agrees. And the arts culture in Cleveland was more dynamic than either of them thought possible.
"In New York, there are street artists, there are museums everywhere; everybody is an artist. You can't even get on the subway without seeing an artist. But in Cleveland, it was like there was even more. And you're surrounded by a great art community. That's important."
The weekend featured neighborhood tours of North Collinwood, Slavic Village, St. Clair Superior, Ohio City, Tremont and Detroit Shoreway, a downtown historic tour, several live performances, a visit to the Cleveland Museum of Art and a musical brunch at the Beachland Ballroom.
Beattie says he isn't sure if there will be more jam-packed "Welcome to Cleveland" weekends in the future —this was sort of the culmination of the two-year pilot program he oversaw.
"We're treating all of this as an experiment to see how we really move forward, but based on the results, we'll certainly be exploring whether or not there's an appetite for more work like this from our partners," Beattie says. (And of course he's always willing to give personal tours).