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Out & About in Cleveland

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For the Love of Cleveland and Dinner Dialogue at SPACES Gallery

On Tuesday, June 27th, we attended two events put on by the City Club of Cleveland aimed at "building neighborhoods and fostering communities."

The first gathering was part three in the six part, ongoing series "For the Love of Cleveland", in which the presenting sponsor is the "Cleveland Foundation", taking place at noon each Tuesday in Public Square in which "we discuss the building blocks of urban neighborhoods and examine Cleveland neighborhoods' past and present successes, failures, and growth areas."

In the first two episodes, the neighborhoods of Goodrich-Kirtland Park, Hough, Clark-Fulton, and Fairfax were discussed and on this day the perspective of the Slavic Village and Kinsman areas was explored by Mr. Christopher Alvarado, Executive Director of "Slavic Village Development"; Ms. Ayonna Blue Donald, Interim Director of Building and Housing in the City of Cleveland; Ms. Jacqueline Gillon, Community Engagement Specialist at the "Thriving Communities Institute" at Western Reserve Land Conservancy as well as being a resident of Slavic Village; and Mr. Timothy Tramble, Executive Director of "Burten, Bell, Carr Development, Inc."

Much of the discussion centered around the necessity of the refurbishment or demolition of long-abandoned properties that either are or soon will be an economic blight on the neighborhoods as well as often being a safety concern. Herein, it was emphasized that even though we just used the word "or" it is not an either/matter; instead both options should be seen "tools to rebuild" and it is a largely a matter of the proper collection of data and engaging the residents in a dialogue to decide what is best for the areas in which they live.

Just as was said in the last two Public Square discussions, the ultimate goal is to create housing for a mixture of newcomers whose incomes range from low to high and to avoid the gentrification that will result in current residents being uprooted. Along these lines, the panelists once again agreed that there has been improvement but there is still a lot of work to do; in short, the mood was one of cautious optimism. This is mostly due to the constructive intervention of such organizations as the "Thriving Communities Institute", "Cleveland Chain Reaction" which has helped several new businesses be launched in Slavic Village, and "Third Federal Bank" that has retained its central location on Boardway Avenue through troubled economic times and served as an anchor for the surrounding communities.

During the Q and A, we suggested that newly arrived immigrants have tremendous potential to revitalize these neighborhoods if housing was available to them and it was said that this matter has been discussed but it will take a combination of a major push by local leaders to attract more foreign born people to Cleveland along with the right combination of tax credits to create available housing mostly at the lower level since often takes a while for immigrants/refugees to establish themselves financially.

 

The second event that we attended was a "Dinner + Dialogue" program at SPACES Gallery which dealt with the power of art to enhance a community and its residents.

Ms. Stephanie Jansky, Programming Director at the City Club presided over the proceedings whose key participants were Ms. Michelle Epps, Community Engagement Manager at SPACES; Ms. Andria Hickey, Senior Curator at MOCA Cleveland; and Mr. Dave Lucas, poet, SAGES Fellow and winner of the 2016 Cleveland Arts Prize Emerging Artists Award.

All told, however, there were 35 people present and everyone got a chance to participate in the dialogue which addressed such topics as the role and power of a curator in art exhibitions, the importance of public input regarding the approval of art projects that will be displayed prominently in public places, the need to nurture local artists as well as to occasionally turn to internationals who can provide a unique perspective, the importance of ensuring that art projects depicting different points of view are allowed to go forward, the need to demonstrate how art enhances people's lives and (from an academic standpoint) prove that art courses can augment employment opportunities.

To be sure certain projects unique to Cleveland like the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument and the Free Stamp were also mentioned and upheld as important cornerstones in our community.

We had never been to SPACES before and were pleased to meet Ms. Christina Vassallo, its Executive Director who told us to be sure and thank Ms. Margaret W. Wong for her strong support of the gallery.

We were not aware of this until we arrived but SPACES is presenting an exhibit (that unfortunately ends on Friday, June 30th) titled "The First 100+ Days" of the Trump administration centering on its immigration policy. Included are portraits, sculpture, videos, and a time line showing on what days certain actions like the travel bans took place.

Since the exhibit is so visual, it is tough to describe it here but we found it to be imaginative, beautiful, and powerfully thought-provoking at the same time and we commend the Ohio-based artists involved who are Ms. Julia Christensen, Mr. Ryan Dewey, Mr. Michelangelo Lovelace, Ms. Arzu Ozkal, Ms. Claudia Pederson, Ms. Nanette Yannuzzi, Mr. Tony Ingrisano, Ms. Kelley O'Brien, Ms. Darice Polo, Mr. John C. Williams, and Ms. Megan Young.

As Ms. Vassallo, who served as curator for the exhibit wrote in its program guide:

"Last year's invitation to the artists participating in this exhibition requested that they 'respond to the next president's first 100 days in office, specifically addressing his or her immigration policy.' This prompt was sent in the heat of the 2016 presidential campaign between Donald Trump securing the Republican presidential nomination in Cleveland and the Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton taking the stage in Philadelphia.

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The artists in 'The First 100+ Days" have closely observed how President Trump is working to turn his signature campaign issue of immigration reform into official U.S. policy. They have created work that is about individuals who have fled hellish conditions and found refuge here and work that is for individuals whose lives have already been impacted significantly since Trump signed his first immigration ban on January 27. Some have contributed works about the potent symbolism of executive orders that are still tied up in courts, while others have illustrated how the media affects our understanding of this topic.

The artworks that emerged from this invitation and the schedule of related events recognize both the zeitgeist that has led to Trump's agenda and the political urgency that his actions have fomented. The sensational ways in which Trump has described the need to harden the country's approach to illegal immigration make it seem as though this is a new strain of policy-making, but his actions stem from the seeds planted by his predecessors, albeit on some kind of super fertilizer.

I have been asked repeatedly if this exhibition is anti-Trump. It's not. It anti-dehumanizing and onerous policies. It's anti-fear mongering. It's pro-human."

By:

Michael Patterson

Community Liaison,

Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC

Kwasi Bediako