Cleveland, OH — Cuyahoga County Land Bank (CCLRC)

In partnering with some of the most innovative practitioners in the community development field over the past 10 years, NCST observes some truly creative approaches to neighborhood stabilization and vacant property reuse.  One of the most creative by far is Slavic Village Development’s (SVCDC) Rooms To Let: CLE immersive art installations which will be taking place this year on May 18th and 19th in Cleveland’s eastside, Slavic Village neighborhood.

Now in its sixth year, Rooms To Let: CLE illuminates one of Cleveland’s most diverse and authentic neighborhoods, as it strives to strengthen a community in the midst of recovery.  This unique partnership with the Cuyahoga County Land Bank (CCLRC), exposes the works of over 60 local artists and makers who create one-of-a-kind works in three vacant homes which are slated for demolition.  SVD begins by working closely with CCLRC months in advance, who maps and studies properties that are already owned by the land bank and others that are on a trajectory for foreclosure, with an aim to identify targets that are in close proximity for easy afternoon walks.  Once the properties are identified, SVD makes provisions to secure the structures  ensuring that porches are sturdy and that banisters and handrails are stable.

Artists are selected by curators from the Visit Arts Collective, Acerbic, and the Cleveland Print Room to convert each house room by room.  Typically each home features between 20 to 25 artists, each of which are assigned a room (or space such as a hallway or stairwell) to produce their work.  The selected artists begin preparing their assigned spaces about two weeks prior to the weekend-long event.  Occasionally, inspiration is even drawn from some of the elements in the vacant space.

In addition to the three houses located on East 53rd and East 54th (two which have been acquired by CCLRC and one owned by SVCDC), guests can expect to explore a vacant lot installation, enjoy live performance art and get crafty with hands-on activities. And while the structures are ultimately demolished about two weeks following the event, the transformed vacant lot, now known as the Gertrude Arts Garden, will remain as a year-round neighborhood amenity maintained by SVCDC with additional landscaping and a walking path to be added later this year.  In fact, preceding the opening weekend, this year’s edition will feature a community art project where the Visit Arts Collective will be working with neighborhood students to create an outdoor installation at the Gertrude Arts Garden.  Artists, community members, and volunteers will also come together before the event for a Rooms To Let: CLE street clean-up to improve the aesthetics of the neighborhood.

Rooms To Let: CLE also serves as an opportunity to expose visitors to other exciting Slavic Village projects and local businesses.  An event headquarters will be located on Fleet Avenue, the neighborhood’s main street, hosted by two of Slavic Village’s newest businesses, Saucission and Indoor Gardens. Rooms to Let: CLE attracts 3,000 attendees annually and offers a unique opportunity for the participating artists and curators to interact with the community, bringing beauty and dialogue around the effects of the foreclosure crisis and how a neighborhood can positively evolve in the aftermath.

Many thanks to SVCDC Community Engagement Coordinator, Joe Linksy for his assistance in preparing this feature story.

Prepared by Chris Garland, NCST

Chris Garland serves as Community Development Manager, Michigan & Ohio, for NCST.