Waterloo Arts Fest

Sixteen years ago, the Waterloo Arts Fest was one of the art district’s first events, and although only a couple bands played for a small audience in the Beachland parking lot, it helped provide a vision for a more active neighborhood. Over the years the festival grew, but the goal remained the same: to model a lively city street for residents, businesses and visitors. Jane Jacobs, the great urbanologist, uncovered four fundamental elements of a thriving city street. Adapting these ideas helped shape the festival.

Successful city streets draw you along with interesting activity and enticing views around every corner. When crowds were lighter at the festival, it was tempting to condense the event into a smaller area. Instead, we programmed the event along the full half mile of the district, winding through the street and in and out of businesses. We encouraged visitors to meander by placing numerous low stages throughout the event instead of drawing them to a central main stage. By staggering art, food and community booths along with street performers, we mimicked the variety of a real city block.

A healthy city street is made up of a great mix of people. We partner with professional artists in the district to create a culturally vibrant event, but we know healthy neighborhoods have a variety of businesses. So we include everyone in the planning process, from the gas station owner to the record stores to the Slovenian Workmen’s Home. We offer an intentionally eclectic mix of music on each stage to reflect the diversity of the visitors we want to attract. On one stage you may see teens free-styling followed by seniors playing polka, and everything in between. Jacobs emphasized that in healthy neighborhoods, children play on the street where adults are working—not just isolated in parks. We design festival activities to engage the imagination of both adults and children, encouraging them to work side-by-side in open-ended creative play.

A mix of new and old is essential. Waterloo Road was recently remodeled with a streetscape, but it remains a colorful place with older buildings intact and lots of public art. As for the festival, we make new improvements each year—better organization, professional marketing—but we also try to keep the community-driven, handmade, grassroots energy that is at the heart of all these creative initiatives.

There must be density of people. Density is still hard to come by on the east side of Cleveland, where decades of divestment and racial inequity left poverty stricken, sparsely populated neighborhoods. The Waterloo Arts Fest creates an ephemeral density and a positive experience to help provide a vision for the future. It’s a place where residents celebrate their community and welcome visitors to be a part of it.

Today the Waterloo Arts Fest stretches along the full half mile of the commercial corridor known as the Waterloo Arts and Entertainment District, and includes ten music stages, more than sixty art vendors, a few dozen food vendors, more than thirty community groups, a myriad of artist-led activities and demos, temporary art installations, street performers and a juried exhibition of fine art. The event is made truly special by all the people who come to take part in it. As the district blossoms, the Waterloo Arts Fest lets us experience the neighborhood in full bloom.




Waterloo Arts

15605 Waterloo Road

Cleveland, Ohio 44110