Rooms to Let: CLE 2019

Rooms to Let: CLE 2019

Noon–7pm Saturday, May 18

Noon–5pm Sunday, May 19

Rooms to Let—the annual festival of art installations in Slavic Village homes slated for demolition—has become a landmark event in Cleveland. It takes a liability—houses that have outlived their use, for which there is no market—and celebrates their history through art. It turns collateral damage from the foreclosure crisis into an opportunity for engagement. Each year the community development corporation identifies three houses and hires curators to work with artists to create large-scale installations in their rooms, on porches and in garages and yards. For one weekend in May, the general public is invited to walk through.

The sixth iteration of Rooms to Let will take place May 18 and 19. Curators this year are acerbic (Donald Black Jr., Ali Black, and Gabriel Gonzalez); The Visit Arts Collective (Visionary Installers Sharing Inspired Thoughts—Gina Washington, Chester Hopkins-Bey, Kole Robinson Brooks, Wesley Washington, and Loletia Wilson); and Cleveland Print Room executive director Shari Wilkins. In addition to curating a house, The Visit Arts Collective will facilitate a community-based art project in the Gertrude Garden at East 65th Street and Gertrude Avenue. The curators both invite artists and consider applications submitted online through The opportunity is offered first to artists who live in the neighborhood. In past years as many as 100 artists have been involved. For 2019, the application portal opened in early February. The deadline is March 15.

Because the houses will be demolished, there are almost no limits to the scope of artistic intervention. Holes can be cut in walls and roofs; drywall, plaster, woodwork, and fixtures can be removed. Artists have extensively used recycled, scavenged materials. The art has often been informed by the dynamic of foreclosure and widespread housing vacancy, and the idea that the houses served as homes to generations of families. They are filled with memories. Specific locations of this year’s houses will be announced shortly before the event.

While artists and the general public may be focused on the art, Slavic Village Development Community Outreach Specialist Lynn Rodemann is focused on the people who live in the neighborhood. Before curators even know which houses are available, she reaches out to neighbors to ask what they think, if they want to be involved, and if they have any concerns. She also offers support to help residents maintain their homes: “How can we help? Can we scrape and paint a senior citizen’s porch? Can we fix a railing? We want to help people feel proud of their neighborhood.”

Rooms to Let annually brings about 3,500 people to look at the art installations, but it is not about attracting big development plans. Rodemann says her main focus is to keep residents in place. “I believe in supporting people where they are.”