Creative Fusion: Re-imagining Riverview
Malaz Elgemiabby | Sudan & Kent
The Creative Fusion program is born of the Cleveland Foundation’s initiative to integrate international artists and local artists with spaces in our community, focusing on different topics every year. The Cleveland Foundation created a program called Waterways to Waterways, where they focus a cohort of international and local artists around the Cuyahoga River, according to Tiffany Graham of LAND (Landscape Art Neighborhood Development) studio. The Cleveland Metropolitan Housing Authority let LAND come in and reimagine an old storage building near Riverview Towers and turn it into a gathering place. LAND, a nonprofit that does public art in public space, is working with Creative Fusion and designer Malaz Elgemiabby on the future home of the Riverview Welcome Center—1741 West 25th Street—set to open June 20. That will be fifty years to the day the Cuyahoga River caught fire.
“[The fire] was terrible for Cleveland from a PR perspective and an environmental perspective,” Graham says, “but it ended up having reverberations such as the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency.” So, we got THAT going for us. #CLE
LAND is focused on Irishtown Bend, which sits on the edge of Riverview Towers, just between West 25th and the Cuyahoga River, in Ohio City. According to Graham, about two and a half years ago the Port of Cleveland and Ohio City Incorporated received a $80K grant from Transportation for Livable Communities Initiatives—a program that looks at making communities stronger through transportation. It’s all about enhancing the connectivity between Ohio City and the riverfront—a place known as Irishtown bend—via bike trails, roads, and other features.
Evidently, it’s called Irishtown Bend because this is where many of Cleveland’s Irish immigrants settled to be in close proximity to factory and shipping jobs. Graham says that in the late ’80s there was even an archeological dig on the southern portion near the riverfront. It was organized by Cleveland Museum of Natural History to protect the history buried there. What they mostly found were foundations of buildings, some pottery and bottles. Bottles. “Well,” said Graham, “they were Irish.” Aye.
Elgemiabby knocked on doors and met people in the street. Anywhere she could. She listened to the community and asked what they wanted and needed—she did months of legwork before she came up with a vision. Not HER vision, mind you, and this is an important distinction.
“So, I wouldn’t say it’s my vision,” she says, “I would say it’s the community vision. So I play the role of the designer and the facilitator for what does the community want, what does the community need, and what does the community aspire to be. So through this project, we spoke with the community and we found what are the values that bring this community together. And I knew that there were, pillars to design, the new community center, the new welcome center. The idea was also to define what does a welcome center mean for the people here.” The people in the community even chose the name for the center. Still, there was skepticism from some. Public art is harbinger of gentrification, which can be more invasive than inclusive.
“[The community] feels threatened a lot, because they have a prime location, and they love their neighborhood,” says Elgemiabby. “[But] when businesses are more invested, you have more resources to the city to hire police officers, to hire this one, to make jobs. So that was something very positive for them.” She looks to make a space that pays homage to the past but faces forward into a future that looks like the community. Elgemiabby: “So throughout this project, there was this idea of dignity as a value for the community. If people have a voice from the very beginning, then they maybe have also a participation role.”