The dynamic of artists re-energizing neighborhoods only to be displaced by increased rent is so familiar that it needn’t be explored here, beyond pointing out that in Cleveland, Tremont is the go-to case in point.
The gentrification dynamic has played out to such a degree in Tremont that there was a time when art scene regulars were mostly writing off that neighborhood. Restaurants and pricey townhomes had left a scant gallery landscape in a place that previously, for years in Cleveland, essentially owned the art scene on the second Friday of each month. Those fondly remembered days with the likes of Asterisk Gallery, Raw and Company, Jean Brandt Gallery, Studio Gallery, Gallery U-Haul, Haus Tremont, Wildflower Boutique, Eddie Moved, Dodie’s Gallery, Exit Gallery, Mastroianni Studio, and spontaneous sidewalk performances are long-gone. Just a few years ago, Doubting Thomas was the only dedicated art venue still standing—at least the last one presenting unique, rotating exhibitions. Staff at Tremont West Development Corporation were well aware of the problem. A committee was organized. Conversations were held. What to do?
There’s truly great news here: a range of independent entrepreneurial efforts lately have coincided to re-invigorate the Tremont’s art scene. A couple of blocks of Jefferson Avenue have seen the opening of new galleries that complement Doubting Thomas, and with the added energy of efforts by Tremont West Development Corporation and some other enterprising folks, the neighborhood is worth revisiting. Here’s some of what CAN Blog saw on a visit during Walkabout Tremont the second Friday in June.
Organization and Promotion
During Walkabout, Tremont West Development Corp’s interest in the neighborhood’s brand as an art destination is most obviously manifest in a row of white tent vendors along Professor Street, offering craft and other items for sale. But there are subtler things, too: As we walked that strip, an energetic person at the corner of Literary placed in our hand a flyer listing the month’s exhibitions at specific venues, as well as other happenings and resources that night: The embodiment of user-friendliness! It’s the kind of thing that never, ever, ever would have happened in Tremont’s artistic halcyon days. We’re also compelled to note that on behalf of the neighborhood, and for years, Tremont West Development Corporation has maintained a presence in CAN Journal, promoting exhibitions and events.
It was early in the pandemic that we first learned of Emily Metzger’s vision of outdoor gallery boxes as a way of presenting art along the sidewalks. Inspired by the Phone Gallery (a tiny, improvised installation opportunity on Waterloo), she set about organizing permissions, a nonprofit structure, funds, and fabrication, and five boxes were installed in Fall, 2022. RestorARTive debuted in September. In a neighborhood where real estate demand had crowded out risky ventures like art galleries, it seemed like a way for art to get a new foothold. In June we found several of them along Professor Street, each with a single piece by a different artist, with a QR code for additional information. Watch for more on this. The art installations steadily evolve.
Doubting Thomas Endures.
Is it surprising that a DIY gallery that takes no commissions (and is dedicated simply to providing a space to artists to do their own thing) continues to exist at all in a neighborhood where rents have steadily increased for perhaps thirty years? Don’t even answer that. Yes, it is surprising. Doubting Thomas is the last remnant of Old School Tremont, where high concept work and finely crafted art sometimes mingle and sometimes just takes turns with whatever the opposite of that is. Doubting Thomas is one of the most gloriously rudderless and inconsistent art spaces in the city, and that is what makes it great. What goes on there is entirely determined by who signs up for the time slot. In April and May, Shawn Mishak presented his Earth show (part of a series that included Air, Fire, and Water), featuring a group of artists responding to the classical element as a theme. In June there’s a sound installation featuring work of CAN Triennial / Akron Art Museum Exhibition Prize winner Zeerak Ahmed, along with Abigail Johnson and Kim Nucci, as part of the Cleveland Uncommon Sound Project’s 2023 Re:Sound experimental music festival. When we arrived Friday, we found a sign on the door saying the opening was postponed til noon the following day. We don’t know anything about the circumstances, but this is a classic Doubting Thomas moment. We hope they found a substantial and receptive audience on Saturday.
Just a few dozen steps away, we found Kaiser Gallery, where Tanya Kaiser has brought not only another new, well-programmed and curated venue to the neighborhood, but also a new concept—legally selling cocktails curated to go with each exhibition. More importantly, though, the shows have been substantial, often highlighting the ways humans treat themselves and each other and other creatures on the planet. The current show, Jamie M. Richey’s Common Thread: Contradictions, Questions, and Lies We Live By, explores the grey areas of life. The gamble that is religious faith, for example, is highlighted in four works built around a suite of playing cards. The strength of faith is that it is exactly that—a commitment to hope in the face of uncertainty—just like gambling. Richey is trained and has worked as a commercial photographer, but in this decidedly fine-art, conceptual show she complicates her photographs in a variety of ways, especially by stitching thread through them. The stitching does a kind of symbolic double duty, highlighting both the cut or the tear separating two parts, as well as the effort to hold them together. She engaged visitors and highlighted the interconnectedness of things by giving away loops of red thread for playing Cat’s Cradle.
And just a few steps across Professor Street, still on Jefferson, Photographer Barbara Merritts’ 818 studios turns the second floor office space above Fahrenheit restaurant into exhibit space. For the last few years she has presented one- and two-person shows with the likes of Rebecca Anne Wilhelm and John Saile, Rebecca Yody Anthony Van Rooy, as well as her own work. She’s also offered occasional group shows, including –for the Summer of 2023—The Art Shop at 818 Studios. It’s a rotating, salon-style boutique featuring works of about two dozen artists, most with connections to Tremont’s art scene of the last couple of decades. They include: Rebecca Yody (jewelry, multi-media art), Dott Von Schnieder (paintings), Chris Lanza (paintings), Krazy Kathy (krazy gift items, textiles), Karen Petkovic (paintings), Scott Kraynak (artsy gifts), Jean Wendland Porter (sketches, wall art), Angela Novak (jewelry, gift items), Dawn Barile (fine jewelry), Rhonda Bartos (textured wall art), Shawn Mishak (multi-media art), Tessa LeBaron (paintings, gift items), Denise Andres (hand made board games), Mark Nicholas (animal drawings), Thee Merry Peezy (ceramics), Ron Kretsch (photography), Bryon Miller (art prints, photography), Idly Hour (Candles), Hadley Conner (photography), Kelly Nicola Chiovitti (ink drawings), Gina DeSantis (Ceramics), Judy D’Angelis (surreal pencil drawings), Nada Talevska (dried flower art), Tina Sciarratta (upcycled creations), Anthony Van Rooy (paintings), and Preston Gonser (paintings).
But wait, there’s more
While that row of galleries is certainly the heart of the scene, and its most actively, engagingly programmed part, there’s still more to find. A couple of blocks down Professor, there’s Paul Duda Gallery, with the acclaimed photographers works—especially Cleveland cityscapes—on view. On West 11th Street at Fairfield, Loop Tremont is a coffee shop and record shop that dedicates a two-story wall to a rotating schedule of mostly one-person shows. And over on Scranton and Starkweather, there’s Megan Dardis studio, showing the artist’s abstract paintings.
So if you haven’t been to Tremont on the second Friday of the month in a while, it’s worth re-visiting.