OUTCOMES Creative Fusion + Rainey Institute = Brain Gain

The Rainey Institute’s roots are in providing service to immigrant families. The organization was founded in 1904 as a settlement house, providing services to eastern European immigrants who were making new homes in Cleveland, and dealing with the associated challenges of new culture, language, and economic conditions.

These days Rainey serves Cleveland families in neighborhoods surrounding its home, near East 55th Street and Hough Avenue. But as a participant in the Cleveland Foundation’s Creative Fusion program, the organization continues to connect immigrants to Cleveland. In fact, as CAN has recently learned, two of the Creative Fusion international artist residents hosted by the Rainey Institute have decided to make Cleveland their home.

For different reasons—independently and several years apart—Meng-Hsuan Wu of Taipei, Taiwan, and Sanjib Bhattacharya of Calcutta, India, both have settled in the Cleveland area. Meng lives in North Collinwood. Sanjib lives in Cleveland Heights. They’ve both lived in cities around the country and the world, but thanks to a combination of opportunity and the Rainey Institute’s hospitality, both have decided to make Northeast Ohio their home.

Meng originally came to the US twelve years ago to attend graduate school at the State University of New York in New Paltz. She says being alone in a foreign country caused her to focus her work on the meaning of “home.” And she began traveling a lot. “I found that the US has a lot of opportunity for residencies and projects.” Much more so than in Taipei. “My work is making installations in public spaces, and that is difficult to sell.” But when she came to Cleveland in 2013 for a Creative Fusion residency at the Rainey Institute, she began to make community-based work. Rainey was good for that, because it is connected by its mission to serving the community.

“I was thinking about the need for a base, and there were all kinds of coincidences in Cleveland,” she says. After the residency she was in New York City when Rainey executive director Lee Lazar called to see how she was doing. She asked him about the possibility of employment at the Rainey Institute, and he helped her find work through the Devising Healthy Communities project for medical students at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine of Case Western Reserve University. It’s a program in which students acquire a deeper understanding of patients and communities through the arts.

It also didn’t hurt that Meng met her boyfriend, Titus Golden, who teaches in several disciplines at the Rainey Institute.

Sanjib came to Cleveland a year before Meng, as Rainey’s first Creative Fusion resident, but as it turns out, it was she who inspired him to try making a home here. He had first come to the US to perform at UCLA in 2006, and began to make connections in New Jersey, Pittsburgh, and California. In 2012 he was invited to be a Creative Fusion resident. “I did not understand the idea of connecting to community at first. But I told Lee, ‘make me busy.’ And in the end I taught 700 people—senior citizens, school kids, college students.” After the residency he traveled to other US cities, and during a total of eight months here, he began to think about staying, and using Cleveland as a base. It’s affordable. He had connections at the Rainey, and with organizations where he had taught.

“Meng maybe inspired me,” he says. “I had her as an example.” He also had help from Lazar, who guided him to legal support. This summer Sanjib has a busy schedule of performances and workshops, including with Dancevert, at Cleveland State University, at The Open Space for World Dance Day, workshops for Duffy Liturgical Dance Camp, and a choreography class at iGurukul, a summer camp in California.

Cleveland benefits from the brain gain, and the heart-and-soul gain as well. But of course, at Rainey, the greatest benefit is to the kids. “It helps them see that it’s a big beautiful world beyond the East Side of Cleveland,” Lazar says.