Creative Fusion: Fifty Years After the Crooked River Burned, A Global Response

Creative Fusion’s Waterways to Waterways is an artistic celebration of the Cuyahoga

Michael Tsegaye (Ethiopia), Aerial photo of the Cuyahoga River, created with support from the Cleveland Print Room during his Cleveland Foundation Creative Fusion
Residency, 2018

At the center of the Cleveland Foundation’s 2019 Waterways to Waterways Creative Fusion program are five grassroots organizations spearheading nine unique efforts to draw attention to the Cuyahoga River. The 2019 program will also include a Global PechaKucha Night. On June 20, “Waterways” will fill the Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica with an array of experts taking the stage. They’ll present twenty slides for twenty seconds each in the popular format that originated in Tokyo in 2003 and quickly went viral on a global scale. Co-hosted with LANDstudio, the event will be the 34th PechaKucha Night Cleveland. Between now and then, artists from across the street and across the globe are taking unconventional approaches to explore our connection to one of the city’s most valuable assets: the Cuyahoga River.

Kent State University Cleveland Urban Design Center

The Kent State University Cleveland Urban Design Center (KSU CUDC) is enlisting the skills of the UK-based Squidsoup, which creates digitally augmented spaces by using points of light and color along with sound to create immersive digital experiences. The results evoke Yayoi Kusama—minus the mirrors. For its Cleveland installation, the group is tackling a popular and one of a kind local venue where streetcars once ruled: the underdeck of the Veterans Memorial Bridge. As part of the Sustainable Cleveland 2019 celebration of the Cuyahoga, the installation, which will be in place for the June 22 anniversary festivities, promises to be an engaging spectacle that will highlight the river, the bridge, and how it connects neighborhoods and people. Secondly, the KSU CUDC is uniting graduate students from points near and far, starting with Kent State’s College of Architecture and Environmental Design. With leadership from Assistant Professor Taraneh Meshkani, a group of students are studying the Cuyahoga for an entire semester at home and abroad. In February, two separate groups traveled to Lebanese American University in Beirut and the Universidad de Medellín in Columbia, where they explored the Beirut and Medellin Rivers respectively. Both international waterways are not as far along in their restoration as the Cuyahoga. Hence, the “International Design Exchange” helped to put the Cuyahoga’s fifty-year recovery into perspective while also fostering ideas for green urban designs for select riverfront studios in both Cleveland and Beirut.


The Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority’s Riverview Terrace property on West 25th Street in Ohio City is home to those familiar high-rise apartments as well as a smaller adjacent building that’s easy to overlook. Currently a storage space, the modest A-frame structure was once a community center. LANDstudio and Sudanese interdisciplinary designer Malaz Elgemiabby are transforming the space to accommodate its original purpose. While she currently calls Cleveland home, Elgemiabby has studied architecture and design in London and Qatar. She also identifies “as a mother first” and a disrupter, which will serve the project as it endeavors to unite Riverview and Lakeview Terrace residents, the refugees at the Ohio City Farm and other neighborhood stakeholders. The center will provide a place for area residents to gather with gallery space, an outdoor plaza; and educational amenities featuring sustainability, area history and Cleveland’s waterways. It will also weave into the future development of Irishtown Bend and serve as programming space for other 2019 Creative Fusion cohorts.

The Cleveland Print Room

The Cleveland Print Room is facilitating four projects for the 2019 Creative Fusion effort. International artist in residence Michael Tsegaye, an Ethiopian photographer and photojournalist, began his work last October when he traveled to the United States for a month to capture aerial photographs of the Cuyahoga River from a helicopter. Tsegaye is collaborating with local artist and educator John W. Carlson to transform the gallery space at the Print Room into a three-dimensional interactive depiction of the river this June. Next, the Teen Institute is employing a cyanotype process to produce interpretations of the Cuyahoga’s riparian areas (the riverbed where water meets earth). The students will commit the resulting images and documentation associated with their “River Water Soup” project to a book. Another effort combines visual documentation, ceremony and public participation. Ojibwe elder Sharon Day of Minnesota will conduct a river walk that will span four days in mid-June and cover the entire length of the Cuyahoga in order to honor the sacred river water. During a Nibi (water) Walk, adherents consider every step a prayer. Day has previously conducted walks of the Mississippi, the Ohio, the Chippewa, and the St. Louis Rivers among others. Tri-C student Erahlea Harnett will video the event and preserve it in a documentary to be displayed at the Print Room. The public is invited to join in all or part of the walk. Lastly, Cleveland native Sophie Schwartz is at work on a photo essay as complex as the river itself. She’s amassing photos of the Cuyahoga including those she captures with a large format 4×5 camera, as well as images from the past fifty years via research at the Cleveland Public Library and the Cleveland State University Archives Photo Collection. Schwartz’s project focuses on human interaction with the river and its bridges in particular as well as historical context.

Praxis Fiber Workshop

With a goal of engaging 900 local participants, the Praxis Fiber Workshop is enlisting the skills of Venezuelan artists Eduardo Portillo and Mariá Eugenia Dávila along with those of Associate Professor Rowland Ricketts of Indiana University and local artist Tony Williams to facilitate a dozen workshops across Cleveland. At venues such as the Praxis studio in North Collinwood, the Collinwood Recreation Center, the Memorial-Nottingham Library, and Euclid Beach, the artists are guiding participants to use Praxis’s newly fermented Indigo Vat dye to create 900 squares that will be sewn together by Praxis staff into three 60-foot banners. Approximately one hundred pounds of indigo leaves, which were harvested from the on-site Praxis garden, went into the making of the dye. The banners will be displayed during celebrations commemorating the anniversary of the burning of the Cuyahoga River and then at the Praxis studio in September.

Cleveland Institute of Art

The Cleveland Institute of Art is teaming up Professor Douglas Paige of its Industrial Design Department and a group of students with Lukas Kronawitter, an architect and planner who is currently the Director of Terreform ONE’s Berlin Studio in Germany, a nonprofit architecture and urban design research and consulting group. Kronawitter’s expertise in green urbanism as well as responsible water and waste cycles complements Paige’s biomimicry work as the group designs, tests and builds a human-made “green” bulkhead (a tool in river management) that will emulate the Cuyahoga’s natural flow and function while respecting native flora and fauna. The project is relevant to rivers across the country that have been subjected to pollution and over-management. CIA students enrolled in the elective Design Center class are helping to design and build the model—which will be publicly displayed—and developing accompanying educational material. Their work will span the course of the semester.