The projects of the Cleveland Foundation’s 2019 Creative Fusion Waterways to Waterways cohort marked the 50th anniversary of the famous June 22, 1969, fire on the Cuyahoga River. The fire itself and the improvement of the river’s water quality are landmarks in environmental history. Most of that progress has been made through research, education, and political action, as well as a regional economy that has shifted away from steel manufacturing. But this Creative Fusion cohort sets a new bar for artists as a force in environmental and civic life. The artists of the Waterways cohort were directly engaged in shaping the future of the river and our relationship to it. While the exhibits and other presentations took place in June, all of them aim to envision, design, or inspire a long-term, sustainable relationship between the people of Cleveland and their most important asset, the fresh waters of the river and lake.

Consider the collaboration between industrial design professor Douglas Paige, of Cleveland, and Lukas Kronawitter, an architect based in Germany who designs using principles of “biomimicry.” Their task was to develop concepts for sustainable bulkheads along the Cuyahoga. Hosted by the Cleveland Institute of Art (where Paige teaches), the project could inform future iterations of the built environment along the river, to create stable banks that still perform their natural function of filtering water and creating habitat while also enabling access for the people who live there.

Or consider that Squidsoup’s installation of light and sound on the subway level of the Detroit-Superior Bridge—presented by the Kent State University Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative—was not only about beautiful spectacle, but about shining light on potential for a long-idle piece of public infrastructure that spans the river and offers inspiring views that we simply cannot pause to appreciate while driving across the bridge in a car.

Watch for a deeper discussion of KSU CUDC’s work with the bridge, and Paige and Kronawitter’s bulkhead designs, and also Praxis’s work with nontoxic, natural indigo farming in the next issue of CAN.

Later in this section, you’ll find an in-depth discussion of another of the Waterways to Waterways projects—the work of Sudanese, Kent-based artist Malaz Elgemiabby, who has been facilitating a community-based visioning process for the possibilities of the Riverview Welcome Center, a long-idle building on West 25th Street atop the riverbank at Irishtown Bend. [We’ll also update you on the Cleveland Museum of Art’s composers cohort, as well as an international relationship flourishing between Chilean artist Iván Lecaros (Creative Fusion 2012) and Zygote Press.]

The global relevance of the anniversary of the fire on the river was effectively captured in the lineup of speakers gathered by PechaKucha Cleveland—including PechaKucha founder Mark Dytham, who came from Tokyo. All had some connection to the fight for clean water, from Beirut, Lebanon-based architect Adib Dada (who detailed abuse and commercialization of the Beirut River), to Detroit water activist Monica Lewis-Patrick (who focused on access to potable water as a civil rights issue). Cordell Stokes, son of Carl Stokes, and Chuck Stokes, son of Louis Stokes, talked about how their fathers fought for investment in the cleanup of the river after the 1969 fire. Ojibwa elder and river walker Sharon Day, of Minneapolis, described a spiritual relationship with the water, nurtured by her recently completed, four-day walk from the headwaters of the Cuyahoga to its mouth. About 1,000 people came to listen.

The evening was something of a homecoming for Vancouver, Canada, city manager Sadhu Johnson, who many in Cleveland’s sustainability movement remember as the Oberlin graduate who founded the Cleveland Green Building Coalition and then was lured away to Chicago to be that city’s chief environmental officer. If many of the other speakers brought history and political issues to the fore, Johnson used his twenty slides and 400 seconds to give a pep talk, saying Cleveland is on a journey and choosing the right direction.

We’re thrilled to see artists helping to lead.