Theater, Music, Public Art, Fashion, Celebration Engage Your Community Through the Arts

A scene from LatinUs Theatre production of El Insolito Caso de Miss Piña Colada (The Unusual Case of Miss Piña Colada)

Recent events including changing immigration policies have led to significant confusion surrounding the 2020 Census, which is a once-in-a-decade effort to count all the people living in the United States—not all the citizens, but all the people living here. Both congressional representation and federal funding for a range of social programs are pegged to the number of inhabitants. And Cleveland has some of the most under-counted neighborhoods in the state—especially the Metro West service area on the Near West side. The Stockyards, Clark-Fulton, and Brooklyn Centre neighborhoods are home to a significant part of the region’s immigrant—particularly Latino—population. That is why the Cleveland Foundation’s 2020 Creative Fusion program is focused in those neighborhoods: to engage people through art, letting them know it is important to stand up and be counted.

Counting is the key point in this year’s Creative Fusion, which takes as its theme the word Contar, in honor of the census. Every year this program supports artists and organizations through local and international artist residencies and their related projects. The word contar does double duty in Spanish, meaning both “to count,” as with numbers, and “to tell,” as in recounting a story.

This year, all the organizations participating in Creative Fusion have a presence in and around the Metro West service area. The organizations will host artists from Latin American countries and Puerto Rico, as well as Cleveland, and they will present a range of activities throughout the year.

Participating organizations include Metro West, LatinUs Theatre Company,  MetroHealth, Art House, Inc.,  Julia de Burgos Cultural Arts Center, Cleveland Classical Guitar Society in partnership with the Comite Mexicano.

This is a brief overview of the participating organizations and their projects under development for the coming year.

Metro West

Metro West is the community development corporation serving three Near West neighborhoods: Stockyards, Clark-Fulton, and Brooklyn Centre. The organization plays important roles in the Creative Fusion program as facilitator for projects that require neighborhood collaboration, liaison with businesses or city departments, and programming partner in its own right.

Managing the program on behalf of Metro West is the recently-hired Arts and Civic Education Coordinator Susie Underwood. She had a similar role with Ohio City Incorporated when Creative Fusion worked with organizations in that neighborhood to host residencies for international artists who created murals in the blocks surrounding West 25th Street.

One need she sees, both to inform the projects and to support an accurate count in the census, is information. “We need to have information sessions for artists, as they don’t know more about the census than the rest of us. People—including artists—don’t know that federal funding, like for the SNAP (food stamp) program are pegged to the count of people living there. And there is a lot of confusion about the fact that there is no citizenship question on the census.”

That bears repeating. There is no citizenship question on the US Census.

Apart from providing information and facilitating on behalf of other organizations, Metro West’s Creative Fusion project is to present Sackett Street which wil: Arte del Barrio, which will take place the third Saturday in August near the Meyer Pool. While specifics are not yet in place, the festival could provide a platform for collaboration between many of the different organizations and artists.


LatinUs is a Cleveland-based theater company, producing plays in Spanish, led by executive artistic director and actress Monica Torres. For its part in the Creative Fusion program, LatinUs plans to host a June-through-August residency by Cuban playwright Ulises Rodriguez Febles, who will write an original work in response to the theme, Contar. Composer/soprano/cellist Malina Rauschenfels will compose original music to go with the play.

Torres says they are still in search of the right venue for the eventual production, which will take place later in the year in the neighborhood around Clark-Fulton.

Founded in 2018, LatinUs is still a new theater company. Now in their second season, they just closed their fourth production—Venezuelan playwright Gustavo Ott’s comedy, Divorcees, Evangelists, and Vegetarians, which was staged in the Helen Rosenfeld Lab Theater on Playhouse Square. Previous performances have been held in several different venues, including theaters at Cleveland State University, Lakeland Community College, and Kent State University, as well as at Ensemble Theatre in Cleveland Heights and the New World Performance Lab in Akron. The company has been growing by leaps and bounds, and is in the process of establishing a permanent home, with offices and their own black box theater, in the Astrup Awning building on West 25th Street near Seymore Avenue. Torres says the company’s intent in producing plays by Latin playwrights is to bolster not only Latin culture and Spanish language skills, but also the quality of life in Clark-Fulton.


MetroHealth Director of Art and Health Linda Jackson says the hospital’s Creative Fusion proposal has three parts. The first is a For Freedoms Town Hall discussion, facilitated by moCa Cleveland in partnership with the City Club of Cleveland. For Freedoms describes itself as a platform for creative civic engagement. Founded in 2016 before the election, it takes its name from Norman Rockwell’s paintings of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms: freedom of speech, of worship, from want, and from fear. Their goal is to use art to deepen public discussions on civic issues. In this case, a spring or summer town hall meeting will take place in the neighborhood around MetroHealth and will involve local artists, as well as an international resident artist hosted through the Creative Fusion program.

The town hall meeting will help inform the work and community engagement created through the other two components of the program. An international artist residency will result in opportunities for community engagement, as well as creation of a permanent work in the neighborhood. Jackson says the artist has not yet been chosen, but they are in conversation with contacts in South America to find an emerging artist who could come in the summer, participate in discussions, and offer creative opportunities for local residents.

The final component is affectionately called the Yard Sign Project. In collaboration with LAND studio, MetroHealth will identify six Cleveland-based artists who—along with the international resident artist—will design yard signs to be reproduced and placed around the neighborhood and the city. The signs will be a colorful echo and reminder of the ideas that come from residents and artists through the town hall discussion, perhaps including information about the 2020 Census and why it matters.

MetroHealth is one of three large hospital systems in Northeast Ohio, and is the tenth largest employer in the region. The organization is in the process of constructing a new, main-campus hospital that will replace its current twin tower facility. It has also been involved in neighborhood revitalization efforts, including plans announced in June 2019 to invest $60 million in three new apartment buildings—one with 72 affordable units among the total of 250 apartments, as well as commercial space for a grocery store, restaurants, training facilities and other shops.

Art House, Inc.

Art House, Inc.—the community art center on Denison—is connecting the Creative Fusion theme to its ongoing programs and projects. What will eventually be the most visible is a landscape design for the space formerly occupied by two long-vacant and long-dilapidated houses in front of the organization’s building. Executive Director Laila Voss says the organization plans to host a residency by artist Ana Quiroz, who lives in San Miguel de Allende and Mexico City, Mexico. Quiroz will be in residency from September through November, and will collaborate with Cleveland artist Hector Castellanos-Lara. Castellanos is an immigrant who decades ago left Guatemala for political reasons, Voss says, and so he relates closely to the circumstances faced by refugees.

They plan to focus on the refugee and homeless populations, in part through Art House’s ongoing relationship with the Norma Herr Women’s Shelter. Both the homeless and refugee populations are notoriously difficult to count in the census. “Ana is interested in doing a project that is ongoing, and will activate our newly acquired greenspace,” Voss says, referring to the lots where the houses used to be, “which is really just straw and dirt right now.” Because Art House is in very early stages of fundraising to support a new landscape design for a parklike “art plaza” there, the property will be simply covered in grass for the near future.

Additionally, Creative Fusion will support Urban Bright residencies with Cleveland artists in local schools, working with themes that relate to Contar and the 2020 Census. In the spring, painter and Cuban immigrant Augusto Bordelois will work with students at John Marshall High School to create a series of paintings or a mural about the history of democracy, starting with the Greeks. And Gina Washington will work with fifth graders at Denison Elementary, building projects on the theme that Every Voice Counts. Then in the fall, two different Cleveland-based artists will work in two different schools: Wendy Mahon’s proposal is to work with students at Mooney Elementary to create cultural flags based on their heritage, and then to make an American flag by collaging images of people from all different cultures. And Tanya Gonzalez plans to work with students at Facing History New Tech West, using paper mache to create three-dimensional works informed by the students’ ethnic backgrounds, to underscore the importance of where they came from.

Julia de Burgos Cultural Arts Center

Led by Letitia Lopez, the Julia de Burgos Cultural Arts Center is developing its plans for the Creative Fusion program. Lopez has overseen the organization’s relocation on more than one occasion, but its new home at the Archwood United Church of Christ seems to have kindled new energy in the community. “People are taking notice now,” she says, adding that she gave an estimated thirty tours of the place last year. Programs include the Miss Latina Image mentorship program for teen girls, and a range of dance classes (including Flamenco and various Puerto Rican national styles) for all ages. Ballet classes are taught in partnership with North Pointe Ballet. They also offer family art nights.

And in spring 2019, they partnered with Gordon Square Arts District to present an offsite exhibit in one of Cleveland’s busiest art destinations: 78th Street Studios. The Unidos por el Arte exhibit included works by more than twenty emerging and established Latino artists, and drew significant crowds during the Third Friday opening. The program has also brought new funding: Julia de Burgos is one of the organizations selected by Cuyahoga Arts and Culture to receive small grants in support of individual artists. At its December board meeting, CAC announced that the program would fund six Latino artists in the Unidos por el Arte exhibit in 2020.

Julia de Burgos Cultural Arts Center was founded in 1989 to serve Latino youth and families with programs designed to foster Puerto Rican cultural pride. It is named for a poet who lived from 1914 to 1953, who had a leadership role in the Puerto Rican Nationalist party, and who championed civil rights for women decades before the movement took hold in other parts of the US.

Watch CAN for updates on Julia de Burgos Cultural Arts Center’s Creative Fusion programming as it develops.

Comite Mexicano and Classical Guitar Society

Comite Mexicano of Cleveland has picked up where the recently disbanded Hispanic Alliance left off: continuing a partnership with the Cleveland Classical Guitar Society in a Creative Fusion project they are calling Guitarras Democraticas. It’s an alliance that should help both organizations connect with new audiences. The Mexican Committee is led by Edwardo Rodriguez, with Andrea Villalon as project coordinator. Villalon has also worked with the Mexican Committee on a recently-approved proposal for a Mexican cultural garden at Rockefeller Park. Cleveland Classical Guitar Society is represented by director Erik Mann and guitarist, teacher and musician liaison Rodrigo Lara Alonso, of Mexico.

The synergy in the project comes from the guitar itself and its place in Latin culture. As Lara notes, guitar is ubiquitous in Latin culture—in folk music as well as a rich tradition of classical composition. As a teacher for the guitar society, he says many of his students’ parents play guitar or a related instrument, such as the Puerto Rican cuatro, Mexican vihuela, or one of the many other variations from different countries.

Mann adds, “Guitar moves easily between classical and popular music. It is also very flexible, as a solo instrument, providing accompaniment, or as part of an ensemble.”

As their Creative Fusion collaboration, the two organizations plan to bring to Cleveland two guitarists—one from Puerto Rico, and one from Mexico—for three-month residencies. During their time in Cleveland, they will perform concerts in the Clark-Metro area, and in various ways work with other artists and musicians in the neighborhood. The guitarists had not yet been selected at press time.



To read this article in Spanish, please click here.