Artcraft Artists: A New Twist
The churn of artists and real estate is relentless. The latest step in this decades old dance is in the St. Clair-Superior neighborhood: On November 29, the City of Cleveland announced that the Artcraft building, a long-standing artist hive at 2530 Superior Avenue, is the top choice for a new police headquarters. The announcement describes a “gut-rehab” that will give the building new systems, a new roof, parking garage, and a floorplan. It says the newly chosen site (after the previous administration had already held a ceremonial groundbreaking in another location) will save $40 million. It’s not a done deal, still requiring council approval. The City says legislation will be ready for that early next year.
Regardless, dozens of artists, as well as the nonprofit photography cooperative the Cleveland Print Room, will have to move. And that is the new twist in this story of artists being pushed out of the spaces they called home: While gentrification usually happens one house or one small building at a time, the Artcraft exodus is dramatic, with an entire building emptying of its artist tenants within a matter of months. Many have already left, including a core group that moved en masse earlier this year, setting up shop in the Cleveland Twist Drill building and creating there an instant new artist community. The artists formerly known as the Artists of the Artcraft will henceforth be known as the Artists at the Twist. Several who were not part of the Artcraft group have also joined. This weekend, December 3 and 4, they present the 34th holiday market. It gathers approximately 50 vendors, including tenants of the building as well as guest artists.
The mass exodus from the Artcraft marks the end of an era. A 2017 story in CAN Journal said the building’s well-known 6th Floor Artists’ Studio Co-Op “was created in 1987 by founders Angelica Pozo, Dan Postotnik, George Bowes, Andrea Serafino, Susan Weir and Paula Dubaniewicz. …. In the 30 years since its founding, over 80 artists have called the 6th floor their studio.” It went on to describe the co-op being, to the Cleveland art community, what (Six Degrees of) Kevin Bacon is to movie fans.
In 2012, the Sixth Floor Artists of the Artcraft hosted the launch party for CAN’s winter issue.
Ceramic artist Mark Yasenchak had his studio at the Artcraft for nearly 25 years, having moved there in 1998. “It was always a great spot for artists moving to town because it was like a dream studio you couldn’t have in NY or LA. And you could afford it. Over the years they didn’t raise the rent that much.”
He says that while the core group of artists there changed a lot over the years, the nature of the place had always been cooperative, with all the artists pitching in money and working together to organize events like the well-known holiday sales.
Artist Janet Luken, who had her studio at the Artcraft building for 15 years, coordinated the move. She says they found out about the sale of the building in the newspaper.
”We all sat down and talked. No one wanted to move because [the Artcraft building] was a great location. But there were challenges as far as age of the building and being on 6th floor. In summer it would get stifling hot. If we opened windows we’d get particle debris, which would affect art-making. So we started looking.”
She says the group never considered anything other than downtown. She credits ceramic artist Claire Raack with finding the new space, after they had been looking for 7 months. She says the landlord at Cleveland Twist has been “incredibly supportive and helpful.”
That would be Michael Flemming and his brother, who bought controlling interest in the building in 2020. “They were just ahead of the game,” he says. “They saw the writing on the wall [at the Artcraft], and they were already leasing together.” When the Artists of the Artcraft moved in to the Twist Drill building, “we went from almost fully occupied to having no space left.” Flemming says the Twist Drill building has 70 tenants, about 30 of which are fine artists, with a range of other creative businesses, including photographers, furniture makers and refinishers, the Cleveland Orchestra’s scene shop, dance studios and food makers. He says it’s fully occupied for now, but has about 20,000 square feet of additional space that needs work before it can be rented. The second floor event space, where the holiday market is taking place, will remain as event space.
The idea of the Artists of the Artcraft enduring as a community could have legs, beyond the group now gathered at Cleveland Twist Drill. Photographer Daniel Levin had a studio at the Artcraft from 1990–when he moved to Cleveland from Chicago–until 2006. He recalled the history of the building and neighborhood as a garment district, and says that when he moved in, it was completely occupied—not only by artists, but by a range of businesses, from a shop that made custom liturgical vestments to a hardware store. But he thought of the artist residents there as a cohort, “almost like the Cleveland School.” He proposed on social media that the Artists of the Artcraft, across several generations, would make an interesting exhibition for a Cleveland gallery.
The Artists at the Twist 34th annual Holiday Market
10 am – 7 pm Saturday December 3
11 am – 5 pm Sunday December 4
Cleveland Twist Drill Building
1242 East 49th Street