In the heart of Cleveland there stands an historic building called the Old Woolen Mill. On the outside one can see graffiti covering the walls, broken windows and fallen brick. The building itself looks like a piece of art. It’s no surprise then that the idea to develop an art incubator was born. Located between Glassworks and Cleveland City Ballet, Cleveland Workspace seeks to anchor a creative eco-system for the community.
The City of Cleveland was selected to participate as the pilot project for the inaugural program of the University of Tennessee’s Smart Communities Initiative for the 2014-2015 academic year. This program used students from across the University’s academic colleges in a service learning platform to gain hands on, real world experience in addressing various issues faced by communities today. The initiative worked with students from diverse academic backgrounds including, engineering, architecture, art, English and landscape architecture to address approximately 20 specific projects which the city had identified as important but lacked either the funding or staff to accomplish.
One such project used students from the School of Architecture to envision the revitalization of Cleveland’s Old Woolen Mill. City Planners and officials with the Chamber of Commerce have long seen the redevelopment of the mill as the catalyst for which many other downtown revitalization projects hinge. The UT students helped to capture and develop the vision of the property owner as a thriving mixed-use property which embedded the arts into the redevelopment efforts. Through this process the idea to develop an arts incubator was born.
The scope of a project such as this was quickly realized to exceed the ability of one city department therefore, soon several community members, such as Jaime Barks, Joy Key, Key Waller, Joe McCullough took the initiative to help shepherd the project and bring a Cleveland arts center to fruition. Several potential avenues were evaluated and other successful programs were explored. Through this process a relationship with Chattanooga Workspace was developed.
It soon became apparent that using the experience and existing organizational infrastructure of Chattanooga Workspace with the local knowledge and energy of the efforts in Cleveland was the most logical way to move forward. The resulting partnership lead to the creation of Cleveland Workspace- a place where artists and other creatives can come and craft their wares with like-minded individuals.
Similar to the Chattanooga Workspace, which opened in 2013, Cleveland Workspace works to anchor a creative eco-system where artists and other creatives can craft their wares with like minded individuals. Artists can rent a studio where they have their own personal space to work anytime. Cleveland Workspace has five studios, two public galleries and one community room.
The studios are dedicated, private studio spaces intended to be used for the creation of arts and products by local artisans and craftspeople. They are not retail spaces, although conducting business by appointment is permitted.
Jaime Barks, an artist who rents out a studio in Cleveland Workspace, uses her art as a way to express her feelings and thoughts in a visual form by exploring the role of faith and religion in Southern culture by incorporating Bible pages into her work. Through the Cleveland Workspace, Barks hopes to find a way to empower and inspire people.
“I believe that art is central to the human experience and that it helps us to understand and process the world we live in,” says Barks. “Art gives people a platform to express their hopes, fears, and joys.”
Claudia Hoffer’s Cleveland Workspace studio is called Invisible Accidents. She knits anything from clothing to coozies. Her items are also sold on her Etsy account.
Artists will have the opportunity to showcase and sell their art the first Friday of every month, beginning July 8th, at a family friendly community event called Open Studio Nights from 5:30-8:30 pm. Chattanooga and Cleveland workspaces will be working together during these events.
“This is a great opportunity for the community to get involved with what is going on around them,” says Chris Thomas, owner of Southern Publishers Group. “I look forward to the progress Cleveland Workspace will be making and the impact on the creativity in the community.”
Cleveland Workspace is continuing to develop. This creative movement is exciting for not only the Workspace occupants and staff but for the entire community. As the building’s transformation progresses, the innovative energy will continue to grow, inspiring the community around them.