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Ideastream

'Inner City Hues' Aims to Put the Public in Public Art

Some walls and boarded storefronts along a couple of east side Cleveland streets are due to get an artistic makeover this summer as "Inner City Hues" brings a series of murals to the neighborhood.  

Bianca Butts came to the Zelma George Recreation Center on a Tuesday night to meet some artists who plan to bring new life to her neighborhood.  The center sits in between Buckeye and Kinsman roads, two major east-west thoroughfares running through the east side of Cleveland.  Once bustling arteries, the streets are now home to some shops, and many abandoned businesses.

Butts grew-up with stories from her mother about the streets that used to be. 

"Seeing some of the empty storefronts now, she would point to places and said there was always activity here," Butts said.  "There was always energy on this corridor.  And she said, it’s just sad to see it not that way now."

The "Inner City Hues" art project aims to spark some new energy in the corridor.  The title is a reference to the 1971 Marvin Gaye song "Inner City Blues" that paints a bleak portrait of urban life.

Public art agency LAND Studio is spearheading "Inner City Hues."  Project manager David Wilson says four artists were commissioned to create murals to liven-up some walls and storefronts along the once thriving thoroughfares.

"Really, it’s about much more than the murals," said Wilson.  "It’s about connecting to the local artist community and creating a platform for artists in these eastside Cleveland neighborhoods.  So, it’s a chance for them to really showcase their work, but also a chance for the community to really have a voice in these projects. 

A similar LAND Studio project wasn’t quite as connected.  "Love Lunes Over Buckeye" featured a series of colorfully illustrated storefronts along Buckeye road. ideastream wasn't aware of the controversy over the Love Lunes signs when they were unveiled in 2016. 

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Love Lunes signs were painted on abandoned storefronts along Buckeye Road in 2016. (ideastream)

A local poet and some area schoolchildren composed a series of inspirational verses painted on the plywood.  But, in the process of doing that, a previous set of murals were covered over. 

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Images like this, painted by the community group "Bridging the Tracks", were covered over by some of the Love Lunes signs (courtesy Bridging the Tracks)

After hearing complaints, David Wilson said "Inner City Hues" was born.

"We have, from the very beginning, been intentional about including the community in the process," Wilson said.  "We learned a lot of hard lessons in the past where we have had to really become much more involved in the conversation in the neighborhood."

He said that’s included connecting with neighborhood organizations, attending community meetings and seeking people where they are. 

Kevin Harp, who creates art under the name of Mr. Soul, said he’d like to center his mural around Nikki’s Music, a local record store where he used to buy music as a kid.  He said owner Sanders Henderson has deep roots in the neighborhood.

"Sanders has a 30-year history in that community, so it’s a cool project for me," Harp said.

Harp added he’ll get together with Henderson to determine how the shop owner wants to be represented in the art piece.  Harp is happy to be working on a community art project that he actually has a personal connection to, but given the "Love Lunes" incident, he’s reserving judgement, for now, on the "Inner City Hues" project.

"I’d like to see the progress of what this is before I can fully critique it or celebrate it," said Harp.

Painter Derin Fletcher said she's eager to bring her art to the neighborhood.  She likes to paint portraits of strong black women.  These are images she rarely saw when she was young, so she’s trying to change that picture for a new generation of little girls.

"I try to be the person I needed, so I figured me seeing a representation of me means a lot," said Fletcher.

Given her community history, Butts was asked to be part of the "Inner City Hues" planning committee, connecting LAND Studio to residents along the Kinsman and Buckeye corridors.  She likes the artists and she likes the mural concept.

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Bianca Butts is helping David Wilson and LAND Studio make deeper connections in her neighborhood.  (David C. Barnett / ideastream)

"Driving down the corridor now becomes an art gallery, of sorts," she said.  "Because now, you’re seeing these visual images just by passing through a space that maybe you wouldn’t have traveled through before.  And that’s the first step." 

She said the second step will be to get people to stop and get out of their cars.  Maybe a coffee shop or a juice shop.  It’s going to take more than new paint and plywood to bring back a struggling neighborhood.  But, she figures this is might be a way to start.

 

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