Urban UpcycleCleveland, OH
This past month we’ve been shouting from the rooftops about UrbanUpcycle. We find ourselves talking about our new project to business owners, community residents, artists, funders, the real estate company helping us identify space for our storefronts, and many others. We begin by defining upcycling as taking raw material(s) that others don’t place value in and transforming them in ways that add value and create new audiences and economies. We explain that we’re looking at upcycling both as an arts-based activity and as an applied methodology for how we revitalize the St. Clair neighborhood of Cleveland. We’re working to build something new by infusing creativity into this redevelopment process. The leftover pieces and parts that a print shop or manufacturing company generate are key ingredients to the creative process. And so are vacant storefronts and empty houses, like the century old two story duplexes we’ve begun to transform into lofted single-family homes (for which we now have a waiting list).
While the loft construction project is outside of our ArtPlace America scope of work, it is part of the shift in how we’re doing business at St. Clair Superior Community Development Corporation. We’re beginning with what we already have and transforming it into something better. That process is creating new audiences and building excitement about this neighborhood.
With our UrbanUpcycle project, we’re working on creative place-making specifically on St. Clair Avenue (between East 60th-East 66th) and upcycling is our revitalization tool. Because we want to communicate this loudly and often, we’re now referring to this project as Upcycle St. Clair. At our first Advisory Council meeting last week, we hosted a group of 15 supporters in a vacant storefront that was transformed with hanging bulb lights, marigolds planted in car tires, and a nametag-making station using small vinyl flooring rectangles with pins glued on back. Materials like buttons, plastic drinking straws, twisty ties and telephone wire accompanied glue and scissors as options for upcycled nametag flair. It was a great example of engaging people in upcycling to explain what we mean by that term.
The response to our project has been fantastic and new doors are swinging wide open to it. A few recent wins:
- We’ve had excellent media coverage. We’ve been featured a lot this month for various projects our organization is doing including a story on our local NPR station, an article in Crain’s Cleveland Business magazine, and a spotlight on a local Fox8 news program. Our favorite article in an online newspaper called Fresh Water received 701 likes and 29 comments. People are excited about this project!
- Collaborations are going strong. Right now we’re gearing up for a pop-up event with the Cleveland Flea, a vintage flavored flea market we brought to our neighborhood under the leadership of a savvy small business called Indie Foundry. Our upcoming special event called Pop-Up St. Clair is planned for the evening of Friday, July 12th. We’re making temporary (upcycled) art installations, lining up live music, and our partner Indie Foundry is hosting a pop-up restaurant with happy hour and a full course meal by some big-time local chefs. We’re creating a sense of exploration and an opportunity to linger and engage in what St. Clair has to offer. We’re making an intentional effort to highlight existing businesses in St. Clair for the night and we want to encourage visitors to feel that they’re getting an inside peek at what’s special about this neighborhood.
- Already, we’re creating behavior change. At a friendly visit to a local merchant last week, our Executive Director explained the Upcycle St. Clair project to the owners of American Metal Heat Treaters. “We’ll call you before we call the scrap yard next time we have waste to get rid of!” they told us. Another St. Clair-based business upcycles good wood from Cleveland homes and buildings into custom-made furniture. They’re now saving their scrap pile for the date when our creative reuse center opens.
Because the Upcycle St. Clair project has different levels of upcycling that engage different audiences for its multiple components, we realize we need to create some flow charts! If an artist walks in the door and says “Hey, I want to get involved,” we’ve come to realize there are different levels of involvement depending on their interests, sophistication, and needs. The same goes for community residents and neighborhood businesses, not to mention prospective customers or tenants thinking of relocating to St. Clair. We have begun plotting out the options for engagement in a flowchart so that we fully understand the scope of opportunities before we start inviting others to jump in. Spending the time to really understand what we’re creating is helping us to engage people where they’re at, literally and figuratively.