Upcycle St. Clair

St Clair Superior Development Corporation

Funding Received: 2013
Cleveland, OH
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
May 7, 2014

By Nicole McGee

Here at Upcycle St. Clair we’re launching our creative reuse center, beginning our fellowship programs, hiring summer youth workers, planning for mural installations, scheduling free community upcycle stations with guest upcyclists, and reclaiming a vacant lot to be a community plaza. One of our biggest challenges is the sheer weight of our to-do lists. In all this management it seems odd to say but it’s true: there is constantly another thing to be doing, completing, starting, and moving forward. In the management of this kind of productivity it’s easy to lose sight of the broader goals of celebrating place, activating space, and engaging people.

Last year through funding we were awarded by Cuyahoga Arts & Culture, we made plans to take our after-school youth upcycling club to Detroit to see examples of community-driven creative placemaking at the Heidelberg Project. Earlier this month, we made the long-awaited trek in a bus full of youth along with a few local teachers/youth workers and some of our community development colleagues.

It was inspirational in all the right ways. Here are a few of the nuggets we brought back home with us:

-- Color changes everything. We’re used to the gray palette of urban streets. Color—and lots of it—makes such a difference that it was in some ways surreal to stand on an urban street and experience such bold contrasts.

-- Context is so important. Thanks to our generous funders, we booked a docent for our tour of Heidelberg AND we met with Tyree Guyton, the artist who began this multi-block installation nearly 30 years ago. Hearing the story as we walked around to the houses added so much to what may have otherwise been visual overload. “This is our outdoor museum,” our curator tour guide explained, and immediately it felt good to be guided through the unexpected and provocative art installations.

 Upcycle St. Clair image B (4.15.14)

-- Permission is overrated. This pearl of wisdom is not for the faint of heart and it’s not always appropriate, but it was a good reminder. Tyree shared with us that this project was what he felt he had inside of him, and needed to share. Just start, he said. Pick up a paintbrush and make a mark. Just do something. We left feeling like it’s easy to weigh ourselves down with to-do lists and process. Maybe we need to also pick up some paintbrushes. Both processes have their place in the work of placemaking.

Upcycle St. Clair image C (4.15.14)

-- Everyone has a unique experience. This update is written from one point of view, that of the Upcycle St. Clair project manager. I was one of a group of 45 that day, and I’m certain that others would list other nuggets of inspiration in their own updates, especially the youth, who aren’t thinking about to-do lists and project management. We polled them on our bus trip back, asking what they wanted to do on St. Clair Avenue after seeing such bold examples of street art. Painting and using lots more color were common responses. We were happy to read this, because we hope to work with them to do just that in the coming month and this summer. They were also pretty clear that they want to create their/our own look to our own projects. “He used circles; maybe we should use triangles, or another design we come up with,” one student suggested. Another added “I think we should make recycled flowers or things like that, and place them all over Cleveland. I would like to do that.” We love the sound of that.

In April, we remembered the balance between doing our own work and our work’s purpose, and also the balance between getting things done and escaping the office to get re-inspired and to reconnect. Coming up next: work, work, work . . . and then go visit fellow ArtPlace grantees in Cincinnati in May. The work of CoSign has some real appeal for business districts in our neighborhoods, and we can’t wait to get a peek into their world and snag some more inspiration for ours.