Turning the Rust Belt into an Artist Belt

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The big red brick building on East 30th street in Cleveland had been abandoned for a decade when artists Bill and Harriet Gould moved in, several years ago. Harriet says owner Bruce Madorsky offered them a portion of the place for a live-and-work space at a price they couldn't refuse.

HARRIET GOULD: So, we decided, yeah, we would take the plunge. A lot of square feet, not a whole lot of money. Very reasonable.

BILLGOULD: Now, it's called the "Arts District" --- this whole area. It grew and grew and grew. And it still is.

Which is thanks in part to city officials who passed zoning legislation to clear the way for the Goulds and others to make a home in the old industrial site. The structure now also houses Zygote Press, a printmaking firm, and Tastebuds, a popular restaurant. Bridget Ginley is another artist who lives in the bustling building on East 30th, but she has a different take on the neighborhood.

GINLEY: It's wonderful the people who live here, but as far as finding a place that's open past 9:00 that sells food that's safe… or to find a place to eat past 10:00, it can be very challenging to be in a neighborhood like this.

Not to mention the fact that her car has been vandalized several times. It's a lot for a young urban pioneer to put up with, and she's seriously wondering whether she should stay. Then, to add insult to injury, Ginley says that formerly failing communities like this often improve and gentrify, pricing out people like her who helped get it going in the first place.

GINLEY: I think politicians like to stick artists in these neighborhoods, then, all of the sudden the rent goes up and it's a much fancier place, and the artists get pushed out.

Artists have complained about such gentrification for years. And that's one of the issues due to be addressed at a Cleveland conference, called "From Rust Belt to Artist Belt", next week. Thomas Schorgl heads the Community Partnership for Arts and Culture --- the host of this one-day symposium which will bring together artists and community development officials from across the industrial Midwest.

SCHORGL: What we're trying to do is increase the knowledge of artists, and people who work on the supply side --- the developers, the CDC officials, the city planners --- and really connect artists and their communities, so that, ten years from now, they're not moved out; that they're engaged in public policy that addresses their needs.

Another issue that artists face is expressed by Frank, a long-time area resident who has concerns about the financial complexities of living and working in these former industrial buildings.

FRANK: The differences in cost to buy a commercial property versus a residence is quite extensive as far as the loan requirements. There are also issues in regard to renovating these properties, and then being affordable to an artist.

Schorgl says the help is out there, but admits, sometimes, it's not easy to access.

SCHORGL: There are about 125 different local and state and federal programs that are up and running that can provide grants or loans to improve a home, to bring it up to code, or to purchase a home through public support. What we're trying to do here is bring some clarity and help artists navigate through these different programs.

He adds that a website is being developed --- scheduled for the end of next year --- that will serve as a one-stop shop for information about live-work spaces and where they exist, along with loan and grant opportunities.

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