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Making Change: Arts, the Economy and the Neighborhood

About four years ago sculptor Sheryl Hoffman got together with a few of her artist neighbors. For years, the Brooklyn Centre residents had been opening their homes as art studios to the neighborhood and they thought it was time to find a public space to share their art. Hoffman says conceptualizing what is now known as Art House was just the beginning.

SHERYL HOFFMAN: So, we were talking about wouldn't it be great to start something with the arts here that would be available to the community? I contact Councilwoman Merle Gordon about another property that looked to be vacant.

MERLE GORDON: They came to me with the idea of having a community art house.

Cleveland Councilwoman Merle Gordon said she was intrigued by the idea since development in the Brooklyn Center neighborhood had leveled off in recent years.

MG: This place was up for sale and had been up for sale for a long time and it was starting to not look so good and we thought, let's purchase something and rehab it and hopefully have it be a catalyst for something on Dennison avenue.

SH: That Saturday, we came to look at this property, which was then owned by Hasik Peter Glass Company. And we met with Sally winter from the Ohio Arts Council and Tom Schorgle from Community Partnership for Arts and Culture.

And they met with the artists interested in setting it up. As Tom Schorgle recalls that day, the building's initial impression was less than inspiring

TOM SCHORGL: It was November. It was very dark out, but much darker inside, very cold out, but much colder inside the building, wet and very wet inside the building.

The artists had a different perspective.

SH: ...And our eyes just lit up when we walked in this space because for an artist, a wide open 3000 square foot studio space is a dream.

Nearly three years later Art House provides classes four times a week to students at the Dennison School across the street. They're just now starting their first semester of art classes for community members of any age and they're hosting regular open houses - a veritable monthly party with music and food where people can observe the creative process or experiment with making their own art. At a recent open house, Councilwoman Gordon observed the crowd and noted that most open houses she attends aren't as lively and interactive as the one at Art House.

MG: What we had hoped for - for this and seeing it here is just fantastic. But it's also really neat to just be in conversations with people who say, "oh, Art House, down the street, that's really cool." We now have something new in our neighborhood that is a real asset that's not a huge cost to something and isn't sort of passing fad, but something they can utilize.

After six months in operation, it's too early to determine if Art House is responsible for any community growth. But Brian Cummins, executive director of the Old Brooklyn Community Development Corporation, says commercial developers he works with notice amenities like Art House. He says it helps his organization's efforts to attract commercial growth.

BRIAN CUMMINS: We've met with a lot of developers who've been doing these types of projects. They're becoming, again, more and more aware of the opportunities in Brooklyn Centre. And I dare say that within the year, we definitely expect to have at least one commercial development project.

Artists also make a difference to the real estate market. Cummins says that one-point-three million dollars have been invested in residential restoration, thanks in part to Brooklyn Centre's receiving both a Local Landmarks and a National Registry for Historic Places designation. Houses in parts of Brooklyn Centre are now going for more than 200-thousand dollars.

Given all that activity, Art House's existence makes sense, says Tom Schorgl with the Community Partnership for Arts and Culture. He says people are right to believe that the organization will probably accelerate growth even further.

TS: When artists and arts and culture organizations move into neighborhoods - like the Old Brooklyn neighborhood that we're in now or Tremont or Little Italy or Slavic Village or Hough—they tend to start to pioneer this idea of "creative activity." And it is an economic effect. And as they establish this sort of creative activity in the neighborhood they start to act as a magnet for other types of businesses.

Schorgl says the economic activity generated by arts and culture in Northeast Ohio is one-point-three billion dollars in direct and indirect spending. That figure covers everything from major arts institutions - like the Orchestra - to small community centers, like Art House. A strong artistic community also attracts the highly educated, high salaried knowledge workers - or the "creative class," a term coined by Carnegie Mellon University Professor Richard Florida. Florida says that with average salaries of 50-thousand dollars the creative class has more disposable income - which ends up flowing into the local economy. So, next time you plunk down money for a play or concert, you're not just spending it on entertainment, you could be investing in the region's economy.

In Cleveland, shula Neuman 90.3.