Ingenuity Cleveland expansion shines a light on Northeast Ohio creative community
An organization that supports and spotlights Cleveland's artist-entrepreneurs is growing. Ingenuity Cleveland, which launched in 2004 with its annual IngenuityFest get-together, is tripling the size of its year-round location at the Hamilton Collaborative in the St. Clair-Superior neighborhood.
In expanding the current 40,000-square-foot Ingenuity Labs, prospective tenants will enjoy an increased suite of services that encompasses studio space, partnership opportunities, and workshops on marketing and grant writing.
“We landed on a unique niche as a big, loud, dirty space for curiosity and creativity,” said Ingenuity Cleveland executive artistic director Emily Applebaum. “That’s helped us figure out how to be complementary to other makerspaces that exist in town."
Described by Ingenuity Cleveland as “part residency, part accelerator,” the incubator program will double its 24-artist roster in concert with the expansion, said Applebaum. Tenants have access to tools and shop space, with time in the “lab” culminating in onsite exhibits during IngenuityFest.
Space at the incubator is available to artists, startups and entrepreneurs of all stripes. High demand for Ingenuity Cleveland’s services, alongside the re-tasking of artisan spaces as housing or municipal facilities, motivated the group to build out its current location, said Applebaum.
“We looked at other spaces when factoring in partnerships with local community development corporations,” Applebaum said. “We realized that we wanted to stay right where we are and return to a plan for growth, expansion and permanence.”
A benefit for the community
Ingenuity Labs will continue to be affordable for artists, as the expansion is more a refresh than a complete overhaul, added Applebaum. For example, the organization will revitalize the former fourth-floor offices of Osborn Manufacturing – a “Mad Men”-style amalgamation of glass and wood that will ideally inspire a new set of artist-entrepreneurs. Ingenuity Cleveland has set a two-year timeline to bring the space to full capacity, though the arts group is ready to begin placing new tenants immediately.
MelissaAjayi, owner of a dance company that has put on performances at IngenuityFest, Hale Farm & Village, and the Cleveland Metroparks, currently utilizes the downtown incubator to sharpen her creative process, she said.
“Each day we’re rehearsing, designing costumes and building set pieces – all the logistics of creating a performance,” said Ajayi. “On the back end, there’s administrative work and lots of grant writing, fundraising and research.”
While Ajayi generally works from the Hamilton Collaborative’s third floor, she uses the entirety of the building as a performance space so visitors can engage with the art form as they see fit. Past programs at the Sulpher Springs picnic area in Cleveland Metroparks’ South Chagrin Reservation had a similar aesthetic of integrating dance into the natural environment, she said.
“I’m constantly thinking of what the experience is for both the performers and audience members,” Ajayi said. “Bringing attention to the space, and the choices we make in that space, are informing the way we think about these constructs. How do we bring a more vibrant use to spaces that may have been forgotten or overlooked?”
With no true centralized facility available for Cleveland’s dance community, Ajayi views the soon-to-be-expanded incubator as a potential epicenter for her chosen genre.
“Right now, we’re spread out and there’s not this natural hub where we’re running into each other and seeing what everyone is working on,” said Ajayi. “If we had several studios in this space, and they were used more frequently, it would benefit the dance community.”
A neighborhood connection
Ingenuity Cleveland was originally formedin 2004 by James Levin and Thomas Mulready to bring attention to the variety of art and technology within Northeast Ohio. Launched as IngenuityFest along Cleveland’s Public Square, the festival moved in subsequent years to other iconic Cleveland locations before settling in St. Clair-Superior in 2016.
Over the years, Ingenuity Cleveland added events like the Mini Maker Faire. Lectures, workshops and hackathons put further attention on a maker landscape that, in recent years, saw the loss of creative space when Mayor Justin Bibb announced the relocation of Cleveland’s police headquarters to the ArtCraft building at Superior Avenue. An expanded arts hub can be a talent attractor similar to whatArtistic Director Emily Applebaum enjoyed when she lived on the East and West coasts, she said.
“When people from those places come into our space, they always say they had no idea that Cleveland had places like this,” said Applebaum. “This feels like you’re in San Francisco or Los Angeles.”
Creative cross-pollination is among the organization’s core values – a vibrant network funded through partnerships with regional clients and stakeholders, Applebaum noted.
Although Ingenuity Labs does not have the high-tech pedigree of, for instance, the Think[box] makerspace at Case Western Reserve University, the facility nonetheless exists at the intersection of innovation and education, said Applebaum.
Collaboration is a key aspect of the incubator model, said Ben Smith, a Slavic Village-based composer, producer and “electronics tinkerer” whose Splice-Cream Truck collects and records stories of Clevelanders living in underserved neighborhoods.
Stocked with frozen treats along with analog recording equipment, Smith pilots his refurbished mail delivery van into communities often overlooked by the region, he said. Residents will rap, sing or simply speak their minds, with Smith providing storytellers a vinyl 45 record produced in his truck.
“I’m not just sharing stories, but getting them in front of people or corporations that can help,” said Smith. “Instead of blanket procedures like sending cops to the area, maybe (listeners) can send in mental health advocates or provide activities for bored kids.”
Smith stores his rolling studio at Ingenuity Labs, a practical advantage further boosted by the multitude of ideas the facility percolates. Growing the space will give Smith a direct line to even more neighborhoods eager to share their tales, he said.
“More space means more artists, and more artists means more collaborations,” Smith said. “More collaborations means more opportunities to get into the community... Ultimately, I want to use the space to make sure I help every person I can to get their voice out.”
Applebaum, the Ingenuity official, said the expansion can bring light to the St. Clair-Superior neighborhood as much as to the organization itself.
“We are all feeling that this is the east side’s time,” said Applebaum. “We’ve seen tremendous redevelopment on the West Side, and what’s happening in St. Clair-Superior feels like the timing is right for striking while the iron is hot. Having this huge creative engine as a central player feels connected and relevant to what’s happening.”