Art Gallery, Church Share Vision for Arts at Shaker Height's Van Aken District

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Construction crews have been working steadily on the Van Aken District in Shaker Heights, which will bring new life to what was an outdated shopping center at the intersection of Chagrin Boulevard and Warrensville Center Road.


While many people are awaiting new dining and business options from the project, some residents are looking at opportunities to tie in the arts.

“I looked around and I thought an art gallery would be a perfect fit here, so I had a vision,” said Shaker Heights resident Leslye Discont Arian.

She wasn’t alone.  The rector at Christ Episcopal Church, which is across the street from the Van Aken District on Warrensville Center Road, also had a vision of how the church could be used beyond its regular activities.

“Arts and culture seemed like a natural extension of what we might do,” Rev. Peter Faass said.

This church, like many others, has looked at new ways to use its building as membership has declined in the decades since it was built. It’s now also a home to Verb Ballets, Soulful Flow Yoga and others.

“My hope is that by turning this place into a center for arts and culture we might also intrigue people to be a part of the community here,” he said.

The Shaker Community Gallery opened earlier this year in the church’s chapel. Rather than occupying an open classroom or office deep within the church, the gallery is situated where members can see the art, too.

While its located within a religious institution, the art gallery is open to people of all faiths or no faith.

Leslye Discount Arian conceived the gallery as a place for community conversations. Its latest exhibit, the Art of Dissent, reflects current political issues such as the environment, immigration and racism. Artists featured in the exhibit include Gary and Laura Dumm, Liz Maugans and Michaelangelo Lovelace. 

A piece by pop-art surrealist Gary Dumm responds to the recent violence in Charlottesville. He depicts a Klansman wearing the American flag and holding a gun and Bible in his hands

Discont Arian says she expects all of the shows to be “edgy.”

Shaker Community Gallery will host three community forums with the exhibit, and its opening reception is today at 6 p.m.  The gallery is open on Wednesday evenings and Saturday afternoons.

The Van Aken District is expected to open next summer. 

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