Mention redlining, and several things may come to mind. Financial institutions systematically denying mortgages to residents in predominantly Black and other neighborhoods of color. Houses in disrepair because homeowners couldn’t get home improvement loans. Disinvestment in Cleveland neighborhoods.
Few people associate redlining and art. The nonprofit Assembly for the Arts says that redlined communities often lack arts investment, including “areas of significant arts activity” that can help make a neighborhood more walkable.
Assembly’s Creative Impact Fund (CIF) will award $6,250 grants to artists and artist collectives to create “transformative arts projects” in 16 Greater Cleveland communities. Most of them are East Side Cleveland neighborhoods, though Clark-Fulton, a West Side neighborhood, and East Cleveland are included. Transformative projects can include those addressing redlining’s toxic legacy, which continues to haunt Cleveland and several inner-ring suburbs. The legacy not only includes the practice of financial institutions refusing to make loans in certain neighborhoods but also lasting economic and societal destabilization.
“Communities, particularly on the East Side, have been void of amenities, not just the arts, for generations due to redlining and systemic racism,“ said Assembly’s Chief Community Officer Deidre McPherson. “Greater Cleveland is still grappling with this.”
She said transformative art can play a role in addressing some of the effects of redlining because its goal is more than self-expression.
“It’s not just about dancing, painting and things like that,” she said. “Artists’ projects can create stimulating conversations that bring people together to work on solutions.”
Projects can include various types of art, including sculpture, dance, theater and music. Applicants for the 16 grants don’t need to live in the community in which they are proposing a project, but they must be able to show “partnership or collaboration” with residents. Applications are due by May 7. More information about the Creative Impact Fund can be found on Assembly’s website.
Lacy Talley, a visual artist, graphic designer, illustrator and educator, will be among the applicants. The Glenville High School and Kent State University graduate is proposing a Glenville project with young people in mind. Talley said she knows from experience, as a teen in Glenville, the impact of living in an area scarred by redlining, high foreclosure rates and disinvestment.
“It gives them a sense that people don’t care about them and their communities,” she said.
Talley said feeling neglected adds to other challenges teens may face, from drugs and alcohol to bullying and cyberbullying.
She described her Crystal Gardens project as a “360-degree immersive healing space.” The gardens would aim to create a space where young people and others could relax and recharge. Amethyst and other types of crystal would be incorporated into the gardens, which would focus on the five senses. For example, noise-canceling headphones would allow people “to tune into meditation practices, yoga lessons and a curated playlist to calm the mind, body and spirit.” She said she is working with a local tea business to create blends “to aid in the relaxation process.”
“I still live in the ‘hood,” said Talley, who lives in neighboring Collinwood. “We don’t have many places where we can actually go to heal. We’re just told things like, ‘Man up. Woman up. Be strong.’”
She said trying to bury feelings seldom works.
“You often don’t see the effects until you become an adult and you start harming yourself or other people, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally,” she said. “I want to be able to provide the youth the tools to understand how to really process their emotions. I want the Crystal Gardens to be a space where people can come to heal and express themselves and learn how to be OK with not being OK.”
McPherson said CIF is helping “to lay the groundwork” for the $3 million fund the Bibb administration has set up as part of its Arts & Neighborhood Amenities initiative. The initiative is being funded through the $512 million the city is receiving as part of the federal American Rescue Plan and Recovery Act (ARPA). The mayor’s arts fund targets transformative projects in neighborhoods lacking arts investments that also have high Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) populations. McPherson sits on the seven-person advisory committee helping direct how the money is spent.
Assembly, whose focus includes racial equity initiatives, is pushing to ensure that BIPOC artists are well represented among those receiving money through the mayor’s arts fund. McPherson said this is also true of CIF, for which Assembly received a $140,000 grant from public funder Cuyahoga Arts & Culture.
“Historically, some award programs and grant programs have not been equitably distributed,” she said. “That’s a major part of our mission, is increasing the investment in the arts and increasing the equity in the arts.”
That’s why Assembly has done outreach, including holding informational sessions in neighborhoods about how to apply for CIF. Also, grantees will receive one-on-one help from Assembly staff, including professional development support.
“When you apply for projects, it can be a little bit daunting,” said Talley, who attended an informational session. “They just made the process so easy.”
With applicants like Talley, who have deep roots in redlined neighborhoods, many at Assembly are excited about the insights, conversations and potential solutions that can come from CIF.
“We want to see artists bring visionary ideas to the neighborhoods,” McPherson said.