From flaming history to art therapy, grants foster eclectic projects

The new year is still a few weeks away, but 2017 is shaping up to be promising for cultural organizations funded by Cuyahoga Arts & Culture (CAC), say officials from the public arts proponent.    
CAC will invest $14,573,833 in grants to 241 nonprofit groups in Cuyahoga County next year. Funding aims to buttress arts and culture activities of all sizes, as well as core operating efforts of supported organizations. The $1,907,612  in project support grants range from $1,500 to $35,000, while $12,666,221 in operating funds provide critical management dollars to 57 area entities.
In 2017, CAC will fund 32 more projects than last year and devote an additional $255,988 in public dollars. CAC deputy director Jill Paulsen attributes this upswing to increased outreach efforts and an eclectic cultural mix that includes music therapy, arts festivals and even science experiments.
"That's the beauty of our project support system - there's something for everyone," says Paulsen. "With our funding, organizations can bring arts and culture to residents throughout the county."
Four CAC grant recipients shared their program plans as well as their excitement for 2017 with Fresh Water Cleveland.
The Western Reserve Fire MuseumA Hot Take on History
Firefighting in Cleveland began in 1829 with the establishment of a volunteer fire department, a precursor to the modern-day paid department launched by city ordinance in 1863. The Western Reserve Fire Museum is set to preserve the North Coast's long blaze-battling history with a hot new exhibit that offers a bit of fire-safety education on the side.
Courtesy of a $5,000 CAC grant, the "From the Bucket Brigade to the Big Red Machine" project covers a century of Cleveland firefighting, starting with the early 1800s bucket brigade, where buckets were passed along a human chain to extinguish a conflagration. Visitors will also be able to view antique fire trucks, both motorized and horse-drawn, borrowed from the museum collection or area fire departments. Meanwhile, equipment like period-accurate leather fire hoses and dry powder extinguishers will offer attendees a hands-on experience, says Paul Nelson, an historian with the museum.
Located at 310 Carnegie Ave. at the eastern end of the Hope Memorial Bridge in a two-story former fire station and dispatch center, the forthcoming exhibit includes critical learning components. For example, a mock bedroom that fills with non-toxic "smoke" can teach children what steps to take in an emergency situation.
"Education is one of our missions," says Nelson. "We're teaching the public how to safely mitigate the circumstances when a fire occurs."
Targeted for the first quarter of 2017, the project will safeguard Cleveland's storied firefighting past in a highly interactive environment, say organizers.
"It's about preserving that history so it doesn't get lost," Nelson says.
A New Dimension for Selfie Expression
Smartphone owners love selfies, as anyone with a social media account can attest. However, what some consider an exercise in vanity also has its educational and even innovative components, say supporters of a new project aimed at integrating visual arts with social/emotional learning.
Cleveland Print Room (CPR), a Cleveland-based nonprofit community darkroom and workspace located in the ArtCraft Building, will introduce students at four Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) schools to photography sessions that focus on self-portrait as a means of expression and social awareness. The "In Transformation: Self-Portrait Photo Workshops" program is funded by a $23,250 CAC grant.

Cleveland Print Room
CPR is teaming up with MetroHealth's School Health Program to deliver students FujiFilm Instax cameras, which function like older Polaroid models. Via eight-week courses taught twice yearly, students learn basic photography skills, then use their new cameras to create full-body photo collages similar to the work of artist David Hockney. The program culminates with a public exhibition at CPR.
Project leaders say self-portraits teach young learners about relationship building and other life issues.
"They're able to recognize emotions and behaviors, deal with conflict and make positive choices about themselves or even social issues," says CPR executive director Shari Wilkins.
Thanks to CAC funding, the photo studio will hire additional educators and offer a more comprehensive curriculum. Wilkins hopes to expand the program to reach more schools interested in indulging their "selfie expression."
"These classes give kids an outlet to convey their feelings," says Wilkins. "It's an outlet that they don't necessarily have."
A Musical Score for a University Circle Treasure
University Circle is billed as Cleveland's cultural epicenter, with Judson Manor senior living community residing on the edge of the area's myriad artistic endeavors. Beginning early next year, the former luxury hotel will also be home to the "Judson Manor Classical Concert Series" with monthly concerts that are free and open to the public.
Rob Lucarelli, director of communications with Judson Services, says the program will feature professional musicians, conservatory grads and other accomplished soloists and ensembles. While the historic 20s-era facility has hosted internally funded music programming for over a decade, the $5,000 CAC grant ensures the program's future.

Judson Manor Classical Concert Series
"We've built a reputation for bringing in quality musicians," says Lucarelli. "The funding helps us put on more performances that people are going to enjoy and appreciate."
Classical music is a huge swatch of Judson's cultural fabric, with programs attended by both residents and the general public. Lucarelli sees an opportunity to promote shows more aggressively so as to fill Judson's 100-seat ballroom. Expanded music offerings would add to a creative platform at Judson that already includes a semi-professional theater started by two residents.
"We've tapped into a passion here at the manor, and that passion is spilling out into the greater community," Lucarelli says. "Our plan is to grow our audience both internally and externally."
Open Art Provides a Healthy Outlet
Art therapy is an outlet for the mentally ill to explore their feelings, manage behavior and develop social skills. A program at Far West Center, a community mental health facility in Westlake, brings arts-centric therapeutic support and a like-minded social network to those fighting anxiety, depression and other chronic disorders.
Launched in 2014, the "Open Art Therapy Studio for Recovery from Serious Mental Illness" project fosters a supportive setting where participants create at their leisure, says Denise Ayres, a community support program coordinator with the center. The 2017 $5,000 CAC grant pays for arts supplies that give budding artists tools to draw, paint or make collages. Art is a healthy outlet for center clientele, many of whom are indigent or on disability.

Far West Center Art Therapy
"People on a limited income can't just join a watercolor painting group," says Ayers. "Our program is something for them to look forward to."
Held every Friday throughout the year, the sessions generate a positive social atmosphere through adult coloring and additional activities. Attendees gather around a large table, working at their own speed and sharing their artwork with other participants.
"We've built a cohesive club with varying levels of artists," Ayers says. "People have developed friendships within the group. [The project] is keeping them from isolating and losing connection with their peers."
Future program iterations could include writing and access to musical instruments. For now, center officials are pleased to support their clients with services beyond the realm of traditional therapy.
"It's a lot of fun," says Ayers.

This story was made possible through a partnership with Cuyahoga Arts & Culture, which is part of Fresh Water's underwriting support network.

Read more articles by Douglas J. Guth.

Douglas J. Guth is a Cleveland Heights-based freelance writer and journalist. In addition to Fresh Water, his work has been published by Midwest Energy News, Kaleidoscope Magazine and Think, the alumni publication of Case Western Reserve University. A die-hard Cleveland sports fan, he also writes for the cynically named (yet humorously written) blog Cleveland Sports Torture.   
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