Euclid Square Mall is hardly abandoned or dead, you just need to take a closer look to witness signs of life, maintains Cleveland artist Jef Scharf. Walk into the mall on a Sunday morning, in fact, and you may hear songs of worship reverberating through its halls.
The former large-scale retail center now has nearly 30 churches renting space for services, Bible studies and choir practice. Scharf, an artist-in-residence at SPACES Gallery, spent a year interviewing church-goers and congregational leaders for his documentary, simply titled "Euclid Square Mall Project
The film was officially screened at SPACES
on October 11, but is available in the gallery's video viewing room until the middle of November.
First-time documentarian Scharf is a designer, screen printer, installation artist and musician. His 30-minute movie is a fairly typical talking heads-style venture that concentrates on the people running the congregations rather than the worship services themselves. How the vacant retail space shifted its function from retail to a faith-based community is a subject of fascination for the artist.
"There are so many stories to tell," notes Scharf. "You'd walk into this public space and the sounds of singing would bleed into each other. It filled the mall with incredible warmth."
The project's genesis was borne from simple curiosity. On a Sunday afternoon in fall 2010, Scharf was shopping at a nearby retail outlet when he stepped into the mall. He was impressed enough by the space's renewed energy to film some of the activity going on that day on his cell phone.
"It just stuck with me," says Scharf. "I realized I wanted to explore [the mall] further in that format."
It's strange to walk into a retail complex scrubbed clean of bright signage and other signposts that exemplify the typical American mall, Scharf says. Today, the signboard that once carried familiar names like Gap and Banana Republic now are stamped with names of congregations.
The film project, in its way, is a story of survival, believes Scharf. "These are people keeping their dreams alive by preserving the vibrancy of a space," he says. The movie "is a documentation of transformation."
Source: Jef Scharf
Writer: Douglas J. Guth