Sign of the times: New Collinwood mural reflects modern-day community hope

Collinwood, a neighborhood known for its vibrant public art and murals within the Waterloo Arts District, is about to get its newest addition to the scene with a mural that reflects some of the issues and values of the times.

After talking to friends, family, and acquaintances around Cleveland, Collinwood residents and community activists Chanell and Donald Boyd decided the mural that Brooklyn street artist Rae painted in 2013 on the side of the Moodie Building at 410 E. 156th St.—where Chanell is about to open her Cure Nail Gallery—needed to be replaced.

Chanell talked to the building’s owners, brothers Justin and Kurtis Moodie, about the idea, and they loved it. “We were talking about family and how important it is,” she recalls. “They discussed family, Black legacy, and history. I talked to my husband and said, ‘these guys want a mural, and you’re talking about wanting one, so let’s connect the dots.’”

Meanwhile, Donald was talking to his connections at Black Lives Matter Cleveland (BLM CLE), who he worked with when he ran for Cleveland Ward 8 City Council in 2016, about supporting the mural.

“We always kept in contact and I saw their grass roots efforts and asked if they wanted to collaborate with me,” says Donald. “They knew I’m a stand-up guy and do the right thing—everything we do has been grassroots and we don’t take money.”

BLM CLE got behind the idea, and in no time the Boyds recruited four Cleveland artists to create “Storytime (BLM)”—a mural that they say reflects the community.

Chanell explains that “Storytime (BLM)” depicts a child reading (the Boyds run Books and Blankets for Cleveland Reads). “It shows a young Black boy under a tree, reading a story about his ethnicity and his family,” she says, adding that the mural is reminiscent of the 1994 McCauley Calkin live-action animated film “Pagemaster.”

In the mural, seven pages of the book are open, and each of the four artists were free to interpret their own pages in whatever way they wanted. The artists are Lacy “Lacerrrr” Talley, Michelle Suells, Aldonte Flonnoy, and Niquo Braxton.

Chanell says the entire community came out to help this past week—even donating some of the paint. The Boyds’ children, Donald, 9, and Ivy, 6, even helped out.

The artists and volunteers started the project last Saturday, Aug. 22, and were done by Tuesday, Aug. 25. The Boyds and BLM CLE will host an unveiling of “Storytime (BLM)” this Saturday, Aug. 29 at 2 p.m.

Chanell says she is hoping for a large turnout on Saturday. “It’s bringing the community out,” she says of the project, “which was the whole point of community engagement. So, let’s talk. We just want to see some faces and say ‘hey.’”

In addition to the unveiling, volunteers will conduct voter registration drives, representatives from the Bail Project and BLM CLE will be on hand, and back-to-school and COVID-19 safety resources will be offered. 

Despite the current enthusiasm for the new mural, not everyone in the Waterloo Arts District was inititaly pleased with the notion of painting over one of the original Zoetic Walls mural series.

<span class="content-image-text">The first mural Waterloo Arts put up in the 2013 Zoetic Walls project by artist Rae</span>The first mural Waterloo Arts put up in the 2013 Zoetic Walls project by artist RaeWaterloo Arts executive director Amy Callahan was sentimental about seeing the Rae mural disappear. “That mural on that building was the first mural Waterloo Arts put up in the 2013 Zoetic Walls project,” she says. “For me, it was kind of a special mural because it was really the first mural project in Cleveland. Street art was really happening all over the world and in other major cities, but it hadn’t yet come to Cleveland.”

Additionally, Callahan says those first murals really gave Collinwood and Waterloo its identity. However, seven of the original 20-plus murals are today gone, and Callahan acknowledges that they were never intended to last forever.

Callahan says she was caught off guard when she heard the Rae mural was being painted over, but she and Chanell talked and Callahan is okay with the change.

“I think it was just a misunderstanding,” Callahan says. “And it’s important to acknowledge that the works we [originally] put up didn’t include any African American artists. We have to leave room for flexibility, and we have to compromise.”

Callahan says she is now supportive of the new mural—partly because it better represents the Collinwood neighborhood and promotes communication between residents.

And the mural celebrates the Black community in Collinwood.

“It’s really important to have the voices of African Americans heard in a neighborhood where so many people have suffered from systemic racism and not been included in decisions about their own neighborhood,” Callahan says. “We all have to work together to heal our neighborhoods and create healthy, beautiful spaces to be in.”

In 2019 the Moodie brothers inherited the building from their father, Scott after he passed away. Scott ran his small engine repair and service business, East Side Mowers, in his retirement and the brothers decided they wanted to revitalize the building.

“My dad worked for Lincoln for a long time, for 20-plus years, and then had the only small engine business around that area—repairing lawn mowers, snow blowers, chainsaws,” says Justin Moodie. “We’re really just trying to reinvent the building and give it a new life.”

Over the years, the 156th Street building became known as the Moodie Building­­—now the Moodie Brothers Building—as the business grew.

“We kind of named it, in a sense with him, being the only African American owner of a building in that area,” Justin Moodie says, adding that they are now renovating the brick one-story structure to house four smaller businesses. He says nyceCO Prints and Chanell's nail art salon have already committed to leasing space, with more businesses to come as the brothers complete the renovation.

They are working with City of Cleveland officials on the repairs and renovations and are participating in the storefront renovation program. “It’s kind of been a repair mess,” says Justin. “We’re trying to come into the day and age we are now and make it more modern—but still keeping that rustic feel that is Cleveland.”

Even though both Moodie brothers now live out of state, they say they still support Cleveland and small businesses in Collinwood. “We’re giving [this building] to small businesses trying to grow,” Justin says. “You may move out of the state or the city, but Cleveland is still home to a certain degree.”

Justin says the other two retail units should be ready for tenants in a month or two.

Justin says they support the new mural.

“In the light of the situation going on in the country, the mural for us is trying to say ‘this is the time we’re living in now,'" he says, adding, “and we’re trying to uplift that time.”

Karin Connelly Rice
Karin Connelly Rice

About the Author: Karin Connelly Rice

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.