Fast Forward Fund helps Gordon Square businesses make it through pandemic strains

Ever since the visual performing arts group Maelstrom Collaborative Arts in 2017 found a home and event space at 5403 Detroit Ave. in the Detroit Shoreway’s Gordon Square Arts District, evolving out of the Theater Ninjas, the group has impressed its supporters as it evolved and thrived with cutting-edge, collaborative performances.


But then the coronavirus hit Cleveland in March, forcing Maelstrom to temporarily close its doors and contemplate its future.


Maelstrom Collaborative Arts Window SeriesMaelstrom executive artistic director Jeremy Paul says the pandemic disrupted the group’s performance schedule and they had to cancel virtually all their performances and space rentals for 2020.


“As a company that produces live events and works to connect artists with each other, everything we had planned for 2020 was immediately taken off the table due to the pandemic,” Paul says. “This has had a significant impact not just on ticket sales, but also fundraising.”


Although Maelstrom was able to switch to an online model for some programming, the organization was in trouble.


Three businesses in Gordon Square have already closed permanently due to coronavirus, says Joshua Jones, marketing director for the Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization (DSCDO), and the organization worried that additional businesses would fold as they struggled through the pandemic.


Enter the CSCDO’s Fast Forward Fund—a $50,000 matching crowdfunding campaign designed to help Gordon Square businesses survive the coronavirus pandemic with grants ranging from $500 to $5,000.


The campaign was launched on June 23 and a group of anonymous donors have agreed to match donations up to $50,000, bringing the potential total grant money to $100,000.


In a little over one month, the GoFundMe campaign has reached the halfway point toward its goal, raising nearly $27,000.


“It was inspired by a couple anonymous donors who really wanted the community rally around the Gordon Square Arts District,” says Jones. “So, they agreed to match donations with a $50,000 grant.”


Any business in Gordon Square with 30 or fewer employees is eligible. Jones says 15 applications have been submitted and six grants have been issued so far.


Jones says grant recipients can put the money toward a variety of expenses, from lease payments and operating costs, to payroll and investments that make the businesses more viable during the pandemic.


Additionally, 10% of the total funds raised will be earmarked for minority-owned businesses that want to open in one of the vacant storefronts in the district and need start-up capital and business assistance.


“We’re really excited about setting aside money for minority-owner businesses because there are a lot of hurdles and we want to provide a benefit to everyone,” says Jones, “And we always want to see more diversity.”


A $2,500 grant through the Fast Forward Fund, for instance, allowed Maelstrom to expand its online programming and introduce ACTIVATE—a six-week storefront window residency program in which visual and performing artists each weekend through August will create works that can be viewed safely from outside on the sidewalk on Detroit Avenue.


“We are assuming that the road we are on due to COVID is going to be long,” says Paul. “To that end, we will be using the Fast Forward grant to help fund projects that reimagine how we serve our community.”


Superelectric Pinball ParlorACTIVATE kicked off last Friday, July 24 with writer and poet Brianna Janae performing a series of poems, entitled “Save Your Stigma Ft. Erotic Laborers.”


The other window features a painting series called “Our Lives Matter” by Suhaylah “The Artist” Hamzah.

“So far it’s gone great,” says Paul. “Audiences have been a mix of people seeking out the piece and random passersby. Reception to the work has been really positive, which is very encouraging for the rest of the series.”

The series runs through Sunday, Aug. 30.


Additionally, Paul says they will use the grant money to invest in live-streaming capabilities and come up with new online content.


This fall, Maelstrom plans to host a live performance experience that will be performed for one audience member at a time.


The bottom line is, our mission is to serve the growth of innovative artists at the borders of diverse genres, disciplines, and media,” says Paul. “Now more than ever we need to support those artists and our community needs them get through the months that lie ahead. We will need art to help us understand what we have been through and how to move forward. We will need artists to help us heal.”

Like Maelstrom, Superelectric Pinball Parlor, 6500 Detroit Ave., had to close its doors in March because of COVID-19 and has been struggling to find a way to re-open safely.


Now, with the help of a $5,000 Fast Forward grant, Superelectric has found a way.


“We've been working hard the last several months to figure out our best way forward, knowing that we couldn't simply operate the same as we had pre-COVID,” explains Superelectric general manager Mike Broida.


Thanks to the Fast Forward grant, Broida and his staff have come up with a solution: the parlor will soon open for private rental parties.


Superelectric last week began booking the private events where, for $200 an hour, up to 30 guests can play all machines for free. Broida says the full bar is available and guest are encouraged to have food catered from neighborhood restaurants.


We have rearranged and consolidated our machines to allow for appropriate social distance while playing, and we have overhauled our safety guidelines to ensure proper health and safety practices by our staff and guests,” he assures. “Masks must be worn by all staff and guests while inside the parlor, and masks will be made available if a guest does not have one.”


Broida says they are using the private reservations as a “test run” to ensure they can operate safely before they eventually open to the public.


Broida says the past five months have been challenging but they’ve tried to stay flexible and adapt. But the bills still add up.


“The one thing every business needs help with right now is managing debt that has accumulated since March, so the Fast Forward Fund grant will go a long way towards clearing debt and allowing us to move forward with a more-or-less clean slate,” Broida says.


Private parties at Superelectric can be booked through the website. A 50% discount will be offered to local pinball league members with Cleveland Pinball League and Belles & Chimes.


To apply for a Fast Forward Fund grant, applicants must explain how COVID-19 has impacted their revenue and how grant funds will enable them to pay operational expenses or adjust their business model.


A grant committee will determine awardees on a rolling basis, and each applicant may only receive a grant once. Businesses that do not receive grants in an initial round will be automatically reconsidered in subsequent rounds.


DSCDO economic development director Jessica Trivisonno says they have received a few inquiries about the minority business assistance program, but they continue to welcome applicants. For more information, email Trivisonno or call (216) 961-4242, etxt. 302.

Read more articles by 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.