urban upcycle wins $375k grant to establish first-ever creative reuse center in st. clair superior

The St. Clair Superior neighborhood has seen some success in the past year with its efforts to fill empty storefronts. Several new businesses, including a bakery, are either planned or already have opened their doors on St. Clair Avenue in the East 60s.

Now the nonprofit will build off that success with a $375,000 grant from ArtPlace America, a collaboration of national foundations, banks and agencies dedicated to furthering creative placemaking efforts. The grant will allow the group to infuse an arts-based strategy into its efforts to attract more entrepreneurs and small businesses to the commercial district.

"This is a methodology for neighborhood revitalization," says Nicole McGee of Plenty Underfoot, an arts-based business that repurposes discarded materials into artwork, jewelry and home decor and a partner in the project. "The goal is to create more of an economy around upcycling. We will open a creative reuse center, offer classes for residents, and have retail opportunities for small businesses."

Michael Fleming, Executive Director of St. Clair Superior, says the Urban Upcycle project dovetails perfectly with existing retail recruitment efforts. Grant funds will help create artist studios and galleries, establish fellowships for upcycling artists, open the reuse center, create a Community Design Lab, rehab artist live/work houses, and establish a first-of-its-kind online marketplace for upcycled products.

Although the project is just getting off the ground, McGee already has identified a space for the creative reuse center just west of Empress Taytu restaurant. She envisions a "creative thrift shop," where crafters can shop bins full of discarded wine corks, vinyl flooring samples and other trash-to-treasure. "We're taking materials that others haven’t assigned value to, looking at them and deciding what could be done differently," says McGee. "Then we're transforming them into something bigger and better. We want to do that whole process on a neighborhood level."

Other projects will include affordable incubator space for retail pioneers and a storefront for Collective Upcycle, the artists' collective that McGee founded with artist Lauren Krueger. McGee is working closely with Stephanie Sheldon, a fellow maker and entrepreneur who is managing the new monthly Cleveland Flea event.

Sheldon plans to renovate the historic "coppertop" building at 6202 St. Clair Ave. with the help of St. Clair Superior's Retail Ready program. She intends to create what she is calling the "Indie Foundry creative clubhouse" -- an incubator and coworking space wrapped into one. Creative small businesses will be able to set up shop here and get help on things like marketing, branding, web design and more.

The intention of the Urban Upcycle initiative is not only to help attract new businesses, but also to lift up the residents of this low-income community.

"We'll be revitalizing the downtown strip of this neighborhood in ways that create new learning and skills in residents," says McGee. "We’ll be inviting them in."

Source: Nicole McGee, Michael Fleming
Writer: Lee Chilcote
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