small projects, big impact: how ventures small in scale can reap big rewards

Sometimes a single effort makes a thousand-fold difference. The theory holds true across the North Coast: From one small business that transformed Cleveland's image on the international stage to a silent flock of gleaming blue birds, the 216 is home to projects that while small in scale reap big rewards.
One Door Opens, Cleveland's International Profile Transforms
Before August 17, 2012, travelers hoping to find a modern European-style hostel in Cleveland were out of luck. Then one man with a big idea came along.
Mark Raymond, with the help of friends and family, transformed a century building in the center of the frenetic West 25th Street entertainment district into the Cleveland Hostel, a magnet for travelers from across the globe looking for that distinct (and affordable) hands-on experience only a hostel can provide.
"We've had guests from over 50 countries now," says Raymond, who estimates they number around 4,000. Virtually no other venue can boast such an authentic experience that is at once local and international.
Unique events such as the Cleveland International Film Festival and Weapons of Mass Creation Fest draw hostel visitors, as do artist residencies at places such as Cleveland Print Room or Spaces Gallery. Others stay to accommodate their weekly two-day stints of classes at Case Western Reserve University or Cleveland State. After all, public transportation is right across the street. Out-of-towners patronize the hostel while family members receive care at area hospitals. Then there is the wanderlust contingent, who hail from Saudi Arabia, Europe, Ecuador, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Lebanon, to name a few, not to mention points across the US.
"We have a woman from Colorado who made a reservation the other day," says Raymond. "She's going to the Kentucky Derby, but she's flying into Cleveland, hanging out here for a few days and then going down there." A guest from Seattle came solely for the 2014 Brite Winter event. For a brief stint this summer, the entire 60-bed facility will be home to a youth orchestra from Kansas.
At the nearby West Side Market, those kids might opt for lunch from Crêpes de Luxe, while others might select a link of Dohar's smoked sausage before shopping the produce arcade for an onion and plump green pepper. When they fry up the home-style meal in the hostel's self-serve kitchen, the aroma alone will earn them a bevy of new friends. You can't do that at the Best Western.
Thanks to the hostel, Cleveland has become a destination for a whole new set of travelers. The best part, however, might be Raymond's modest approach to doing business. He practices an Old World ideal -- blending work with home by living at the business he built with his family like those who lived above the family shop.
"I kind of fit into that pretty well, I guess."
A Little Bit of Art, a Whole Lot of Identity
From a flock of frozen blue birds in Edgewater Hill to a trio of fuzzy creatures in North Shore Collinwood, small public art projects are tiny portals to accessible culture that might not change the world, but can make a big difference in their respective corners of it.
"It’s a really small investment in an overall project," says Land Studio Project Director Tiffany Graham of neighborhood public art installations. "It ends up being the pieces of the project that go beyond function that gives a sense of identity to the neighborhood around it."
She cites the Edgewater Hill Blue Birds, which came to fruition after residents approached Cleveland Public Art (now Land Studio) in 2009 with $7,000 and the desire for something that would highlight their portion of the rapidly changing Gordon Square neighborhood.
"It was really driven by the neighborhood," says Graham of the 36-bird project. The jewel-toned sculptures pepper the neighborhood and tether it to its lakefront roots; migratory birds seek respite here before flying on to Canada.
"It was this very small investment in money that ended up really creating something that resonated with the neighborhood and had that touch of artist," explains Graham, adding that the birds have charmed more than just their host neighborhood. "Other people want to know how they can get something like Blue Birds for their neighborhood."
In North Collinwood, that translated to a pocket park known as ArtPlace: PlaySpace, where three of the most curious compelling creatures join a bright array of murals and inviting landscaping. The space replaced a vacant lot.
"When you have a vacant lot it creates something sort of like missing teeth in the public realm," says Graham. "It's nicer to pass something that feels like it's intact rather than a place that feels like there are holes in it." And a well-tended place feels safer, she adds, than something that's blighted.
Similarly, Graham stresses that public art isn't just for communities that have solved their most pressing problems. It's an important tool when rebuilding a community, such as the foreclosure-ravaged Slavic Village. She cites Slavic Village Development for its work on the Morgana Run Trail, which includes the giant bicycle wheel flower. The flower is not only a touchstone for the neighborhood, but also a recognizable beacon for commuters traveling along I-77. That sort of subtle outreach is by design.
"Within the broader community, [public art] gives the neighborhood identity that the artwork is shaping," says Graham. "[Slavic Village] is willing to try things that I think are a little bit more daring in the public art realm, which makes the projects a lot more fun."
With the effort comes another subtle message: That the celebration of culture and creativity is an important community component no matter how great a neighborhood's challenges. To that end, Graham also lauds Art and Soul of Buckeye Park for adding new texture and dimension to one of Cleveland's classic thoroughfares as well as a renewed sense of pride in area residents and businesses.
"We're never going to pretend that public art is going to put food in someone's stomach when they're hungry or put a roof over somebody's head, but it makes where people live feel nicer. It makes it feel more like a community you want to spend time in."
Leaving Their Troubles Behind for a New Future
Since opening its doors in December 2010, NewBridge has served more than 500 students. The unique center offers educational programming for at-risk youths and adults. Teen programs focus on contemporary arts such as music recording and production, digital arts, photography and, for the tactile, ceramics. Adult programs put participants on a path to certification in pharmacy and phlebotomy technician jobs. All the programs are booming.
"We had 450 applicants for 36 slots," says NewBridge Executive Director John Carmichael of the two current adult classes. "Eighty-five percent of the adult students graduate," and 80 percent of those graduates find employment, "which is really phenomenal." Carmichael, who joined NewBridge last September, credits partnering with employers up front, mainly University Hospitals, Cleveland Clinic and MetroHealth, "to develop training plans to meet the needs of the employers and abilities of the students."
NewBridge trainees also end up at neighborhood staples such as CVS and Drug Mart. Carmichael views the model as simple and common sense: partner with those who need the employees and train students accordingly.
"I think there should be 10 NewBridges," says Carmichael. "Certainly, the demand is out there."
When it first opened, NewBridge started with just 85 freshman teens, 12 of whom have stayed on throughout their high school careers. Those inaugural students, along with some 50 other seniors, are approaching graduation this spring -- and acceptance letters are starting to flutter in. Thus far, one young woman has received a full-ride scholarship to Wittenberg; another will attend Xavier on a partial scholarship. Two others will attend Cuyahoga Community College and Kent State.
"Our goal is to create sustainable lives," says Carmichael, noting that students often come from difficult situations fraught with barriers such as poverty. "I hear so often that this is a safe haven where they can express themselves creatively without any fear of embarrassment," says Carmichael, adding that teens see NewBridge as a place where they can leave their troubles behind, from tough neighborhoods to problems they might be facing at home. The result?
"We have lockers without locks. There are no fights. There is no violence," says Carmichael. "I have not had one single student in my office for discipline."

Photos Bob Perkoski except where noted


Read more articles by Erin O'Brien.

Erin O'Brien's eclectic features and essays have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and others. The sixth generation northeast Ohioan is also author of The Irish Hungarian Guide to the Domestic Arts. Visit for complete profile information.
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