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Can Public Art Heal, Unify And Build Trust On Cleveland's East Side?

Getting people thinking and talking to each other is one of the goals of a plan called Elevate the East.

It aims to bring murals, outdoor sculptures and landscaped gardens to as many as 50 different sites across the city’s southeastern neighborhoods, including Buckeye, Mount Pleasant and Kinsman.

"There's not a whole lot of public art on the East Side of Cleveland," said Sherita Mullins of the nonprofit neighborhood group Burten, Bell, Carr Development, Inc., one of the leaders of the plan. "There's different neighborhoods that are known for public art, and we should consider bringing in public art to our side of the city."

Starting in 2019, Burten, Bell, Carr, Cleveland Councilman Blaine Griffin and local design consulting firm Seventh Hill held a series of meetings and neighborhood walks with residents. LAND studio, a public space design nonprofit, was also involved, with the idea that it would commission artists — mostly local ones — to design and build the projects.

Aside from inspiring dialogue, residents also named healing as a goal, Mullins said.

The plan identified 50 possible projects, most of which it said could be completed within five years. So far, three are finished: The painted mural at East 93rd Street and Union Avenue, a large photo mural at East 116th Street and Kinsman Road and a Black Lives Matter street mural on East 93rd Street and Bessemer Avenue.

Twelve Elevate the East projects were attached to a federal grant to rebuild the Woodhill Homes public housing neighborhood, and seven are expected be fully funded by the grant. That includes what's being called the longest mural in Ohio, which will cover a 733-foot brick wall bordering a transit maintenance yard near the intersection of Mt. Carmel and Woodhill roads.

Joy Johnson, also of Burten, Bell, Carr, said she expects that as the pace of building accelerates some residents will question spending money on public art when the neighborhoods face challenges that many regard as more pressing, such as a lack of well-maintained affordable housing and deteriorating streets.

"I think those are valid points, and I think that we have to have both," Johnson said. "Why can't Kinsman have nice houses and public art? We don't have to choose."

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