The Collinwood neighborhood is no stranger to small arts initiatives growing into something big, something powerful and something community-advancing. Arts Collinwood is just one example … But a very powerful one.
The organization started through the investment of time, energy and money of resident Sarah Gyorki and an army of passionate volunteers. Since then, the organization has expanded its vision and solidified its place in the neighborhood under the leadership of Cheryl Carter and current Executive Director Amy Callahan.
For Amy, that journey began with her own exposure to the organization’s power as her children participated in Arts Collinwood’s summer camps. She was so taken by the group that she began taking on more and more volunteer opportunities before joining the staff as a part-time administrator.
“I liked the feel of the organization and their values,” Callahan shares, “so I started volunteering.”
“It was just an inspiring little program. It felt like when my mother would talk about the 1960s kind of activism. It was really about people coming together and making a change together, positively.”
That sense of positive change is palpable when you walk in the doors of Arts Collinwood, located in the heart of the neighborhood’s Waterloo Arts & Entertainment District. The nonprofit community arts organization has tied together a broad range of arts programming, from an ongoing rotation of visual art exhibits from cutting-edge local and national talent to development of the wildly popular annual Waterloo Arts Fest to a number of different educational offerings aimed at improving the well-being of neighborhood children.
One example is Arts Collinwood’s after-school theatre arts program. Five days a week, this effort provides students from kindergarten to third grade with a creative outlet. Moreover, the program emphasizes developing kids’ literacy skills, with the aim of improving their performance at school and their ability to pass the state of Ohio’s third grade reading proficiency exam. The program also offers students an opportunity to get engaged directly in the community with their art work, including at Cleveland’s annual Parade the Circle event.
With this range and quality of programming, Arts Collinwood is clearly a driving force in Cleveland’s arts scene. But thanks to the vision of its founders, the organization has much more ambitious aims.
“It isn’t just a matter of attracting artists,” Amy explained. “It’s a matter of bringing together artists and the whole community.” In this regard, Arts Collinwood’s aim is really to “reinforce that community of artists and bring together the rest of the people in the community and let them benefit from that.”
Arts Collinwood pulls off these ambitious efforts to better the community with a limited budget and with limited staffing. Support from groups like ArtPlace, Cuyahoga Arts & Culture and Northeast Shores helps the group slowly expand the scope of the Waterloo Arts Fest and other arts programming they are able to offer. But equally importantly, the volunteer-driven organization also prioritizes having conversations and building partnerships, seeking out relationships with existing community resources for the benefit of the Collinwood neighborhood.
Recently, this attention to partnerships has resulted in some great new collaborations. Arts Collinwood has partnered with a local restaurateur to open the Callaloo Café and Bar on their campus, leveraging the restaurant space as an additional place for community programming. They are also launching a formal partnership with Independent Pictures, who will now be offering regular community film screenings in Collinwood.
For Amy, these types of mission-advancing collaborations start out through “just a good conversation.”
“People often reach out to us, and we try to work with nonprofits that we know are often struggling with a minimal budget and trying to make something great happen in the city … We will sometimes exchange the use of our space for volunteer hours for our project, for something they could do for us that isn’t always monetary.”
Thankfully for Collinwood, that scrappy, community-minded relationship-building continues to blossom, and according to Amy, in just the right neighborhood.
“The neighborhood itself, where it’s situated geographically, just has so much potential. It’s right on the lake, it has great housing stock, and it is just a few minutes from the city. It really is this fun, urban beach town … Or has the potential to be if everyone continues in this trajectory that we’re moving on.”