Artist Spotlight – Cindy Barber

It’s pretty hard to imagine the Waterloo Arts & Entertainment District without Cindy Barber and her internationally renowned Beachland Ballroom. In fact, this is exactly what Cindy did herself: dared to imagine a vibrant, grassroots arts district where one didn’t yet exist.

Cindy had long been an advocate for the Collinwood neighborhood, herself a resident since 1986. When she began to transition away from her role as the editor of a prominent local alternative newspaper, she decided to ramp up her focus on the neighborhood even more.

Cindy and her partner, Mark Leddy, were ready to bet on a dream and a vision. Build an independent music venue. Celebrate Cleveland’s rich music heritage. Populate a street with the arts-based businesses that make a neighborhood hum. Position this new arts corridor as a way to reinvent an assets-rich area ready for revitalization.  And do it on Waterloo, one of Collinwood’s main streets … a street that was struggling as Collinwood’s industrial economy shrank.

Cindy noticed that the Croatian Liberty Home, situated in the heart of the Waterloo, was for sale. Since 1950, the Liberty Home had been a true Cleveland landmark, active on many social and political fronts. Without a new tenant in site, though, it looked like it might end up being yet another vacant building on a street with only a 60% occupancy rate.

Armed with help from neighborhood friends versed in the Croatian language, Cindy and Mark reached a deal to acquire the building.  In 2000, the Croatian Liberty Home became the Beachland Ballroom, Cleveland’s most eclectic music club, centered around two venues: an intimate tavern and a larger ballroom.

Since its inception, the Beachland Ballroom has hosted national and international musical acts from around the globe and has fast become a venue of choice for independent acts that tour through Cleveland. The Black Keys played their very first concert in the tavern. The White Stripes made the Beachland one of their very first stops.

Before long, the Beachland had cemented its position as one of the most sought-after places for live music nationwide … and the visionaries that imagined the Waterloo Arts & Entertainment District saw that dream come true. Neighborhood artists launched Arts Collinwood in 2003, which now has served as a key visual arts anchor opposite the Beachland’s strong music prominence. As these enterprises took off, other artists began to make their own investments, launching record stores, vintage shops and galleries along the once desolate street. Since the Beachland’s opening, commercial vacancy has plummeted from 40% to 10%.

Of course, for determined, passionate advocates like Cindy and Mark, simply running a great music venue isn’t enough. Together with their extensive staff, they have curated some of the best national and local acts over the past 13 years, and encouraged these musicians to think about their own sustainability. They encourage bands to think like businesses, focusing on social media, audience recruitment and merchandising. But that strong focus on building entrepreneurship among musicians doesn’t detract from their chief priority: discovering talent.

“We want you to have something to say,” shares Cindy. “We want to be able to present people with real talent and show the world that Cleveland is a real music center.”

The Beachland is undoubtedly at the forefront of that movement. In addition to programming hundreds of live shows each year, the venue also runs a successful food service at night and for Saturday lunch and Sunday brunch, focusing on integrating organic produce into high-quality, inexpensive meals. In late spring, the dynamic business plans to extend this activity outside with a new patio. Meanwhile, Cindy has recently launched a nonprofit called Cleveland Rocks, an organization that seeks to celebrate Cleveland’s unique music history and to nurture growth of musicians, music businesses and other creatives in the neighborhood. Already, Cleveland Rocks has provided financial support to the Lottery League, provided bands with dedicated rehearsal space and opened a rock-and-roll gallery next door to the Beachland (through support from Northeast Shores and ArtPlace).

That’s the Beachland spirit: to keep paying it forward, to keep working toward making Collinwood thrive … and to make sure that artists stay the course and don’t give up, something Cindy emphasizes.

“If you believe in yourself and you believe in your product and you’re sincere and truthful about your message, people will find you and you will succeed. It’s amazing how much wonderful, wonderful creative talent we have not only in the neighborhood but in the whole region. It’s pretty amazing.”

The Beachland Ballroom is located at 15711 Waterloo Rd., Cleveland, OH 44110, and can be reached by phone at 216.383.1124.  For booking information, contact Ryan Hodson at RyanBeachlandBooking@gmail.com.  If you’d like to learn more about upcoming events, please visit their website and Facebook page.