Saturday, April 10, 2010

Experience 78th Street Studios

78th Street Studios, Cleveland
(copyright 2010 by Kevin Scanlon

(click on images for larger view)

Dan Bush, owner of 78th Street Studios in Cleveland, got it exactly right when he turned an old brick industrial building into an arts complex of galleries and studio space. The American Greetings Building, which had previously housed the greeting card company’s creative studios, has been re-purposed and revived. The 78th Street Studios recently launched a new monthly event called “Third Fridays” to their events calendar. The third weekend in April the galleries, studios and businesses will hold an open house on Friday evening (April 16th, 5-9 PM) and Saturday afternoon (April 17th, 3-7 PM). Located at the outer edge of the Gordon Square Arts District, 78th Street Studios is easy to find with plenty of free off-street parking available on the premises.

We first heard about 78th Street Studios last year through news of the photography exhibit “Look Out Cleveland: Photographs of Bob Dylan and The Band” at Kokoon Arts Gallery. Those photographs turned out to be the work of Kokoon owner Bill Scheele and his brother John Scheele. I wasn’t able to join my husband and a friend on the day they drove to Cleveland to see the exhibit. When they came back talking enthusiastically about everything – the photographs, the building, the galleries, and even Bill Scheele himself who’d spent time talking with them about his photographs and the years between 1969-1976 when he worked as the equipment and stage manager for The Band – I realized I’d missed out on something wonderful. I had to go see it for myself.

In late January, I made my first visit to 78th Street Studios. Our first stop that day was to view Bill’s photographs which were then on exhibit at Visible Voice Books in the nearby Tremont area of town. Later that afternoon, we met up with Bill at his gallery to chat. He was generous with his time as we talked about his diverse background in the arts, his work in the music industry, and about the metamorphosis of Kokoon Arts Gallery. This will be the first in a series of several posts based on that interview which will run from time to time over the next few months.

Bill Scheele and Dory Adams at Kokoon Arts Gallery
(copyright 2010 by Kevin Scanlon)

The 78th Street Studios complex is interesting in itself for the re-purposing of the buildings where it is housed, blending industrial ambiance with the making and exhibition of art. “A lot of people aren’t used to coming to what looks like a giant factory building,” said Bill Scheele, “and yet when they come in and they see everything that’s going on they’re totally in awe – and nicely so. It’s like discovering a magic world to explore in this crusty shell.”

Kokoon Arts Gallery has been part of the 78th Street Studios since 2007. In describing the challenge of getting the word out about the unique experience there, Scheele said: “We’re still trying to attract people and get them to know that we exist. We have three of the finest and longest-term galleries in this building with myself, and Ken Lesko, and Bill Tregoning. We all handle quite a different array of work than, let’s say, you’ll find in Tremont. Tremont is more of an upstart artist’s type of gallery area. Nothing wrong with that – I’m not saying that. But it’s a different type of approach. We also have the Legation kids down here now at the end of the hall, and they handle more of the younger crowd as well. So we’re getting more of a mix, and that’s what I like. We’ve got the recording studios here and some music business people, a magazine publisher, individual artist studios and even some people actually living and working in the building, as well as the galleries, a frame shop, and two different auction houses. We have a real array of people that I don’t think anyone else can hold a candle to, and it’s all essentially under one giant roof. That to us is what makes us different than other arts areas in town. So, these are several of the reasons I like it here: (1) there’s a diverse group of people in action here; (2) it’s frankly easy to get to once you know it; and (3) there’s immediate parking that’s free.”

Bill Scheele at Kokoon Arts Gallery
(copyright 2010 by Kevin Scanlon)

It was, indeed, easy for us to get to the 78th Street Studios from our first stop in Tremont – even though we’re out-of-towners and not that familiar with Cleveland. Bill spoke of how the river has become a great divide of sorts which Clevelanders are reluctant to cross. We have a similar situation here in Pittsburgh, but with more rivers forming geographic divisions. “It’s intriguing to people as they make their way here,” Scheele said. “They don’t always find it easy, even though we’ve got banners up and we try to direct them and say there are banners at 78th and 80th Streets at Lake Avenue, so you just come down either road and you’ll find that within the block you’ll see a big parking lot and that’s our big building. One of the things that immediately appealed to me was our big parking lot here. I’ve done things throughout this town in different places, and parking has always been one of the predominant prohibitive issues.” Bill emphasized that the 78th Street Studios are actually part of the Gordon Square Arts District, but located at its western edge instead of in the heart of the business district. “Something that we’re glad of is that merchants in the Gordon Square Arts District, which is at 65th and Detroit Avenue – essentially a little bit more than ten blocks east of us – are beginning to refer people to our building,” Scheele said. “Gordon Square Arts District has made a lot of noise about what they’re doing, and we’re still part of that even though we’re not right there. Now people are starting to be referred to this building by merchants down there, and that’s what we want to hear. There hasn’t been that much of a connection yet, and it’s been a frustrating problem and goes back to that thing about not being right on the street.”

Bill Scheele at Kokoon Arts Gallery
(copyright 2010 by Kevin Scanlon)

Word of mouth is a powerful thing, and the buzz about the 78th Street Studios is catching on. “That’s what we need,” Scheele said. “We need this link to the fact that frankly this area, Detroit Shoreway and Gordon Square, are very much evolving over the last few years. Tremont’s not that far away, and it’s also on the near west side of Cleveland. So, finally the west side is offering Cleveland something of a cultural attitude for the first time. Cleveland Public Theater was actually the first entity in the Gordon Square / Detroit Shoreway area to start out about 25 years ago with a performance theater type of venture. They’re probably the oldest arts residents in this region.”

Bill showed us the floor plan of the building which included the new studio spaces and discussed the vision for future development of space. “This building has sort of had different uses over time,” Scheele said. “This area is a total of 20,000 square feet. It used to be a Corian counter manufacturing company, so it’s basically just empty and open space. There are restrooms and an exit entry here, there’s a little build-out here and here. What Dan Bush, the owner, has started to do is build out these first four areas as artist studios. They’re already paid for and they’re almost totally completed. This area might be for some further build-out, to begin to keep attracting artists here with very affordable workspace. Then this area is going to be left open for various events held here. The auction companies here have used it and there have been some benefits held here. I keep pushing for some sort of social lounge area, so people can hang out and get a cup of coffee or maybe go and get a drink. I think people would feel inclined to mingle a little bit more. We now need a place where there can be a gathering. So, I think this (taps fingers on floor plan diagram) is a good effort to continue to keep the building evolving in different ways.”

Before we left, we bought a print of one of Scheele’s photographs (a birthday gift to me from my husband). It was difficult to decide which print to order, but I was particularly drawn to an image of Levon Helm that seemed fitting in light of our March road trip to Woodstock for a Midnight Ramble at Levon Helm Studios.

If you live within driving distance of Cleveland, I hope you’ll make your way to Kokoon Arts Gallery (located on the second floor) at the 78th Street Studios and see what’s happening there. Say hello to Bill for me, and tell him I’ll be back soon to pick up my photograph and see what’s new.

Kokoon Arts Gallery at 78th Street Studios
(copyright 2010 by Kevin Scanlon)

Kokoon Arts Gallery presents a diverse stable of artists salon-style, including historic Cleveland School artists Frank Wilcox and Paul Travis; natural history artists William E. Scheele, Robert Hainard and Mary Wawrytko; contemporary painters Alfredo Arreguin, Lee Heinen, Randall Tiedman, Michael Prunty, Lee and Keri Gortz, ceramics by Andres LeBlond, Joseph Blue Sky and Donna Webb; prints, photography and computer graphics by Karen Kunc, Darren Waterston, Richard Taylor, Paul Jacklitch, Michael Nekic and William G. Scheele.

Photo credits: Photographs copyright © 2010 by Kevin Scanlon, all rights reserved, used by permission

Around the Blogosphere
  • Be part of the Global Mosaic on Sunday, May 2nd at 15:00 hours U.T.C. (Coordinated Universal Time, previously known as Greenwich Mean Time) by taking a photograph of where you are and sending it to the New York Times. Details at Lens. (For fellow Pittsburghers, this would be 11:00 a.m.)
  • Charming story about photographer Ansel Adams by Jim Hughes in “Ansel Adams, A Warm and Generous Man” at The Online Photographer. Kevin and I have always wished we could’ve visited Ansel’s house in Carmel to see the green flash over the ocean at sunset, a phenomenon Adams wrote about in his books. Looks like we could’ve just dropped in for cocktails to watch it with Ansel himself, if we’d been bold enough!

Featured Book

Josh Wilker’s Cardboard Gods: An All-American Tale Told Through Baseball Cards comes out tomorrow. I’ve been looking forward to reading this one, not because I’m a baseball fan (although I did have a thing for watching Pirate Andy Van Slyke in the early 1990s – truly poetry in motion, in centerfield or at bat) but because I’ve loved reading about Josh’s coming of age at his Cardboard Gods blog over the past few years. Full disclosure, Josh is a pal and MFA program classmate of mine. He’ll be doing a guest post here at my blog next month. You can listen to a podcast of an interview with Josh on NPR radio’s Only a Game, read a review at Pitchers and Poets and buy Josh’s book at your favorite bookstore or online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or IndieBound.

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cynthia newberry martin said...

This is such a great post to read. I love when old buildings are renovated rather than torn down. The old ones, ones like this one, seem to have so much character that the newer buildings seem to lack.

Dory Adams said...

Thanks Cynthia! I'd really love to see more of this type of re-purposing of buildings that connect us to the history of our cities.

John Skinner said...

My friend Marc Soracco sent me a link to your coverage of 78th Street Studios in Cleveland. I worked in that building from 1972-79. I was one of several hundred artists, writers, photographers and other creative people working there. I was an illustrator and did finished artwork for cards.

I remember those days with warm nostalgia. It was a wonderful place to work. As I remember, the building used to be a pickle factory and was quite old when I worked there...floors were wood and the windows were rather industrial and could be propped open for fresh air and a breeze. There were still some of the old heavy wood doors still in use that defined one large area from another.

My department had about 40 illustrators and we did the fuzzy bunnies, cute kids, and goofy cartoons. Another department downstairs did the roses, landscapes and such. There were lots of other sections devoted to various stages of production. Back in those days most art was color separated by hand, not by scanning so lots of people were assigned that task. There were several departments that did initial planning or wrote copy for the cards. I had friends in all these different places and remember strolling over the creaking wood floors to visit their cubicles. Just imagine having access to all these hundreds of creative people. For lunch we could walk a few blocks to one of the ancient bars, have a burger, shoot a couple games of pool and knock back a few cold ones. Those were good days.

The photo of the building's exterior shows the main entrance through which I walked thousands of times. Thanks for the memory check.

John Skinner

Dory Adams said...

John, thanks for that wonderful reminiscence! You've really captured what it was like to work there in that era.

cynthia newberry martin said...

John, I also enjoyed reading your comment. With all those real, living details, I felt as if I had been there too, moving across the creaking floor to look over someone's shoulder.