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Photos Wrap Ohio City Building In Response To Gentrification

Malaz Elegmiabby stands in front of a one-story brick building on West 25th Street, a couple blocks north of the West Side Market. She brushes a mixture of flour and water on a 4-foot-by-3-foot portrait of a local resident.

"That's Jasmine," Elegmiabby says. "She's an amazing artist. She just got a scholarship." The photo is one of 250 black-and-white prints Elegmiabby is pasting to the bricks on the building’s exterior, with the help of a team of neighborhood residents and anyone else who wants to chip in.

She says the idea came out of talking with her Ohio City neighbors about how they want to stay connected as the neighborhood becomes more affluent.

"Gentrification here is not necessarily seen as a negative thing," she says. "But that impact clearly shows in how there are these separate communities that live parallel to each other, mainly divided by the socioeconomic classes."

The building on West 25th Street will soon be covered in photographs. [Justin Glanville / ideastream]

The building wrap is part of the Cleveland Foundation's annual Creative Fusion program, which invites local and international artists to Cleveland to make public art. It also received funding from the Gund Foundation. An international art project called Inside Out: The People's Art Project helped with printing and logistics.

She expects the print-outs to survive for perhaps two to four weeks — maybe a few months at the outside.

"It's paper, and I don't think Cleveland weather is very forgiving," she says.

Elegmiabby, who is Sudanese, moved to Northeast Ohio several years ago, and to Ohio City in July. To get to know her neighbors, she attended AA meetings and even began driving people around via Uber and Lyft. Today, she knows most if not all of the people in her photographs by name.

"This is Brad, who owns [local cafe] Tabletop," she says, gesturing at a photo. She laughs as she points at another. "And that's Charlie. He has the dirtiest mouth ever."

Yet-to-be-installed photographs cover the floor inside the building. [Justin Glanville / ideastream]

The building was originally constructed in 1963 as a community center for Riverview Terrace, a public housing high-rise next door. Elegmiabby says she made a special effort to include as many of Riverview's 500 residents as possible.

"This is about reclaiming architecture by the community, so they feel ownership," she says.

Tara Turner of LAND Studio, an art and planning nonprofit that coordinated the installation, says the building will eventually serve as a welcome center for Irishtown Bend, a 17-acre riverfront park planned for the steep hillside leading to the Cuyahoga River. The hillside has been gradually "sliding" toward the river for years, threatening commercial activity in the river's shipping channel. The stabilization and park-construction project has so far secured $25.5 millionof its projected $36 million budget.

Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) still owns the building, but is leasing it to LAND Studio on a short-term basis while coordinating Elegmiabby's installation and completeing design and fundraising for the park. 

Copyright 2021 90.3 WCPN ideastream. To see more, visit 90.3 WCPN ideastream.