It wasn’t the sale of the building that came as a shock – it was the buyer that caught the Cleveland art community off guard.
By Matthew Chasney
The ArtCraft Building is a massive, seven story brick structure on the eastern edge of Downtown Cleveland. It was built in 1919 as a garment factory. Textile makers and light industry occupied the building until the early 80’s when the building found a new life as a working home for artists. This is a familiar trajectory for sturdy old warehouses of this sort.
The next step in an all-too-familiar pattern is that properties in working class communities get purchased, and after the artists first move in the wealthy come and the artists get priced out. Such ripples of gentrification have been pushing further and further out from the core of the city for the past two decades or so.
Because of this, few were surprised when in the fall of 2022 the building’s tenants were served with eviction notices. The assumption was that ArtCraft would finally be renovated and turned into condos. It wasn’t the sale of the building that came as a shock – it was the buyer that caught the Cleveland art community off guard. In November of 2022, the city of Cleveland announced that it was moving forward with plans to purchase and renovate the ArtCraft building to become the new Cleveland Division of Police headquarters. The Cleveland art community did a collective double take and read the headline again. Everyone knew it would happen, but not like this.
This was an odd choice. The city already had a site for a brand-new building selected just south of downtown on the Opportunity Corridor. It was a potentially costly one too; while the bones of ArtCraft were good, the interior would need to be completely overhauled. Much of the electrical, heating, and plumbing were still of 1919 vintage. On the exterior, tenants reported window glaze and pieces of the facade falling off. The cost of the new construction was estimated to be $160 million. The city claims they can renovate ArtCraft for $90 million. Cleveland City Council who will ultimately decide whether or not the city purchases the building set a strict cap for that price.
For a city like Cleveland, which has a contentious relationship between citizens and police, the news felt surreal, grotesque even. In the wake of the murders of Tamir Rice, Timothy Russel, and Malissa Williams, the police department was operating under a federal consent decree. There was hope that Cleveland’s new mayor, Justin Bibb, would follow through on his campaign promise for police reform, but evicting artists for the police feels like a violation.
Tenants had as little as one month to move and find new studio spaces. Long term tenants had more time to get out, but the sudden demand for new studio spaces caused landlords in other buildings to raise their rents, according to some of the soon-to-be displaced.
Whether or not the city becomes the new police headquarters or condos, the artists are still out. These photographs are a document of some of the last to go.
The ArtCraft building viewed from the southeast.
Collage artist Baila Litton has been in her space on the third floor since the 1990’s. It has been her creative home, particularly so during the height of the pandemic where she sought refuge with long days in the studio.
Her space is full of cut out images, notes, printouts from the internet and ephemera that serve as materials, inspirations, and guides for her work. They sit and wait to become work, sometimes for years. Packing up for her was heartbreaking, but by the end she couldn’t wait to get out.
Zelle Johnson is the proprietor of Recognizze Studios. Zelle moved into the space is 2020. While his displacement doesn’t have the added burden of uprooting a decades long artistic practice, it has come at a cost. He’s paying 20% more in his new studio than he was in ArtCraft.
Duane Clemmons operates the elevator on the west end of the building. Duane is a fixture in the place. He plans on staying at his job until the very end and he’s weighing his options between learning HVAC and working for the city.
Steve Homick operates the elevator on the east side of the building. The retired illustrator still runs the elevator in the studio in order to maintain a connection to the place. Here, he is moving a cart full of paintings from Gloria Faust’s studio.
Mimi Plevin-Faust clearing out the studio of her mother, Gloria Faust. Her art collection was acquired by an auction house.
Photographer James Douglas moved into ArtCraft in 2013 – loft spaces were like those in New York but for a fraction of the price. Douglas built a thriving commercial portrait business there with clients including Machine Gun Kelly, Kevin Love, and Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb, the man who is responsible for the decision to purchase the building and evict him. He counts Bibb as a friend. James is admittedly in denial. “If it’s the right move for the city, I wouldn’t fault him for it”. But, he has his doubts that the purchase will go through given the expense of renovation.
Cleveland mayor Justin Bibb in the red room at City Hall. Bibb rode a wave of support from young progressives when he was elected in 2021 on the promise of change. His decision to house the police department in the building came as a disappointment to many of the people who supported his electoral campaign. Bibb is the son of a police officer and has also voiced support for police reform.
Paulette Archer is a longtime tenant. She moved into the ArtCraft building in the 90’s with three other artists. Low rent split three ways created a tight knit community in the space that spanned decades. Over the years, these relationships formed a steady and reliable bond among the tenants of the space.
She can’t afford rents in any work spaces in the area alleging price gouging. So, she’s moving her practice to her apartment. When I asked about the loss of community she said “it’s like we’re scattered”.
Tattoo artist Bailey McShane and her dog in her space in Human Heart Studios. Bailey made the move with the rest of the collective to a space a few blocks north from art craft. Bailey tragically lost her life when she was struck by a car in February of 2023.
Grace Forniti and her baby Sonny in Human Heart Studios near the end of its term in ArtCraft. The artist collective has moved on to a nearby building on St. Clair.
Matthew Chasney is a Cleveland-based photographer. He is team oriented, has great attention to detail and is proficient in the Microsoft suite.