14 October 2009

Vision Does Not a Blind Eye Foster

Any city that has given birth to both the rock and roll movement and Superman can't be all that bad.

I've only been back in Cleveland for a little over a year - I was living in Boston for the previous eight years - but I can already tell you that anyone with a set of eyes can see that this city is dying a slow death.  It's been dying a slow death since the industrial expatriation of the 1960s, and little relief is in sight.

As I drove down Superior Ave., towards a "it shall remain unnamed" job interview (those who know me will know the unnamed), I saw 90% of businesses boarded up.  Houses that looked as though they were about to topple.  I saw faces mixed with anger and hopelessness everywhere.

In the job interview, which I knew I had no hope of getting, or any particular interest in getting, I was asked a question, and part of my response was to tell the story of what I saw on my way there.

A blind eye is the only eye that the political and wealthy in Cleveland know how to use.  Those that could help aren't, and those that are trying are being met with bureaucratic roadblock after bureaucratic roadblock of old politics and endless distractions of cardboard bear recreations and the latest Shaq trade news.  It is a city lost in a politics of old, a stubborn anti-progressive, anti-anything less than establishment way of doing things.

But it's a city with potential.  Untapped, unbreached, and spoken almost in a taboo tone.  In all of the poor investment, in all of the depopulation, in all of the foreclosures, in all of the crime stats, it's a city with history.  A city with life.  A city that wants to be better than it is.  It just doesn't know the way, nor does anyone in any position of power or wealth.  Not that they apparently care.

The artistic talent on display in this city is staggering.  I've seen bands composed of high school kids that could outplay any wanna-be-rockstars at Berklee (the reason I left).  It is a city not lacking in talent.  It is a city lacking in ways for that talent to shine.

Michigan had it right - generous tax incentives for filmmakers, leading to increased revenue for the state.  Invite the artists.  Not only that - utilize the artists you've got.  Give them a reason to create and STAY.  Not create and leave.  Pittsburgh is another example - a city that has rapidly become a favorite of mine due to its generous environment for entrepreneurs and start-ups.

I'd like to offer a solution to the state of Ohio, to the city of Cleveland, to every filmmaker out there.  Unemployment in the state of Ohio is staggering.  What we have in spades are unemployed craftspeople.  Car mechanics.  Construction workers.  People who could build.  People who could do any number of important tasks.  You've built houses, but don't have the business anymore?  Build sets.  Electricians and lighting specialists?  Learn how to work the lights and become a gaffer.

These are but a few options -- but for any of these to take flight, the state must become a more open resource for filmmakers.  Film is the ultimate in collaborative arts, bridging the gap between disciplines, giving caterers, writers, costume designers, makeup, construction workers, designers, cameramen a chance to come together to create something good.  

We have abandoned factories and warehouses that could be turned into movie studios, recording studios, art studios, anything.  What is lacking is the interest and/or vision to make that happen.   We have potential to bring business to the state, but it is held back by a concrete adherence to the 20th century (or stone age).

While "bringing Hollywood back to town" is a wonderful thing, we must create and foster a movement of artists ready to embrace the materials we already have, we must help create an environment where people want to stay, not an environment of half-assed bureaucracy, ignorance, and politics of old. 

Cleveland is a city with one of the finest, if not THE finest orchestras in the world, location possibilities that are staggering in their variety, from country back roads to towering skyscrapers. There is an untapped supply of artists and artisans, tradespeople and craftspeople, musicians and music lovers, writers and designers.  Caterers and actors. And they want to work.

But it's a city held back by fear and a state held back by 20th century tenets of "the information age."  It is its own worst enemy.  But, a blind eye does not spell the end - it only throws off the depth perception.

Open your eyes.


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