The artistic spirit of Lorain County will soon have a home in downtown Elyria, a project that will not only breathe new life into a long-empty storefront, but also will bring a tried-and-true Lorain initiative to the city.
For an up-and-coming artist, the biggest struggle in establishing a career is finding a place with plenty of foot traffic to showcase pieces. Likewise, the biggest obstacle standing in the way of revitalizing downtown Elyria is finding ways to bring more pedestrian traffic to the area. Marrying the two problems and birthing a solution is taking shape in the soon-to-open Elyria Arts Depot. “This space will give someone like me a place to showcase my work,” said artist Elizabeth Hamister-Burnett, 32. “I’ve shown artwork everywhere but my hometown. To be in my hometown is huge.” Hamister-Burnett has painted since she was a young child, but has done so professionally for two years. Her works have graced walls in galleries at Cleveland State University and the Waterloo Arts District in the Collinwood area of Cleveland.
Antonio Barrios, executive director of the Lorain Arts Council and the head of a new project in Elyria, talks about the project Monday in the former Brandau Jewelers building on Broad Street in Elyria. BRUCE BISHOP/CHRONICLE
Starting Saturday, she and other artists will have a temporary home in Elyria.
Four years ago, the Lorain Arts Council opened shop in downtown Lorain and now the arts movement is coming to Elyria with the opening of the Elyria Arts Depot in the former Brandau Jewelers Building at 336 Broad St. The space, which will feature the works of 10 to 15 local artists, will open to the public 10 a.m. Saturday to coincide with Elyria’s Festival of Lights Holiday kick-off. The Elyria Arts Depot is a project that has been 18 months in the making, said Mayor Holly Brinda. It will, hopefully, serve as the springboard for more pop-up shops and businesses that support the arts. “We are trying to set the stage for revitalization and growth,”
Brinda said, inside the former store that, with several days worth of sweat equity, will be transformed into a working gallery. “This is part of a larger strategy for downtown Elyria. It has been proven in other cities that those communities that know how to leverage the artistic and cultural spirit of the arts can move forward.” Brinda said she looks to other communities such as Reno, Nev., St. Paul, Minn. and Pittsburgh for inspiration. Closer to home, it’s the Gordon Square area of Cleveland that is a model of transformation to mimic. It has been nearly a decade since the work began in the west side neighborhood, but pumping more than $400 million of economic development into the community has made it one of Cleveland’s most sought-after neighborhoods. Elyria is far from becoming the next Gordon Square, but every project has to start somewhere, said Antonio Barrios, president of the Lorain Arts Council.
“When we started in Lorain, there were no art galleries anywhere in the city,” he said. “Now we have three locations where art is being shown. We are not trying to reinvent the wheel here. But with just a little education as to what an art district can do for a community, we are seeing change.”
The Elyria Arts Depot is coming together with the help of a lot of people. In addition to the city’s sponsorship and the Lorain Arts Council taking ownership, property owners Janice and Tom Haywood have offered the property for six months at a reduced rate.“By offering the building for the cost of utilities and insurance, we hope to help jumpstart Elyria’s new arts district and provide added exposure for the marketing of our building and other buildings downtown,” Janice Haywood said. It is unknown at this time if the Haywood property will be the permanent home of the Elyria Arts Depot. That possibility remains a viable option, depending on the group’s success. “We are stepping out here and Elyrians can support us very easily by coming,” Barrios said. “Come, visit the gallery, talk to the artists and take an interest in what they are doing. Of course, we hope people will support the arts by purchasing the one-of-a-kind pieces, but the traffic and word of mouth is also very important.”