CLEVELAND — St. Clair community member David Van Horn uses his bike to go everywhere. He also uses it to wheel around his work and passion, his Art Cart, through which he is the founder and liaison of a project called “Art Block,” a bicycle-driven mobile arts program.
“We want to activate the community in a positive way,” said Van Horn.
Through Art Block, he offers free outdoor art programming to the community the second and fourth Sunday of each month.
Van Horn’s goal is to encourage community members to further engage with their community by offering free arts and crafts as the vehicle by which they discuss issues, sustainability, and local change or just make a new friend.
“Art is for everybody,” said Van Horn. “The possibilities are endless with just a few things and so my job when I’m here is to show you just a few things to spark your imagination so you can say, ‘Oh I didn't even think of that. What more can I do?”
Van Horn brings as many art supplies that will fit in the trailer he wheels behind his bike and spreads them out across two tables he sets up outside in neighborhoods in Cleveland.
But the supplies he uses aren’t bought at full price. Van Horn sources his supplies from the secondhand art supply store “Upcycle Parts Shop” in Cleveland, where he worked for three years.
“This place is sort of like Willy Wonka. It's like, there's a lot to see,” said Van Horn. “You can't buy some of the things that we make with the materials here. Sometimes you can get materials here that you can't get anywhere else. Sometimes you can get old photos.”
Upcycle Parts Shop is a fiscal sponsor and supporter of Art Block. The materials he buys are used to encourage neighbors to engage with each other through arts and craft.
“Art Block is sort of this vehicle for people to talk about all sorts of things,” said Van Horn. “To change things within the community, get roads fixed, sidewalks fixed (and) get more dollars in the community that are paid for by the community.”
Having people stop to make small arts and crafts can snowball into beautifying the community at large. They’ve painted trash cans and board ups in nearby parks and other more permanent fixtures that bring vibrancy to the community.
“It's not just these little arts and crafts that you can take home, but there's like a wider net of artists who want to revitalize the community through arts and crafts,” said Van Horn.
Art Block not only encourages neighbors to connect with each other, talk about ways to improve the community, but it also teaches the community how to repurpose items that would usually be thrown away.
“These things that would normally go into, you know, the waste stream, the ocean, (and) somebody's dump are being reused in a way that elevates the community,” said Van Horn. “Not only are you going away with a craft, you're going away with some knowledge to engage more with the recyclables in your house.”
Executive Director and Co-Founder of Upcycle Parts Shop Nicole McGee believes in conscious consumption. She’s a proud supporter of grassroots art activism that helps the community create less waste and more art.
“It's sort of about reconsidering what things were and what they are and considering what they could become,” said Van Horn. “This place is sort of a supply shop at its most basic, but the way that we do our work is about connecting people and connecting across differences and being a place where inspiration can kind of come to you.”
She’s worked as a reuse artist for years and co-founded Upcycle Parts Shop in 2014 to create something good for the people, good for the planet, and good for the economy.
“Our goal for our work here is that we can be an access point for community building, that we can be an access point for environmental sustainability and thinking about reuse and the value of the materials that we often throw away,” said McGee.
Businesses and individuals can donate their used materials and then a team of people from Upcycle sort through the hidden treasures for which others find a second life.
“Reuse is a very local activity. And so that's kind of the beauty of it that you get to know people who are your donors. And then they love hearing a story about what was made from that, that happens in a local context. And there's a richness to that,” said McGee. “That doesn't happen with recycling, which we used to think was the salvation of our waste problem. If you know, that sort of goes away and that's all, that's all we know. And then we learned that it doesn't even really go away to the extent we thought. So reuse is not the solution for anything, but it's a better way to think about value, to think about the next use, to think about not throwing things in the landfill, and it's a better way to connect with your own community locally.”
Van Horn is living the mission of Upcycle Parts Shop. Together they’re working to create a more viable, connected community through something simple, like arts and crafts.
“Keeping those materials from being toxic to our own atmosphere and elevating the community and sort of like getting people engaged at the same time. It serves a purpose for creating longevity within the culture of the community,” said Van Horn.
“There's a place for everyone and there's a shared geography and there's an invitation to make something together. Those are the seeds of building and rebuilding social fabric in a community and in a place. And we are really happy to support it,” said McGee. “We want to be part of this neighborhood and build the neighborhood with our neighbors, to the extent we can. And David helps us do that. He's a connector, he's a pollinator.”
The Art Cart serves the St. Clair Superior, Hough, Asiatown and Glenville areas in Wards 7 and 10. Every second and fourth Sunday of the month, it has semi-permanent programming at 6321 St. Clair Ave. from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.