EAST CLEVELAND PUBLIC LIBRARY:
The Greg L Reese Performing Arts Center and More
My original plan for this post was to focus on the value of the Greg L Reese Performing Arts Center as a space for writers, and I will be getting around to that. But my plan expanded as I talked to Librarian Sheba Marcus-Bey. My plans always expand whenever I talk to Sheba who is, as I have often said, a force to be reckoned with in the very best sense of the word.
Happy 100th birthday, ECPL!When we began our conversation on the Reese, she took me back first to the building itself, which is celebrating its "100 Years of Service." Marcus-Bey told me that the library opened in May 1916, having been built with one of those great Carnegie Library grants for $35,000 on land donated by John D. Rockefeller from his summer estate. That's right. Rockefeller summered in East Cleveland. "This was Forest City," she reminded me. "We are right on a watershed."
Greg Reese Performing Arts CenterSixteen years ago, the library renovated and added a learning center and the performing arts center. The latter was the dream of the library's director Greg Reese, who was a big supporter of jazz with a dream to have a stage on which to present live music. Architect Robert Fleishman took special care with the room's acoustical design and with the sound system to create a 240-seat space that shared an intimacy between the stage and its audience.
That feel of intimacy, combined with the size, also makes the space a perfect venue for large reading events. In October of 2014, a group of writers (including me) held a celebration of the life and work of Russell Atkins there, which I wrote about here. What I did not write about at the time is what a privilege it was to have this space to perform in. The audience seating is very comfortable, with clear lines of vision everywhere. The lighting, sound, and other effects are exceptional. For our event, there was both a video to show and a recording of a piano sonata by Atkins to play, and the visuals and sound for both were excellent, as were the microphones for all the poets and presenters.
If that doesn't seem like a big deal to you, perhaps you have not sat through as many large poetry readings as I have where the sound solution was for poets to shout and then not be understood, or to not shout and not be heard. I keep raising the issue of sound for writing events. Sound can be a real difficult or technical issue for writers themselves to deal with, and it often doesn't get addressed until it is too late. Good sound has become a fact of performance in all the arts today. Even my high school now mics all the leads in the annual musical, and while I don't feel writers have to be mic'ed like rock stars with that snazzy wire across their mouth, I do think that getting the gist of a piece of writing is not enough for listeners. The sound of each word is crucial. Writers spend too long working on each word to throw them to the wind in readings.
The Greg L Reese space is free for programs relating to East Cleveland, and with a fee for outside groups. Writing groups looking for a large but intimate venue should really consider checking into this center.
|Sheba Marcus-Bey, Director|
MoreThere may be more opportunities for writers at the East Cleveland Public Library in the coming year as Marcus-Bey is working to do more with the Ohio Arts Council and Cleveland Public Library to promote literacy through The Literary Cleveland. She hopes to interface with aspiring authors, using the talents of local writers. The library's monthly creative writing workshop is off right now, but she plans to have it back up and running by November.
While not specifically for writers, I want to briefly mention the library's Ichabod Flewellen Collection. Clevelander Ichabod Flewellen began a collection of Afro-American Culture and History in his home, and in 1996, donated the collection to the East Cleveland Library. The collection currently includes West African Art which is on loan, as well as Civil War memorabilia, which documents the rise of Jim Crow, and many other effects of the Afro-American esperience. So while the collection is not specifically for writers, I highly recommend a visit there for any writer looking for a new topic, a unique piece of research, a jolt to your creative process so to speak.
All libraries of course do all that for writers, but this one, like the other four I am featuring, have even more for writers than most. "I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library," Jane Austen once wrote. Here in Northeast Ohio, these libraries are our paradise.