Art has a way of bringing people together. It can spark a dialogue. It can create a sense of pride. It can make the world a more beautiful place. This is indeed the effect that the growing arts-and-cultural scene is having on the city of Elyria. A wide variety of new creative pursuits are drawing residents and visitors to share in the experience.
From a new music venue for the millennial crowd to a traditional lunchtime summer concert series and new arts festival, there is something for everyone. And it is growing more each year.
Most of these events operate on a shoestring budget, and the artists behind them are not out to make a lot of money. Yet their work is boosting the town on multiple levels. Not only is it enhancing the quality of life for residents, it is also becoming an industry with positive economic benefits.
“We are already seeing job growth thanks to the arts in Elyria,” says Mayor Holly Brinda. “In addition, there has been an increase in commerce, a new infusion of residents and visitors, new public and private investments, new interconnections between arts and business and a new confidence and sense of pride among our residents.”
This sense of pride is apparent in Clint Rohrbacher, board member and co-founder of the Elyria Arts Council. Starting from a core group of seven artists who came together in 2016, the council is now an independent nonprofit organization with 40 artist members who teach art classes and show their work.
“Passion for something is all you need to make something happen,” he says. “All great cities need an arts and culture component to survive. This is our mission!”
It all started when Mayor Brinda approached the group about creating some public art on three exterior walls of downtown Elyria buildings for the city’s bicentennial. To many Elyria residents, the team, led by oil painter and mural project director, David Pavlak, quickly became known as “the mural people.”
The seven founding artists remain on the board of the Arts Council today. Oil painting, photography and pottery for children and adults are among the most popular classes, along with jewelry making and drawing. Art shows and unique gifts and crafts are available in the year-round gallery. Rohrbacher says demand for the art center is growing.
“This is more than a little gallery with a few art classes — we are filling a bigger need and mission here. There were artists in this town with nowhere to go. After we started it, we saw people coming out looking for classes and artists looking for a place to show their work.”
The Elyria Arts Council will be one of many participants in the upcoming Garford Arts Fest, which returns this summer by popular demand for its second annual event on Aug. 3. After more than 1,000 people turned out for the inaugural event, organizers are promising more great music, art and food for this year.
“We are really trying to keep the momentum going,” says Steve Riggle, one of the event founders. “We want to cement that this is something that can happen in downtown Elyria.”
The free event takes place on the city’s East Falls Riverwalk. Last year, there were two stages featuring more than 20 bands, with music ranging from indie rock to a seniors’ a capella band. Food trucks and artists lined the street.
Community members and businesses sponsor the event, which helps advance the local flavor.
“It definitely takes a village to make this arts synergy happen, and I am proud to say that Elyrians and our friends and neighbors are making it happen,” adds Brinda.
Riggle is also a board member of another blossoming arts organization, Blank Slate Elyria, a unique volunteer-run community art and music venue primarily targeting the millennial audience.
After a year-and-a-half of planning, a small group took over an old coffee house space and transformed it into a cozy venue offering weekly music, film and a small art gallery. Their first music show was in April 2016. Eddy Marflak, a musician and one of the founders, hopes more people will discover what Blank Slate and the city of Elyria have to offer.
“People in Elyria know what it’s like to live in a town with so much potential,” he says. “We saw all the beauty, the rent is cheap, it’s between two major highways, and people are nice.”
The venue welcomes an eclectic mix of acts. One-night visitors may see a solo harpist and the next night, a heavy metal band. Storytellers have taken the stage, as have political speakers, standup comics, youth orchestras, hip-hop and punk artists. The venue is funded through cover charges, fundraisers and some loyal subscribers to a patron page.
There’s another thing that makes the Blank Slate venue unique: It has a strict no substance policy. Every flyer states “no drugs/no alcohol.” They pride themselves on providing a safe and inclusive environment.
Reaching out to a much different audience than Blank Slate is the annual downtown summer concert series in Ely Square, which presents a more conventional arts experience. It has been a tradition in Elyria for more than 30 years.
According to Carrie Reardon, director of Elyria Parks and Recreation, the concerts get a lot of repeat visitors — mainly from seniors who arrive on busses from local assisted living communities.
On-site food trucks create a festive atmosphere for concert-goers to enjoy an outdoors lunch and snacks during the show. Reardon says she can see the concerts out of her office window.
“I love looking out and seeing people dancing to the music,” she says. “It’s great to give the folks an opportunity to get out and experience live music and enjoy a fun day out.”
The concerts run every Thursday from May 30 to Aug. 15 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Thousands of Elyria residents and visitors mark the end of summer with another tradition — the free Labor Day concert with the world-renowned Cleveland Pops Orchestra, led by Conductor Carl Topilow. The event has become a favorite for many and features a new theme every year.
As summer ends and fall approaches, the annual Elyria Apple Festival will celebrate its 39th year with features that include dozens of concessions, crafts, shopping, a 5K run and more.