Vendors first ran out of gourmet grilled cheese and then “farm-to-cone, crazy good ice cream” at the inaugural Garford Arts Fest held this past August in downtown Elyria. Even the co-founders of the festival (named for a local historic businessman and innovator) were astounded that more than 1,000 people showed up to view artwork (some pieces hung underneath a railroad pass and others from the railroad bridge), listen to lively music and chow down on goodies.
The family-friendly and millennial-friendly fest was a collaboration between Blank Slate (an all-inclusive, innovative arts organization of which Eddy Marflak serves as co-founder and entertainment director), Elyria Arts Council (EAC), Invest Elyria and others.
“Artists are stubborn. Even if the first event wasn’t successful, we would have said we will be back,” claims Marflak.
That spirit is indicative of the growing arts movement in downtown Elyria, enthusiastically supported by Mayor Holly Brinda and the city. The new Arts
District is an important part of the city’s $36.8 million revival of downtown. One of the leaders of the blossoming arts movement is the EAC, which exists to promote the arts but also supports the revitalization of the downtown area.
“If you have a community that is rebuilding itself, you have to build self-worth,” says EAC’s Clint Rohrbacher. “Art is a powerful economic tool because art strengthens and enables the individual. Without individual participation, you have no community and you have no economy.”
Volunteers, including artists Megan Rowe, David Pavlak and Anne Jessie, keep the EAC, located at 336 Broad St., humming with pottery, painting and photography classes, as well as literary events and ever-changing art exhibits. The EAC, a cooperative art gallery, was responsible for creating three murals — two bookending
Pioneer Plaza, a downtown city-owned green space that opened in 2017, and another a short distance away.
This year’s EAC fundraising open house is Friday, Dec. 7. The event will showcase entries in the annual Creative Christmas Tree Contest. Trees are created with all kinds of nontraditional materials, and none are traditional conifers.
Additional activities in the downtown area also strengthen the emerging arts movement. St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church has sponsored jazz festivals in downtown Elyria’s Ely Square. The well-known Cleveland Pops Orchestra has played on the steps of the Lorain County Courthouse, built in 1881 and designed by architect Elijah Myers.
“Our first festival was more symbolic of what could be rather than an immediate answer to downtown Elyria’s economy,” says Marflak. (For more information: Garford Arts Fest, garfordartsfest.com; Elyria Arts Council, elyriaartscouncil.org)