With a re-energized festival, Cleveland Cultural Gardens begin to attract business support

Posted on Sep 9, 2014


CLEVELAND, Ohio — If you return for the second edition of the One World Festival this weekend, you’ll notice some changes to an event that showcases the Cleveland Cultural Gardens.

For starters, it’s expanding to two days. That allows for more live performances on more stages.  Radio Disney is coming. And there will be more vendors, free water and bicycles for rent.

In short, you’ll see the kind of enhancements that bloom when the business community gets behind a public event.

The One World Festival is attracting corporate and foundation sponsors, something lacking in its 2013 debut, and that’s allowing the kind of festival the cultural gardens deserve, organizers say.

“There’s definitely momentum. It’s definitely growing,” said festival director James Levin.

His enthusiasm is tinged with disappointment. A celebration of a multi-cultural city has yet to excite the business community to the degree he expected.

“We haven’t plugged into the traditional corporate Cleveland funding regime yet, like the banks,” Levin said. “I think we should be way ahead of where we are now. But I’m impatient.”

Even if banks aren’t boosting the financials, other businesses, hospital systems and foundations have helped to about double the festival budget, to more than $ 150,000.

The biggest jolt of enthusiasm is flowing from just up Martin Luther King Boulevard. The Cleveland Clinic, the region’s largest employer, signed on as lead sponsor with a gift of $ 25,000. Many of its employees are helping to plan and stage a festival that resonates with a multicultural staff.

Levin, a founder of Cleveland Public Theater and Ingenuity Fest, took on the challenge of trying to bring fresh attention and purpose to the cultural gardens.

Beautiful, lonely, often robbed and vandalized, the gardens celebrate the cultures of Greater Cleveland in a sylvan chain that runs for more than a mile through Rockefeller Park and the Doan Brook valley on Cleveland’s east side.

For 66 years, a festival called One World Day supported the gardens and their steward, the Cleveland Cultural Gardens Federation. But attendance had shrunk to a few hundred faithful when Levin took the baton last summer.

He introduced a new name, new attractions and new energy. A surprise crowd of more than 15,000 turned out to partake.

On the nearby campus of the Cleveland Clinic, employees noticed. Pamela Holmes, the Clinic’s director of local government relations and formerly its director of community outreach, said co-workers peppered her office with emails suggesting the Clinic get involved.

“This festival represents the cultural diversity of the Cleveland Clinic in one fell swoop. It’s all there,” she said.

The Clinic will be sending more than 75 volunteers to conduct health screenings, staff health education exhibits and march in the Parade of Nations up MLK Boulevard.

“We think we’re going to a have a really, really great time,” Holmes said.

Others share her enthusiasm. A $ 10,000 donation from UnitedHealthcare is making possible a visit by Radio Disney, which is bringing its TRYathlon obstacle course to the athletic exhibition.

Pure Water Technology of Bedford is underwriting the main stage and setting a green theme for the festival, which will serve free filtered water.

Meanwhile, the foundations have begun to ante up, and at least one bank is taking part. Third Federal Savings & Loan, the pride of Slavic Village, donated $ 2,500 to the cause.

To some businesses, the festival is just good business.

Ohio City Bicycle Co-op is bringing a fleet of bikes to rent out. Price: $ 10 for two hours.

Levin hopes that’s one of many business ideas that endure beyond the festival

“I think it’s got legs,” he said. “This park is just perfect for two hour bike rides.”

One World Festival runs from 1 to 9 p.m. Saturday and from 1 to 7 p.m. Sunday in the Cleveland Cultural Gardens between Superior and St. Clair avenues along MLK. Shuttles will run from free parking in the new VA Medical Center garage at East 105th Street and Magnolia Drive.

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