Harmony Park

You can often see her blowing bubbles from her front porch and hear her laughter brightening the mood between the King Kennedy and Outhwaite housing projects. And you can see her positive influence as you pass the vibrantly colored mural that she and a large group of her supporters painted at the backside of the E. 55th Street strip mall. Her name is Gwendolyn Garth. She’s a fine arts and graphics artist and lives between the two housing projects. She is committed to using creativity as a vehicle to transform this community. Gwen is quick to point out that she was born to do this work because, “Art is in the middle of my last name,’ she says as she spells out “G ART H.”

In 2009 Gwen routinely sat on her front porch and watched a parade of teenage girls pushing their babies in strollers alongside young men wearing sagging pants as drug dealers and drug users blazed a trail to nowhere. A compelling desire to do something overcame Gwen. She said, “By then I had 11years of sobriety under my belt. The smoke had cleared and I could no longer pretend that I didn’t see what I was seeing. It wasn’t enough for me to just sit on my porch, go to church, work and AA meetings. I had to do something. She asked herself and God, “What can I do to make a difference?” A still small voice said, ‘Paint the wall.”

That is exactly what Gwen did. She stepped off her porch and outside herself. She enlisted over 100 local people to help her paint the 150-foot mural. Each of them was inspired by her vision to transform this space into a community-gathering place for music and meditation. The mural serves as the focal point for the area that will be called Harmony Park. Soon she will begin soliciting more volunteers to unearth the history and beauty of the land next to the mural, land that has be buried for decades beneath piles of debris. The process of building the park is every bit as important as the outcome. Strong bonds are being formed. When people pass by they are given the opportunity to pitch in and help and as they do their commitment to the park and to each other grows.

Gwen is using her artistic talents to help Cleveland in other ways too. She volunteers to teach multigenerational art classes at a local recreation center that hadn’t held art classes for many years due to budgetary cuts. On Saturday mornings Gwen goes to a prison to help male inmates visualize the life they want after prison. The men experience a sense of freedom and responsibility by concretely charting out their own future on paper. Many men uncover hidden artistic talents that had been dormant for many years. Gwen explains how they can earn a living using these talents.

Ms. Garth’s favorite quotes that guide her journey are:

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person, or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek." –Barack Obama

“Be the change you want to see in the world.” –Ghandi