Ingenuity Fest showcases the innovative spirit of Cleveland

Matt Hooke, A&E Editor

The IngenuityFest, an annual three-day celebration of some of the Cleveland’s most creative minds, offered a view of the city’s future while surrounded by remnants of its industrial past.

Ingenuity Cleveland and other partners of the Hamilton Collaborative worked together to create the festival. The Hamilton Collaborative is a group of eight businesses that share their headquarters and collaborate on various projects. The two organizations are headquartered at a 330,000 square-foot facility that used to be a factory in the St. Clair Superior neighborhood.  Ingenuity Cleveland acts as a facilitator for artisans and innovators at the site by providing resources and networking opportunities year-round in their ingenuity lab.

The festival itself was located at an old metal recycling plant, the warehouses that once housed great machines now home to companies seeking to build something beautiful out of the ashes.

One of the companies in the collaborative and its subsidiary, Rust Belt Riders and Lettuce Tree Farms, respectively, work to create a greener Cleveland from the scraps others leave behind. Rust Belt picks up food scraps from local restaurants and businesses, including Case Western Reserve University, and creates nutrient-rich compost. According to a representative, the company picks up over 100,000 pounds of food waste a month.

Lettuce Tree is an urban farming operation that uses both aquaponics and soil based systems to grow microgreens. Rust Belt helps the operation by letting Lettuce Tree use their space. According to co-founder Marc Behar, the company focuses on giving people the ability to produce their own food by building portable farms in shipping containers. These containers can be placed in the parking lots of restaurants or other food producers.

“People feel better when they make their own stuff. A lot of this generation right now doesn’t really trust where their food is coming from or how old it is. Anything shipped from California can be anywhere from three to eight months old before it gets into your hand,” said Behar. “Having the ability to pick something fresh right from your own container and then put it right on your plate gives people peace of mind.”

Lettuce Tree Farms focuses on positive impact agriculture. Co-founder Jeff Thaler claimed that most farming has adverse environmental effects. Farm equipment pollutes the air and chemical fertilizers pollute waterways and kill soil microbes. Thaler hopes to help reverse these negative processes by producing soil through composting, and cleaning air and water before using on their farm.

Skidmark Garage is another company in the Hamilton Collaborative with a unique vision. Stepping into the motorcycle garage was like stepping into a time machine, 50s music played as passers-by admired the dozens of motorcycles on display. The DIY cooperative has members pay $125 a month to use the facility and its equipment. Member Carl Walker said he feels that there is a great sense of community and that members help each other with bike repairs and customization. Many members build their own motorcycles from the ground up.

“Motorcycles break a lot more than cars, so being able to do your own maintenance and not having to pay a mechanic just to change a tire [is important],” said Walker about Skidmark. “Cause it’s stupid to pay a guy $140 for something you can do for free.”

Moving from the old-fashioned environment of Skidmark to the fairy tale aesthetic of the festival’s art exhibitions was a shocking experience. The art section ranged from steampunk-inspired elephants to a walkway resembling a fantasy forest complete with an artificial stream running underneath a wooden bridge. In another room, vendors sold their wares, often utilizing areas in the old warehouse. One photographer sold photos near a generator, the machinery offering a backdrop for his pictures.

The festival also had several stages around the grounds where visitors could catch performances by bands, dance troupes and other performing artists.

“It’s a place to find a diamond in the rough,” said Behar. “There’s a lot of great people here showcasing a lot of different stuff. It’s cool to see everyone come together.”