Shelly Svonavec’s Studio is bright and chic, but hidden behind strategically-placed curtains and around unsuspecting corners are glimpses into the Hildebrandt building’s past.
“You can still see where the original smoker and other parts of the meat processing took place,” Svonavec says, pulling a latch and opening the heavy, worn door of what used to be an industrial-sized meat smoker.
The Hildebrandt Building had its beginning as a family-owned meat processor in the late 1800s, closing in the 1970s. Measuring at 160,000 square feet, the facility towers over nearby residences in the Clark-Fulton neighborhood.
The space was converted into space for artists and local food entrepreneurs, the likes of which include Campbells Sweet Factory, Rising Star Coffee, Wake Robin Fermented Foods and artists such as Svonavec.
Leave and Return
Before moving into the building, Svonavec, a 2014 Fine Arts graduate from Bowling Green State University who describes herself as an abstract artist who creates fine art paintings and mixed media pieces, lived in Charlotte, North Carolina. She taught art classes to a diverse group of Black and Hispanic youth there, many of whom were undocumented.
“That’s where my investment in education and students and other people, young adults, really began,” she said. “I kind of stepped away from art. My students became my world. But after a couple years there I was so inundated with their stories and our journeys that I was overwhelmed.”
Svonavec said it “hit her just out of the blue” that Charlotte was not the city to move forward with her career and her life.
“It was too expensive. I was there alone. Everyone I met was not from there,” she said. “There’s not as much culture and the people that are from there and the transplants — everything is very segregated based on those lines. I really missed the great city of Cleveland and the passion and the support I had from family.”
Crafting a Future
Despite growing up in Richmond Heights — a 30-minute drive to the East — the west side of Cleveland is a familiar place to Svonavec. She traveled regularly to the area as a child, helping her father fix various properties he owned in the Clark-Fulton neighborhood.
“That really influenced me a lot just because I was working with my hands. I was talking to people, and I was just seeing how different people live different lives, different houses and communities at such a young age, which I think played a big impact on me,” she said. “When I moved back, I actually moved into one of those houses.”
Following Svonavec’s return to Cleveland in 2017, she found her way to Platform Beer Co. As the general manager, she watched the renovation and launch of Phunkenship and planned events for the brewery. Svonavec also began teaching as an independent contractor through the Center for Arts-Inspired Learning, where her passion for art blossomed.
The next leap in her journey happened at the end of 2019, when she began renting a 2,000 sq. ft. space in the Hildebrandt building. After conversations with the other tenants and discussions with Joe Hildebrandt, Svonavec made it her mission to revive interest in the building with events.
“I had big plans for the studio,” Svonavec said. “Last year really wiped so many things off the table.”
Although there were fewer shows and opportunities to showcase the building in 2020, Svonavec is in full gear in 2021 with plans to hold public workshops, open studios and exhibitions along with other businesses and artists.
“I truly love Cleveland and the support, grit and inclusion that emanates throughout our town,” she says.
A spring Open House is scheduled to take place on Saturday, May 1 from noon until 6 p.m. Visitors will be able to discover the various artists and entrepreneurs residing throughout the Hildebrandt.
In addition, Svonavec is hosting a women’s clothing swap. Interested parties can bring clothing to Svona Studio prior to May 1 and pick up secondhand finds during the open house. Any clothing left over at the end of the event will be donated to Women’s Recovery Center.
Stefanie Valentic is the editorial director of Waste360, a waste and recycling industry publication. She graduated from Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism in 2009 and completed the Kiplinger Program in Public Affairs Journalism 2018. Valentic has been in B2B publishing for more than a decade, covering topics from agriculture to occupational health and safety. She resides in the West Park neighborhood with her partner Max and dogs Napoleon and Pickles.
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