CLEVELAND — Life in Cleveland's Central neighborhood can often come with challenges.
"Whether it's the crime or the violence or poverty or death," said Andrea Johnson.
Add in a deadly pandemic, and the emotional toll can be crippling.
"It goes somewhere. And if you don't let it out then it simply eats away at you," said Johnson.
Central Opportunities for Purposeful Engagement or COPE gave residents and stakeholders in Central a safe space to express their emotions and process them through art.
“What we came up with exceeded our wildest expectations," said Johnson.
Twin sisters Mikeya and Makala Howard lost their father and grandfather to the coronavirus.
The pair is among a group of more than 50 people who submitted colorful paintings depicting the challenges along with continued hope that exists in Central.
"Made me feel sad, lonely, but at the same time I feel happy and grateful," said Makala Howard.
The artwork was initially individual 8X10 panels displayed at a community garden, but one day after celebrating its installation, vandals struck.
Instead of pulling the plug on the project, Andrea Johnson, who spearheaded the effort, partnered with St. Vincent Medical Center to have the artwork prominently displayed.
"We wanted to push through all of that to create hope. It has taken on a whole new life, and given it to a much broader audience," said Johnson.
Also part of the installation, masks created by the artists, who range in age from 10 to 98.
"We oftentimes have two sides. What the public sees and then what's inside," said Johnson.
For Mikeya and Makala Howard, the experience not only helped them release painful emotions, but it also instilled confidence to embrace who they are.
"It just really inspired me to do this," said Makala Howard.
Art therapist Heather Farkas said the emotional benefits of a community project like this go well beyond the artists.
"We talk about diet a lot as far as health, but what we see is also part of that diet. There's a special power in seeing something people created that didn't exist before they came along," said Farkas.
The common vision of good, through creative expression, highlights the hope of what the Central neighborhood can become.
"The message was we're invested. And that's huge, that's what you want. They really felt like they were part of the community and part of building it up or sustaining what was already here," said Farkas.