By conventional measures of mall health, Euclid Square Mall is on the critical list. One of its two anchor stores, Kaufmann's, withdrew in the late 1990s. Smaller stores followed, and its last remaining national retailer is a Dillard's outlet. Google the shopping center, in fact, and you're apt to be directed to deadmalls.com, a slightly ghoulish hobby site dedicated to chronicling moribund consumer palaces.
However, the death pronouncement is premature. The building has found a surprising new source of vibrancy: old-time religion. Sunday mornings, Euclid Square's cavernous halls echo with the hymns of 22 churches. To stay upright on shifting economic ground, the mall's management turned to unconventional tenants like faith-based nonprofits, small businesses, and even a local animation studio. This communitarian uprising has been chronicled by local artist Jef Scharf. He unveils the first stage of his oral and visual history in The Euclid Square Mall Project at Spaces.
"It reminds me of artists taking over old dilapidated buildings," says Scharf, a Spaces artist-in-residence. "They work wholly through inspiration and the need to make it into the space they need."
Scharf's project will culminate in a documentary film — his first — based on interviews with Euclid Square's owners and new inhabitants. The film is still in production, but for now Scharf is exhibiting something like a progress report, with raw footage from his conversations, which capture both the enthusiasm of the Brave New Mall's pioneers and their uncertainties.
"It's a transitional moment," says Scharf. "Not everyone is enchanted with the idea of worshiping in a mall, and people are wondering if there will be a renaissance that will bring back retail. No one can answer that question now."
Other artifacts on display include building blueprints, what Scharf calls "low-fi comic books" giving the mall's history, and a 155-inch by 94-inch wall used to partition off mall hallways to create Scharf's private interviewing room.
Like the mall, Scharf's project is complete in its immediate goals yet still a work in progress. The installation will be unveiled Friday, August 24, at an opening reception from 6 to 9 p.m. It will remain on view through October 19 at 2220 Superior Viaduct.
Scharf's film will be screened at Spaces on Thursday, September 20, at 7 p.m. A second screening will take place Thursday, October 11, at 7 p.m. at Euclid Square Mall. Spaces is at 2220 Superior Viaduct. For more information, call 216-621-2314 or go to spacesgallery.org.