In 2012 I co-founded the Cleveland Jewish Arts & Culture Lab with Rabbi Zachary Truboff, a young Rabbi and Torah Scholar. Our premise is that the Arts can become an incredible source of creativity in the Jewish community providing an opportunity to “reinvent” tradition and the Torah for today. Simply stated, we facilitate a Jewish Artist Fellowship program for 10-14 Jewishly identified Clevelanders that culminates in an Exhibition of original artwork at the Mandel Jewish Community Center. What has happened in the first two years has blown past our wildest expectations of just how powerful creativity can be in bringing people to a higher level of self and community.  

Much like the 2005 Wexner Heritage Program, in which I participated, we bring together Jews of different backgrounds bound by a common thread; in this case, creativity. Some of our Fellows are professional artists, others have had a creative practice at some point in their life. We are unabashed about Torah Study, and strategic about our content and group experience, making the most of our time together. We set the stage for our participants to make their individual contributions to the Cleveland community through creative expression. One might think that the beautiful works of art are the culmination of the program, but it is the process that is the heart.

Each of the Fellows receives a stipend of $750. Creating work takes resources and we emphasize a respectful and committed relationship with the participants. For some, this stipend is the first taste of creative freedom.  We study a theme together for 5 months. We ask participants to make artwork in the spirit of the theme, to take creative risks and explore the ideas. We celebrate the process over the product. Beyond that, the fellows have total creative control. 

For this year’s theme, “Dreams and Visions,” we studied Creation, dream narratives in the Torah, and Rav Kook’s writings on Art and Creativity. For creative practitioners, spirituality and creativity tend to be one and the same. For some of our Fellows this is their first access into Jewish traditions and history. The 2014 “Dreams and Visions” Show ran through June 18 at the Mandel Jewish Community Center in Cleveland.

At our Exhibition Openings, we are stunned by the attendance of hundreds of people combing the halls, engaging the work and each other. What is more marvelous is the diversity, from modestly dressed observant Jews, to tattooed artsy folks, to families, older, younger, as well as the general community. Not only are they present, but they engage each other and celebrate together, around works of art based on Jewish themes. It feels like our Jewish community is alive, together. 

Art is a binder, a unifier. Creative people thrive from supporting other creative people. When people share their inner voices, others take notice and are inspired, and compassion rules. When someone engages their creativity — a true and challenging creative process — they are going deep, to a vulnerable and powerful place where the boundaries of spirituality and creativity blur. When we are creators, we reach the spiritual heights that creativity offers us. Art transcends difference and this program is remarkable because it offers a totally different portal into Jewish thought, community, and experience.

If you would like to start a similar program in your area, I am happy to be transparent about our efforts and offer the following stats as a beginning: 

Annual Budget: Approximately $15,000
Participants:10-14 Clevelanders, annually;18 years old and up
Reach: Thousands through our Exhibition and publications
Funding Partners: Jewish Federation of Cleveland, Mandel JCC, Donors
Community Partners: Shaker Launchhouse, Cleveland Museum of Art, Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage, The Sculpture Center
Awards: 2014 Zahav Award — the Jewish Community Center Association of North America (JCCA)’s highest honor for Program Excellence and User Engagement

Also, if you have a similar program in your community, I would like to hear about your experience.

Sara Hurand is a Wexner Heritage Alumna from Cleveland 05. In addition to co-founding the Cleveland Jewish Arts and Culture Lab, Sara also has served on the Allocations and Strategic Planning Committees for the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, and on the boards of Menorah Park Center for Senior Living, and Cleveland Hillel Foundation. In her day job, Sara is an architect and the owner of Sara has BA from Parsons School of Design and an MA in Architecture from Harvard, and is married to a super amazing person with whom she shares 2 fun boys. Sara can be reached at