If you were lucky enough to have attended a movie night or another event held by The Innerspace, you know it specializes in screening obscure, bizarre films and staging elaborate multimedia events that had a deeply immersive quality quite unlike anything in the city.
However, after operating successfully for five years at the “People’s Temple,” as the building was known, the popular DIY art space was raided and shut down by Ohio City officials early this year.
Jake Griswold started The Innerspace, a label he uses for all his events, as a weekly movie night where he could show films he felt were overlooked by other theaters in the city; films that are weird, radical, and controversial. “I threw these events because no one else was,” he explains. “Movies I want to see on the big screen are never going to be played on the big screen unless I do it.”
That may sound like a bold statement in a city that boasts some pretty fantastic movie theaters, the Cleveland Cinematheque chief among them, but Griswold does his research in order to ensure that he’s bringing something new to the table. “I’m checking everybody’s schedule to see what they’ve shown in the last five years to make sure I’m not showing the same stuff,” he assures.
Furthermore, you may have seen an obscure and subversive film at a great theater, but there’s a good chance you haven’t had an moviegoing experience much like The Innerspace unless you’ve been to one. “I envisioned kind of an immersive experience,” Griswold explains. “More than just going to a theater and seeing a movie.”
The screenings are relaxed and informal, with couches and chairs set up in a ragtag warehouse space that had been a Vietnamese Buddhist temple for decades before Mark Cvicela, the current owner, bought it. The room really makes it feel like the viewer is participating in something underground and special. Accordingly, the movie nights went from hosting just a few attendees to filling the room to capacity.
“The Buddhists left their good vibes in there,” Griswold says with a grin.
So what was the big deal? Why did a weekly movie night and some themed parties warrant a police raid and forced closure by city officials? It turns out the popularity of the events at the People’s Temple was its undoing. After a Halloween party attracted far more attendees than expected, noise complaints prompted the city to take action.
“That’s what brought the trouble on, is that I opened it to the public.” Griswold laments before quoting one of the many citations foisted upon the space: “Not zoned for assembly use.”
Police raided an event a couple months later. Griswold was surprised at such a response, especially from a district that is purported to be a hub of the arts.
“I don’t know why it should cause as many problems as it does,” he observes. “It’s baffling to me. The way I feel about it is that I’m trying to give a gift to the city.”
Part of his surprise comes from the fact that for the past several years, Griswold has traveled to Mexico City each winter to put on Innerspace events and was enthusiastically embraced by the community there. He says it’s just something about the culture that makes people more accepting.
“When I hitchhike in Mexico, I wait five minutes for a ride,” he notes. “When I hitchhike in States I wait two to three hours. People are not trustful.”
That’s not to say that Gordon Square city officials wholly disapprove of the events. “I think it’s cool what they’re doing,” says Matt Zone, the Cleveland City councilman for Ward 15, the residential neighborhood where The Innerspace operated. Zone has met with Griswold and Cvicela to see if they can help The Innerspace attain a level of legal legitimacy like 78th Street Studios.
“I worked with them over to to get them into legal compliance,” Zone says. “I would love to see Mark and Jake be able to so something similar.”
Griswold is pursuing the offer, but it will cost thousands of dollars to bring the People’s Temple up to local zoning codes. All Innerspace events are free of charge and neither Griswold nor Cvicela profit from them, so this factor is essentially prohibitive. He’s considered relocating permanently to Mexico City where he can throw Innerspace events without interference, but is reluctant to leave his family and Cleveland’s art scene, both of which are very dear to him.
Griswold is currently holding Innerspace events at alternate venues while he decides what his future holds. In the meantime, he’s walking to Pittsburgh from Cleveland with nothing but a compass, a map, a tent and a change of clothes to promote a Werner Herzog retrospective film series. “Pittsburgh is the town where Herzog first lived when he came to the USA for the first time in the ‘60s,” Griswold explains, “So I figured it would be the right thing to do, make a walking pilgrimage to where he lived.”
DIY venues have an intrinsically short lifespan. Paradoxically, as they grow in popularity, they become more likely to get shut down by authorities for noise complaints, zoning violations, building code violations, and other offenses. Popular Cleveland DIY venues such as The Embassy and Speak in Tongues have come and gone much the same way as The Innerspace.
“I want to push for an open dialogue about DIY,” Griswold argues. “You can’t pay lip service to art and then shut down a thriving underground arts venue on the basis of two neighbors complaining. If [the city wants] to support art, they can’t just give money to rich and established artists and venues. They have to help out the DIY scene instead of using bureaucratic cop outs to shut them down, like saying a venue that was a church before we took it over is ‘not zoned for assembly use.’”
So what is it about America that persecutes an art enthusiast like Griswold for trying to share his passion for weird cult movies and experimental psychedelic music? It would be incredibly remiss to blame Cleveland specifically; countless stories like this one can be found across the country for those willing to find them. What is it that creates the sense of interpersonal distrust and hostility that Griswold attests is not found in what is allegedly, according to some Americans, a dangerous nation like Mexico?
“The Innerspace isn’t a specific building,” Griswold muses. “It’s an idea that we create our own reality and shape the world exactly how we want it.” Accordingly, he’ll continue to hold events under The Innerspace banner whether they’re at the People’s Temple or not.
“They’re only going to hurt the city if they shut this stuff down,” Griswold argues, “There has to be an alternative. There has to be a community. If it’s not me doing it, someone else will.”