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Cleveland Play House, MetroHealth and Cleveland State University Partner with Dutch Nonprofit to Launch International Arts Initiative Focused on Childhood Poverty


A Dutch project that aims to tell the story of poverty’s impact on the world’s children through the hopeful lens of the arts will make its international debut Wednesday, June 21, in Cleveland through a partnership with Cleveland Play House (CPH), The MetroHealth System, Cleveland State University (CSU) School of Film and Media Arts and artist Amber N. Ford with support from LAND Studio.

The Netherlands-based nonprofit 10CHILDREN – Art for Change plans to mount arts festivals in 10 cities throughout the world, each focused on a different theme based on the prominent consequences of childhood poverty in that country.

Each festival will feature performances of an original play written by a local playwright, a documentary produced by a local filmmaker and a visual art component – all centered on the city’s individual theme and developed with input from local children and their families. Other cities participating in the project include Capetown, South Africa (focusing on poverty and absent parents); Düsseldorf, Germany (focusing on poverty and food); Mumbai, India (focusing on poverty and girls); and Curitiba, Brazil (focusing on poverty and the vulnerability of indigenous childhood).

Cleveland’s week-long festival, the only 10CHILDREN event in the United States, is the first in the series and will examine how poverty affects children’s physical and mental health. The festival includes the world premiere of the play, “Watching Butterflies,” written by local playwright Eric Schmiedl, and the first screening of the documentary film “Lead in the Land,” produced and directed by Cigdem Slankard, director of the CSU School of Film and Media Arts.

Cleveland’s connection to the 10CHILDREN project comes through Linda Jackson, MetroHealth Director of the Center for Arts in Health in the Institute for H.O.P.E.TM

In 2019, Jackson reconnected with her colleague Liesbeth Coltof, an internationally recognized director and youth theater expert from the Netherlands, at the International Performing Arts for Youth Conference in Philadelphia. During their conversation, Coltof mentioned that she soon would be retiring from her theater company, but she wanted to devote her post-career life to helping improve the lives of the world’s children. She told Jackson about the idea she and her partner, theater teacher and artistic director Dennis Meyer, were developing to explore the worldwide consequences of poverty through the arts.

Jackson loved the idea and told her Cleveland was the best place to start.

“Cleveland is recognized as a global center for health care, and it’s known for its world-renowned arts institutions and artists,” Jackson said. “With these resources and the ability to bring together members of the community who truly understood the subject we were trying to address, Cleveland was in a perfect position to help 10CHILDREN realize its vision.”

MetroHealth, a national leader in the movement to address the known effects of childhood poverty on mental and physical health, provided subject-matter expertise to the creative teams working on the play and the documentary.

“What Linda and MetroHealth are doing with the Center for the Arts in Health is rare,” Coltof said. “It is not common for a hospital to have such emphasis on art and to understand what art can do. We don’t have that in the Netherlands, so that is why we came to Cleveland.”

The project was a natural fit for CPH, which brought its expertise in serving the city’s children and families through theater and the arts. CPH created the original play “Watching Butterflies” with support from 10CHILDREN.

Watching Butterflies is a collaborative effort that brought together 28 community dramaturgs, 39 international, regional and local professional artists, 22 youth, community and professional actors, countless community partners and our own Community Development team to create a piece that was made not just for but with Cleveland,” said Pamela DiPasquale, CPH Director of Education & Artistic Strategy. “We hope audiences will enjoy this love letter to our community's children and celebrate their joy, resilience and hope.”

Throughout her career, Coltof worked to bring an approach to children’s theater that acknowledged the true experiences of their lives. The 10CHILDREN project was a natural extension of that work.

“When I started my career, children’s theater was only fairy tales; there were all only happy endings. And life isn't like that. There are a lot of things in children’s lives that are not easy,” Coltof said. “But there is a lot of resilience and creativity in these children. So, Dennis and I said, ‘Let's try to do a world art project that makes the voices of these children and their families heard.’ I don’t think art can change the whole world, but it can bring a sparkle into people’s hearts. It connects with the people who are in a position to change something – the people of government, NGOs and businesses.”

Coltof hopes to complete all 10 festivals by early 2027. The goal is for the project to culminate in an international festival involving UNICEF and/or UNESCO that would amplify the work of all 10 cities.

The creative works at the center of 10CHILDREN Cleveland are:

  • Watching Butterflies, an original play developed by CPH, Schmiedl and 10CHILDREN, celebrates ingenuity, humor, determination and resilience. The play, directed by Coltof, is inspired by and created in partnership with families in Cleveland, who served as community dramaturgs to provide insight and advice as part of script development. The families were identified through MetroHealth’s School Health Program and CPH’s Family Theatre Program. Click here for show times and tickets. Outcalt Theatre at Playhouse Square June 17-24 (previews June 17, 18 and 20; opening night June 21)
  • Lead in the Land, a documentary produced and directed by Slankard of CSU’s School of Film and Media Arts Slankard, explores the devastating effects of lead exposure on children in Cleveland’s under-resourced communities. Westfield Studio Theatre at Playhouse Square June 21-22
  • Photography by Cleveland artist and photographer Amber N. Ford and supported by LAND studio will be exhibited in the lobby of the Outcalt Theater at Playhouse Square before and after performances. Ford’s images consist of two parts – still life objects that reflect health problems disproportionately affecting black, brown and impoverished communities and portraits of real families that have been affected firsthand. June 17-24
  • Educational workshops will be hosted during the festival and interactive activities and resources for families will be available before and after each performance.
  • A Professional Exchange will bring artists and arts organizations together with festival organizers, who will share lessons learned through the project’s development. This event is planned in partnership with the Cleveland Arts Education Consortium. June 22

Support for 10CHILDREN – Art for Change is provided by The Netherlands-America Foundation.

Funding for Watching Butterflies is provided by the U.S. Department of Education.

Lead in the Land is supported by the Urgent Art Fund administered by SPACES and supported by residents of Cuyahoga County through a public grant from Cuyahoga Arts & Culture.

Tickets for Watching Butterflies are “pay what you can” and can be purchased exclusively at Admission to the documentary premiere at the Westfield Studio Theatre on June 21 is free.

About The MetroHealth System

Founded in 1837, MetroHealth is leading the way to a healthier you and a healthier community through service, teaching, discovery, and teamwork. Cuyahoga County’s public, safety-net hospital system, MetroHealth meets people where they are, providing care through five hospitals, four emergency departments and more than 20 health centers. Each day, our nearly 9,000 employees focus on providing our community with equitable healthcare — through patient-focused research, access to care, and support services — that seeks to eradicate health disparities rooted in systematic barriers. For more information, visit