Five Conversations on the State of Cleveland’s Art Scene

By Eric Sandy


 

binary-viewer.pngMore than anything, even beer and cased meats, Cleveland is a city built on creativity — everything from the quirky to the fine. The headlines, fixated steadily on the artless worlds of sports and politics, assure us all that Cleveland’s renaissance of awesomeness is now totally under way. Economic development is peaking. Think pieces are thinking. We’re feeling really good. And that’s terrific.

Much of that success burrowed down in the heart of the city, especially in those cool neighborhoods we know and love, has come from the yearning souls of the creative class who were making those neighborhoods cool in the first place. Like any big city, Cleveland doesn’t earn its cultural cred without the elbow grease and genuine love of its artists.

In 2014, we’ve seen some headlines both good and bad in the Cleveland art world, and with coverage of the art scene still lacking for the most part (and we’d admit our role in that gap), it’s not often you get to hear from the artists themselves on their struggles, hopes, successes and worries. Where are we now? How did we get here? What can the city do better? How can the public help? What’s lacking? What’s flourishing?

To get some answers to those questions and others, we sat down with a handful of men and women working the front lines of Cleveland’s art world for a series of wide-ranging conversations. We think you’ll be interested in what they had to say.

Hilary Gent, HEDGE Gallery – On Investments

cover1-4What brought you to Cleveland originally?

I was heavily influenced by a number of incredible Cleveland artists, one of them being Craig Lucas, who was my painting adviser. I moved to Cleveland after I graduated from college because I had a design job with a local event planning company. I still continued making art through that job; I worked there for almost six years after college. It was very hands-on and creative, and it definitely inspired my business. I had this dream of having a painting studio — somewhere I could work and leave a mess behind. I bumped into 78th Street Studios and fell in love with it. What a great working opportunity for local artists! Third Fridays have grown into this massive networking event for the arts. I opened HEDGE Gallery almost five years ago with the goal to give emerging artists an opportunity to get their name out there and experience what it’s like to be in front of a huge group of people and express themselves through their artwork to the general public.

What kind of community comes out to those events? Is it mostly artists or, say, art “fans”?

It’s currently all of the above. We have everything from families with their young children to pet owners coming out with their dogs to art aficionados and collectors. We’d love for more collectors to come out. We have a great support system built in here — a lot of us are collectors, too — and we’re trying to educate the public more on what that investment means and the importance of it.

A lot of artists come out here to explore and be inspired by what’s going on in the scene here. But we also have a lot of people who are just curious, like they’ve never — I’ve talked with people who say they’ve never been to an art gallery in their entire lives, and they come here and they’re like, “Thank God it’s not pretentious.” Well, you’re not going to get this feeling in every art gallery, but that is an importance that we try to focus on here. We make people feel comfortable around art. One of the main problems is I think the general public thinks of it as museum-quality, and that they have to be quiet and not touch anything. I think I try to stress here that the space is open to you to explore, to be inspired, to be a little bit scared sometimes. Whatever it is you’re feeling about the art, I want people to feel it openly.

I’ve profiled artists this year who discussed the importance of art in the evolution of neighborhoods and Cleveland as a whole. What’s needed from the public in order to shepherd that growth forward?

That’s a really good question. I think spending money locally is going to be the beginning of that education. Instead of going online to buy a pair of shoes, think about going somewhere here. The importance of shopping locally — your food, your clothing, your decor — just think about it first before you make that kind of conscious decision to Google it and buy it. I think that’s going to be the first step: thinking locally and wrapping your head around what’s here. And, yeah, it might take an extra 10 minutes, but it’s worth it in the long run because it’s actually what’s going to help this community be self-sufficient.

In the art world, it’s the same answer. If you walk into a gallery and you see something gorgeous and you think, “Man, that would just resonate in my home,” then consider how you could possibly invest in it.

When I found out I could purchase a piece of art from another artist, I got giddy about it! And, yeah, it took four months of putting payments down. But now that this piece is mine, I’m so proud to talk about it. People are drawn to it, like “Who is that artist?” It’s a conversation starter. It’s an exciting thing. And it’s different than buying a car. Artwork will never fail you. It will always be there and it will always speak to you. It will always speak to others. It’s a whole different level of investment.

To someone who might not be plugged in, where might you point them to show off the real growth of Cleveland’s arts scene?

Not to be biased, but I would tell them to come to 78th Street Studios! (laughs) There’s so much diversity here. Even if I wasn’t a part of this, I would tell people to come here. It’s accessible. And if you come here on a Third Friday, there’s a bit of everything. You’ll see local artisans and you’ll actually be able to walk into studios where artists are creating artwork. You’ll be able to witness more than one contemporary art gallery.

I would also say explore arts districts. If they go out to the Waterloo Arts District, they’re going to get a taste of the local shopping — there’s records stores, great little boutiques, great restaurants and art galleries. Start with the districts. I think we’re trying to create focal points for people to explore and experience artwork in different ways. Gordon Square… 78th Street Studios… Then go east. It’s definitely not something you can do in one day, but that’s the beauty of it.

I hear a lot of optimism in your voice. How would you describe the state of Cleveland art?

I’m very hopeful that people will begin understanding what it means to invest in local work. I’ve had some success with my own paintings and artwork selling, and that means the world to me. I think it’s growing. I think it’s going to be an educational thing. It’s going to take time.

It’s sometimes hard not to get bummed out when you have a great show up and nobody shows interest. But you’ve got to keep moving forward and knowing that it is going to take a little bit of time. We aren’t Manhattan. Who knows if we ever will be — and actually I hope we won’t. I hope we continue to be Cleveland, because there are so many people who are just down to earth here. They’re so full of compassion and interest. It’s a genuine city. So I do hope we’re never Manhattan, but I do hope people begin to think about art the way communities in other metropolitan cities think about art. Not just something pretty on the wall. This is something that could be in my life forever.

Other cities do tend to treat art differently. In fact, some cities have instituted some sort of public role at City Hall. An “arts commissioner” or something. Of course, that kind of talk was going around town pretty intensely earlier this summer in Cleveland. Should the city be more involved on a legislative or public level?

Oh, yeah. Most definitely. If you look historically at the districts that have grown — even over the past five to 10 years, like this district here at 78th Street Studios — the development is extremely amazing and out of this world. But the arts have a lot to do with it. That’s not something I’m saying just because I’m an artist. If you look around, artists will move into one of the most dangerous areas and bring new life to it. I do believe the city needs to pay more attention to this. Honestly, you can put the “sports town” theme on this town as much as you want, but look at Playhouse Square, look at the development there. That’s an amazing theater community. And that even needs more respect and focus. A lot of people come to Cleveland and they don’t realize we have Broadway productions going on downtown almost every night of the week. It’s insane! It’s so freaking cool!

And our museums are free and open to the public with international exhibits. It’s like “pay attention to that, city of Cleveland!” There are so many things that money is just getting dumped into, but I just wish a small percentage of that would be coming back into the arts.

Everyone seems to be coalescing more and more around artists in this town. I do see that. But there’s this weird disconnect between that growth and City Hall. It’s really come to light this year.

It’d be great to see those people come out to one of the openings. Come out and show support. We’re not even really asking for money, necessarily. We just want them to understand what we’re doing here and the effects that it’s having on the public.

When we have 1,500 people walk through the studios here on a given night — and we’re talking age 5 to 85 — that’s huge.

Bottom line, I just feel like if we could get people from the city to just attend an event, it’d be blast.

Hilary Gent operates HEDGE Gallery and Hilary Gent Studio, 78th Street Studios. Visit hedgeartgallery.com for more information.

 

Michael Gill, CAN Journal – On Community

CAN Journal Fall 2014What was the genesis of CAN?

CAN was first organized in 2011. And it was the typical marketing thing: You see a niche and fill it, although definitely not a money-making niche. It was a need. Liz Maugans at Zygote has been involved in trying to organize artists in a variety of ways for awhile, and in the wake of the big recession, she was trying to get them together and talk about things they can do in tough economic times to help each other.

Simultaneously, and really for the past 10 years, coverage of art has just tanked. And you can go through the magazines that don’t exist anymore. There was Angle, there was Dialog, there was Urban Dialect, there was Pink Eye, there was both Free Times and Scene, which at times both had full sections covering the art world. All that stuff is gone, and the Plain Dealer, they would cover the museum, and they would cover MOCA, and once in awhile they would go to Bill Busta’s gallery, but the number of galleries, and the number of working local artists and venues, it was almost nonexistent in the PD at that point. So, one of the ideas they came to was communication.

The idea arose in 2011 that they could make some printed piece that could be out in the world, and that would at least be something. In 2011, there were 28 of them, they all agreed to pitch in $100, and to draw names out of a hat and write about each other. And so that came out in January of 2012. We had the Plain Dealer print it. It was basically Friday magazine physically. It was conceived without a website. It was just this printed thing, without a distribution system set up.

So the galleries just set it out?

We had 28 galleries. We had a party when it came out, and they all took it back to their galleries. And basically that’s where it was. There were other places to find it. For nonprofits, the Cuyahoga County libraries will put it on, but that was it. It was very grassrootsy, very DIY. I had been involved with the arts scene in a bunch of ways for a long time — I was at Beck Center before newspapers — and I recognized that to have that number of organizations working on the same project and putting in money was really remarkable. The fact that they all responded like that, voluntarily spent money, we weren’t giving out money, that was remarkable. So I did follow-up interviews with as many of them as I could, and figured out if they wanted to go forward and how. And that’s how we got here.

They wanted it to be beautiful, they wanted it to be quarterly, they wanted to have some news and time sensitivity. The one-time thing, it had no news value; it was a reference. This is who we are, this is how we were founded. Those were the big shifts. We got a big boost from Consolidated Graphics, who printed it for free the first year, which was a gift of about $70,000. And after that, we’re shifting toward paying more of our fair share. And growing it toward sustainability.

I mean, is this the longest running arts journal in Cleveland history by now?

No. We’re beginning our third year. I believe Angle might have published for three years. Dialog had fits and starts, but it ran for a long time, maybe for 10 years.

How many copies do you print?

10,000.

And where do you distribute?

There are about 200 places around the county. Heinen’s. The libraries. We go a little bit into Medina and Akron, because of some advertisers and members.

What’s changed since you first started covering the arts in Northeast Ohio 20 years ago?

It’s tied to the whole, you know, rust belt cities evolution. There is so much empty space that’s so cheap. If you’re an artist and you want to do something in town, you can. You can find space. The result of that is that, I think, the city has only recently bought into the idea that artists moving into those spaces can be good for the neighborhood. There’s more systematic recognition and support of the relationship between artists and neighborhoods.

In Tremont, it was very organic. It was a forgotten neighborhood where you might not be able to sell your house for $10,000. Artists could afford it and, individually, they began to move in. In Gordon Square, it was much more organized. The Gordon Square Arts District was this triumvirate of established organizations. There was Cleveland Public Theatre, the Capitol Theater, and I think Near West Theatre is the third. They formed an organization, an independent nonprofit that raised money for projects in the neighborhood.

It was similar over in Waterloo, but carried out in a different way. They had all those houses, and the Beachland had been there trying to make some of that happen. But it wasn’t catching on much. Nothing much happening. The community development corporation, Northeast Shores, got some significant grant funding. They decided that they were going to use the money to enable artists to move in, but not in the usual way.

On the other side, what are the obstacles for people to open galleries?

The whole Loren Naji story would be the thing that comes to mind. I mean, that big macro picture is really the big, long-term challenge. It’s the long, steady need to make money. No matter how you look at it…

I don’t want to get too deep on the Naji story, but is there some fundamental perception that these people just aren’t used to dealing with building codes and stuff like that? That the city should be a bit more proactive?

There is that. You have to follow the rules. The rules are written, and it’s all there for you. It’s also true that there are a whole lot of Cleveland businesses that aren’t following the rules, and no one’s paying attention and no one’s called the police. His situation is really because someone took up the charge to look into the details that most people haven’t looked after. For Cimperman and the people that run Ohio City Inc. and several other people to say very similar things, that half the buildings in my ward don’t have occupancy permits, you know, I guess I take that as true. I’ve heard it from multiple sources.

Michael Gill is the editor and publisher of CAN Journal. Visit canjournal.org to learn more.

Liz Maugans, Zygote Press – On Advocacy

cover1-5What’s your take on the sense of optimism in the arts community here? Do you get that sense?

I think that it’s exciting — all the stuff that’s going on, all the stuff that’s percolating. A lot of it can be attributed to us not looking at competition anymore, but looking at collaboration. It used to be the big guys and then all the rest of us. What the rest of us are doing really well — connection, audience, pop-ups, connecting with neighborhoods — that momentum is something that impenetrable organizations like the museums grafted. They are definitely doing the Wade Ovals, the different types of community connections that are helping out younger organizations and the organizations with smaller budgets. I feel like that had never happened before.

There are a lot of towns — like, I just went to Toledo. They have the opera and the orchestra up here (gestures), and then they have a lot of the other, sort of more street-level organizations that are still just figuring it out very separated. They don’t have the foundation support we have in Cleveland. They don’t have the public-sector funding. And they certainly don’t have a Cleveland Arts Prize. Those are all validating forces that allow us to appreciate what artists do and value artists in our society. They don’t look at us as fringey lost souls that they don’t need to wait to talk to until they’re done with a civic project and they need a sculpture in their garden.

There have been some mixed opinions as far as civic support for Cleveland artists this year.

I do feel like that could be more reinforced. We could do with a representative that is a member of county council and the city of Cleveland. An arts czar. Someone who deals with the board of zoning and permits and sits at the table to be an advocate for artists and for the cultural sector. This would be someone who could think differently and add a different type of perspective and view in how we can involve ourselves.

Setting up an actual advocacy role in the government: Is that something that would help?

Totally. A lot of people look at Tom Schorgl [ed note: Community Partnership for Arts and Culture CEO] as that person who’s positioned there, but he’s a policymaker. He’s the one that can’t talk emotionally about these metrics and this research and data that’s coming in.

You were an early figurehead at CAN Journal, raising awareness for the arts that way. Outside of established public office and mainstream media outlets, that seems like the best way of getting the word out. And it seems to be really gaining steam, right?

Yeah, it’s been one of those things that has given us our own voice. We’re not waiting around for our only art critic. We could have not been more prescient in knowing that The Plain Dealer was going to reduce its distribution and printing. We started seeing it slowly veer away, from Angle, from Dialog, all those things that don’t exist anymore. When you see this super sexy tome of different types of interviews and elaboration on what an artist’s life is like or on what an exhibition is all about, that’s something that creates a better playing field. It made us all much more encouraged and supportive of each other.

It made us work harder and be better at our businesses and relaying our messages to the outside world. You wouldn’t have had the fantastic places like 78th Street Studios and the Screw Factory — these artist hives — working together. Before, it was just a bunch of artists in a building. Now, they’re tour-de-forces that everybody has to go to.

Bringing back all this cool stuff, like Party in the Park, has been great too. It makes complete sense to have artists and arts organizations down there, involved and creating moments on, say, beaches. All that stuff is beautifully rich and it just wasn’t here 10 years ago. I feel like CAN certainly has had a part in that.

The community is sustaining itself and not relying on some art critic to come by and review a show. That’s never going to happen.

What’s Zygote’s role in all of this?

There are a lot of holes that people don’t really want to deal with. Those are the things that I see as, “Why can’t we do it?”

You know, when I hear that kids from Cleveland public schools have never seen the lake, that breaks my heart. Those kids, they may go on a field trip to the museum or the orchestra or to Severance Hall. But they don’t come to places like Zygote. And people look like them here. They don’t look like them on the walls at the museum. I feel like it’s about equity. And if there’s a way that we can get a transportation system to get those kids to come here… People who have access to arts and culture are going to do much better.

To circle back around and to the uninitiated, could you elaborate on Zygote’s mission?

We’re an affordable and accessible printmaking studio for a person who’s never approached printmaking. We’re also a fantastic place for collectors, in terms of them looking into our 18-year archive and our 42-piece collection that’s now up at the airport. That exhibit shows a real range of artists. At that show, there are different types of things you can investigate.

We also do a lot of work that disseminates into the community. Participation in our education program, Press on Wheels, has increased 400 percent. Just this summer, we’ve done at least 30 on- and off-site tours, from 12 people to 40 people.

Liz Maugans is the co-founder and executive director of Zygote Press, 1410 East 30th Street. Visit zygotepress.com to learn more.

Amy Callahan, Waterloo Arts – On Neighborhoods

cover1-2How did you get involved with Waterloo Arts? And what are the organization’s goals?

My kids took classes there; they were part of the first educational program that we had, which was a summer arts camp. I thought it was great. You could tell it was a grassroots arts program, and I really liked the organizers of it. So I started volunteering there. This was about eight years ago. I was inspired by their activism and their desire to make these changes in their community.

What sort of changes have you seen in the neighborhood since then?

We’ve gone through ups and downs, which is how it always is with these neighborhoods. There were businesses that opened. There were other art galleries that opened. Then they closed. It wasn’t just a straight-line trajectory. There were always people in the neighborhood who were continually coming together and trying to get over those bumps and figure it out. In the past few years, what seems to have tipped the balance was — well, initially, I think that Sarah Gyorke, who founded the organization, did a lot of work trying to just generate the idea that this was an arts district. So even when there was not a lot there, she was doing events and calling it an arts district and making it into one in people’s minds. That helped a lot. Being able to build on that — the development corporation partnered with Community Partnership for Arts and Culture and they received a really large grant. There was national foundation money that really helped to tip the balance. But it started in a really grassroots way, with people just helping to see the potential.

Most recently, the streetscape project is allowing other businesses to feel a little safer. And that’s not just in terms of their personal safety, but also financial safety.

There’s quite a spotlight placed on the neighborhood now. What does the idea of an “arts district” mean?

In the best of all possible worlds, you don’t have arts districts. You just have great places to live, and they incorporate art into them. For us, what our neighborhood is trying to do that might be a little unique is that we’re trying to have artists be real stakeholders in the neighborhood. That’s making sure that they don’t come in and — like in so many neighborhoods, artists are attracted to inexpensive space and they see potential and they make things happen and, often, they get pushed out of those neighborhoods because they become attractive to other people. Then the prices go up.

The idea is that we’re still in that in-between stage and we can still have artists be stakeholders in the neighborhood. They play an important voice and influence in our neighborhood. And our neighborhood isn’t just focused on entertainment for people who are coming from outside and having dinner. There are also other things going on here. There are a lot of working artists and businesses; there are artists creating things and working and making things in the neighborhood. It isn’t just an entertainment district, which is what can happen with a lot of these places. Then you lose the art, because people aren’t as invested in that. It’s important for us to keep it as a very artistic neighborhood.

How does the district go about making sure the artists aren’t isolated from the public?

Our group has always been run by a group of volunteer professional artists. We have that space to show artists’ work, and now there are five or six other galleries in our neighborhood. Just having that wall space to get their work out there is really important.

The development corporation has these mini-grants, where an artist can partner with a business in the district or apply on their own. Those are little opportunities. And there are all kinds of artists, right? There’s music, there’s visual art. Our district is really strong musically and we also have a chamber music series, concerts that happen throughout the year. So there’s a lot of community built around those events. We also have the Waterloo Arts Fest, which is through the galleries and the vendors and the artists doing installations; there are probably 100 visual artists and maybe another 100 musicians.

It was really terrific this year.

Seems like it was a long time ago already! It was really hot, but it was great. I was excited to go through this year as sort of a trial run with the street a different shape. You know? We expanded a little this year. But it’ll be nice to have it all done for next year.

There’s this idea that artists and their work form the building blocks of what eventually become “cool” neighborhoods. What do you think about that? And what should City Hall be doing to recognize and facilitate that?

I think that our city could take a more proactive role in encouraging the arts. I think it’s kinda been a little laissez-faire and sometimes a little stand-in-your-way. I have to say that you’ve got to be careful what you wish for. There are some nice things about a city that is distracted with other issues. You get this freedom by not having too much oversight. But, on the other hand, it would be great to have a department in the city that was dedicated to promoting the arts and finding ways to help, you know, generate more opportunities for artists.

It is true that these neighborhoods, especially in cities, become unique and people become attracted to moving into them, because of something that is not a chain store. It’s because of individual hands and the artists’ unique take on things. It is kind of what makes it cool and urban and attractive to people. I think that comes even slightly before the need for jobs. You can think of somebody commuting into Cleveland for their job, and it would be perfectly normal for them to think they have to live outside the city. But if you make the city attractive enough for people to move into it, then it’s more unusual to live in that city and in that urban life and then drives out of the city for a job. I feel like, obviously we need jobs, but there’s also this important piece of it, which is making those neighborhoods livable and attractive for people.

Are there any artists you’d like to spotlight here?

Jessica Pinsky is opening up Praxis, which is a fiber arts studio. The Cleveland Institute of Art will be the fiscal agent, and they’re donating all of their fiber arts equipment. Valerie Grossman is the artist who is spearheading Brick, which is the ceramic studio that’s modeled off of that Zygote cooperative model. She’s also a Cleveland Institute of Art graduate.

It’s always hard to be at the beginning of an organization and start it up. They’re really enthusiastic and terrific people, and they’re young and decided to stay in Cleveland and make a go of it.

Amy Callahan is the executive director for Waterloo Arts. Visit artscollinwood.org to learn more.

Dana Depew, Asterisk – On Cohesion

cover1-3Could you describe the role Cleveland has in your career here?

I formally trained at Kent in sculpture. I opened Asterisk Gallery, located in Tremont, in about 2001. That was open for about nine years. I highlighted and tried to exhibit more experimental work, reaching out to emerging and established local Cleveland-based arts. The concentration was on exposing and showcasing the work of local artists, to show the talent here.

I’m a working artist too, so at that time I was showing at my space as well as other spaces. I closed the gallery in 2010 and I’ve been primarily focusing on showing my own work. A lot of the work I do is reclaimed objects — just trying to find these objects. Obviously, Cleveland and its aesthetic is very important to the work I do. Most of the materials I utilize are from Cleveland in some way, shape or form. I kind of try to dust off those objects and rehash them into something wholly new.

That plays off several themes in Cleveland, surely. What is your perspective on the Cleveland renaissance story? Is the arts scene growing?

Yeah. There are a lot more opportunities available, especially downtown and through public art projects. Obviously, through CAC and CPAC there have been quite a number of opportunities for artists and art organizations to get funding for various projects. In that regard, there is some assistance available for artists.

With Cleveland, we’ve had a really great concentration of high-quality artists. A lot of that has to do with cost of living and things of that nature. It’s very cheap to live in Cleveland. You can get a large space to utilize — a live-work space. There are also a number of different neighborhoods that are really transforming into art neighborhoods, like 78th Street Studios and Collinwood. Tremont to some degree, but I think that’s transformed into more of a restaurant community. I think that, for an artist, it’s a really good place to be.

A lot of those neighborhoods are built on the backs of artists. Have you seen that in Cleveland?

I think that’s really common. If you look back at history, where you have pioneers or a grouping of people that went out and established the land and stuck around, people came. That’s commonplace anywhere. With Tremont or Collinwood, you have some areas that are somewhat depressed. Artists are broke, so they move in there and set the groundwork. Then others follow. Tremont has seen that. Detroit-Shoreway is going through that transformation. Ohio City to some degree. Artists see something that’s cast off and see it as an opportunity. They put in the blood, sweat and tears to make it work and set up a foundation. Then others see something established there and that it might be worth it.

Have you seen the public’s reception improve? How involved is the audience in this city?

It’s important. Where I was at in Tremont, there was the Artwalk. There was a monthly event that people were aware of. At 78th Street Studios they have the Third Friday event. Once you have an established monthly event that people are aware of and can structure their schedule around, then people will come and it picks up and more people come.

You’re producing this work, and you want people to come see it and to see what their response is. Same with theater and music. You play out, and you want to see what people think and you want to get that critical reception. That’s important.

In regard to more civic issues, if you’re doing something in the city you need to have the backing of them to some degree. With CAC and those opportunities, and LAND Studio facilitating other projects, it all works together.

It’s an exciting time. There’s a lot of great artwork in Cleveland.

What should people be checking out if they’re not already getting involved?

That’s a good question. The changing of SPACES to its new location is going to be extremely important. LAND is doing a plethora of different small projects. What’s going on at 78th Street Studios is very impressive. The transformation of Collinwood with these opportunities to give buildings to artists — a lot of different things are going on there.

The more venues, the better, because then you’re able to showcase as much as you can. I don’t think you can have enough galleries or pop-up places.

There’s been a trend in the landscape of these pop-up places, like the Cleveland Flea and other exhibitions — I think those are important too. To have these vacant places and transform them into something is important.

I’ve been seeing that a lot. And that brings all sorts of enthusiasm. Among artists, is there a sense that everyone in Cleveland is onboard and growing with the arts? Or is there something insular about the community?

Going and participating in these events and going to art exhibitions is extremely important. Getting the word out. It’s not an obligation, but people can really help advertise these events through patronizing these events and purchasing artwork. That just shows that — you know, with a lot of these places that are grant-based, attendance is very important. I would primarily say just go out and take advantage of and experience these events. Artists put a lot of work into these things.

In terms of local media, what’s good and what’s missing?

Critical analysis is a key component of art. When you’re applying for fellowships or a residency, they want to have reviews from somebody. The more outlets that are available that do some sort of critical analysis, the better. CAN is totally arts-based. With The Plain Dealer, Scene, some other publications, it’s a lot of online blogs. And that’s important, but I think every publication should have some section that’s dedicated solely to the arts. It shows the rich community that we have. It’s beneficial to everybody.

What goals do you have in mind for Cleveland?

They’re starting to accomplish it. You know, with the chandelier, there’s more public art. That’s important, because as an arts community you’re visible. More public art beautifies the landscape of the community.

We always need more venues and more galleries. We have quite a few and we’re going in the right direction, but you can never have too many places to showcase artwork.

Is the city open to that, as far as you can tell?

They’re going in the right direction with all the brands available. With LAND, their sole mission is to create public art for the landscape of Cleveland. We do have parameters in place. It’s definitely exciting, because we do have quite a few opportunities here.

What have you been up to lately?

I do a lot of neon signage for Melt Bar and Grilled — in Columbus and Cleveland Heights. I’ve been thinking a lot about reclaimed signage for various restaurants. I do a lot of smaller projects like that.

I’ve been hanging birdhouses throughout the urban landscape of Cleveland.

Someone was telling me about that birdhouse project recently. What’s the story there?

There was this guy who lived in North Olmsted. His name was John Baim. He was making these birdhouses. He passed away in 1990. His wife just recently passed away. The members of his family came in from out of town and they were going to sell the house. They found, like, 760 different birdhouses that he made and stockpiled. I was able to get quite a few of them. I’ve been hanging them around town in various locations.

As more of a conceptual work, I’ve been going in front of, like, Cleveland Browns Stadium and other locations in Cleveland, like more depressed neighborhoods. Just that concept of a birdhouse in an urban setting, you know? And if someone takes them, fine; if not it’s interesting to see how respectful people can be. It’s just an ongoing thing.

The family gave me a bunch of them. I’ve had a lot of fun doing it, learning a lot about the city and going into neighborhoods and places that I really didn’t know — just trying to find that right place to hang them up. I drive around a lot of the time with a bunch of birdhouses in the back of my van and a ladder. When I see a prime spot, I get out and hang one up.

Dana Depew shows his art throughout Northeast Ohio and at danadepew.com.


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