No one can tell the story of our local artist communities better than the creators themselves. Learn more about the artists who have made greater Cleveland their home, and take your own lessons from their experiences.
Visual artist, Darice Polo, is a calm force in the Cleveland arts and Puerto Rican communities. Quietly and diligently for the last several years, she has been building A Wise Latina Woman, her personal film essay. The piece focuses on her cultural history, as well as the story of the first Supreme Court Justice of Hispanic heritage, Sonia Sotomayor. “I’m using the film as an educational platform and as a learning tool. My primary goal is to educate and unite people.”
Imagine a bubbly girl on stage belting out shimmery, low-fi pop songs. Now imagine that same girl holding a doll, making explosive sounds in front of an audience at a dingy DIY venue. And again, this same girl wearing an ill-fitting blonde wig, portraying Deb, the divorced mom for a YouTube audience. This is Marcia Custer, performance and multi-media artist living and working in Cleveland, part of a growing collective of performance and body-based artists in the area.
If you’ve seen a show at Cleveland Public Theatre, embarked on a theatric journey with Theater Ninjas, or seen the band Forager lately, you’ve likely encountered the work of Eric M.C. Gonzalez. Classically trained composer and cellist, Gonzalez is capable of transporting his audience to strange realms through unusual sonic experience, explicit narrative and sound design. “I try to not to be overly literal; not too black and white with the mood I’m trying to create,” working to challenge and intrigue his listeners with oftentimes dark, unsettling soundscapes.
Bodies in a space--interacting and reacting to each other, moving, perceiving, welcoming vulnerability and shifting perspectives--some driven by technology, some by their own intrinsic energy; these are all things you’re likely to encounter in the experience of a piece by movement and media artist, Megan Young. Young’s foundation as a dancer, tech developer and activist provide her with a unique approach to her identity as a visual artist, “I still dance, but it feels very different from what I do as an individual artist.” The body (her own and others’) is largely the primary vehicle for Young’s work. But in the realm of the interdisciplinary artist, bodies, performance and movement don’t always equal dance.
Samuel McIntosh is a tall, quiet, studious young man, artist and educator, whom CPAC has been lucky enough to call colleague for the past year. But behind his soft-spoken demeanor and wire-rimmed glasses, Sam (or Sammy Mac) is a Popper, a Hip Hop dancer and choreographer, focusing on and mastering the art of Popping.
A layered and acute sense of history is evident in the work of local visual artist Louis Burroughs. His large-scale paintings are vibrant, bold and colorful, but upon further inspection the works often give way to darker themes of slavery and unrest throughout African American history. “My paintings reference a history that dates back 500-600 years. It’s energy-infused work. I put the energy in the slaves in order to show their humanity without limits.”
Poet, vocalist, journalist, educator, youth mentor, lecturer, youth activist… Daniel Gray-Kontar describes his music-making process as “free dirt,” an organic and free method of creation which seems to mirror his demeanor and general philosophy. “If a track tells me to sing, I’ll sing, if it tells me to rap, I’ll rap, if it tells me to poet, I’ll poet.”
An enormous industrial window pours light into Lauren Herzak-Bauman’s Screw Factory studio, casting shadows over quiet white forms, molds, bagged clay, dusty white tables and chairs. The same alabaster color and translucence found in her installation work, is noticeable in her space. Though it’s her buoyancy that’s striking; asymmetrical hair, infectious laugh; she continuously pops the power button on the teapot (the old building causes the pot to short out before the water will boil). Her lively presence a curious contrast to the labor-intensive, contemplative porcelain installations she creates.
“Being an outsider or a misfit has always been part of my creative psyche and feeling out of place in two places I come from has always given me a powerful inner world where I can work things out creatively.”
From a landscape of sawdust, table saws, and stacks of hard wood, spring pristine and meticulously crafted pieces of furniture: a chair with a satiny smooth seat; a clean-lined credenza. The studio and workshop of Cleveland artist, designer and Creative Workforce Fellow Freddy Hill, is clearly a space used for constructing things, the mark of a craftsmen’s hand here is obvious. Freddy Hill Designs is located in Lakewood’s Birdtown in the Screw Factory building, home to several dozen local artists.
Imposing and sumptuous clay figures of two nude women emerge from piles of nonchalantly tossed party clothes littered at their feet; as though they had removed the shoes and clothing themselves. Their poses and expressions render them calm, unruffled by the surrounding glossy and equally large photo prints of a lavish, brightly colored mansion interior. Kamins Island is the work of Leila Khoury, up and coming visual artist, sculptor and owner-curator of ZAINA Gallery housed in 78th Street Studios.
“What I want people to know out there is that every idea started somewhere. It’s really through trying and failing over and over again and then one day finally succeeding that you get there. There’s no one answer for everybody and there’s no one thing that people know that you don’t. I’d love people to think that they can make it and that their idea deserves to be seen and heard and that it will be such a great part of their own story.” – Stephanie Sheldon
1. Describe briefly the work that you do:
My name is Afi Scruggs and I play bass. That simple sentence describes the work I've been doing for the past six years. It's a complete reinvention for me. Professionally I've been known as a writer since I moved to Cleveland more than 20 years ago. I was a columnist and reporter at the Plain Dealer. I still write for several national and local news outlets including theGuardian.com, Cleveland Magazine and The Real Deal. Now however, I identify as a bass player first.
I'm a staff musician at Antioch Baptist Church, and at Progressive Evangelistic Missionary Baptist Church. Both are in the Fairfax neighborhood. I also play blues, RnB jazz and other secular genres. Just recently, my group "2 + 2" played at the Beachwood library.
I believe you’ve got to have goals. It doesn’t matter if they’re close or far-reaching. You’ve just got to have something to sustain yourself. Something to work towards.
Cornell Calhoun is a playwright and actor who was born and raised in Cleveland, and to this day still calls it his home. We sat down with him to talk about his artistic career and how he got to where he is now. Even as a seasoned playwright, having a career that spans five decades, Calhoun continues to grow as an artist. He strives to meet his goals, his three biggest being: 1) to have a play at the Cleveland Play House, 2) to have a play at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, and 3) to win a Tony so he can stand on TV and say “this Tony is for Cleveland.”
Excellence. That’s a perfect word to describe Virgie Ezelle Patton's vision for her artwork. Excellence.
Virgie Ezelle Patton was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, where she discovered a love of art at a young age. When she was only five years old, her school art teacher noticed that her art abilities were beyond those of other children her age, and her mother began encouraging her creative abilities. From that point on and through high school, Patton was in love with creating. She was always chosen to participate in school-wide art projects and contests. And she always won.
“It’s an experience you really can’t capture anywhere else, you know, being up on stage with people listening and talking about what you’re doing. You really don’t encounter that scenario in any other part of your life. Once you experience it, you want more of it.” - “The Sleeps.”
Ever heard of the glossy buckthorn also known as Rhamnus frangula? I hadn’t until researching some of Mimi Kato’s work.
As an artist-in-residence at SPACES Gallery, Mimi Kato spent the summer of 2013 preparing for her installation at the gallery focusing on the runaway growth of the glossy buckthorn. The glossy buckthorn, or Rhamnus frangula, has been identified by the Ohio Division of Natural Areas and Preserves as one of the 10 most invasive and difficult to control non-native plant species. Introduced from Eurasia as shrubbery for fences, the plant grows rapidly, reaching heights of 20 feet. According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) website, “Once established, these species aggressively invade natural areas and form dense thickets, displacing native species.”
“The whole goal is ‘what do you want to say?’ Ultimately what you’re doing is about you, whether you are aware of it or not.” One of the most well-known local artist activists, Donald Black Jr. discusses his public work as a reflection of himself and his story in the community.
“Music is always all around us. Even our organs are making a sound. Your heart is beating. Sometimes your stomach is growling. Even if it’s irregular, the client is already bringing their own instrument to the session just by being there.”
“These artists are so adept at creating and working together and I think that’s what keeps them alive as performers. The company has been successful in performances because there is that energy. The artists are not just repeating and trying to live inside my idea of perfection.”