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.
Since 1984, traveling theatre troupe, Improbable Players, has been igniting conversations around addiction and alcoholism through performance and student workshops by actors in recovery. We were excited to learn that this Boston-based theater company will be starting a new Cleveland chapter in 2019. Shortly after moving back to Ohio from Boston, theater artist, Karen Snyder, knew Cleveland was a prime candidate for this work.
A Lakewood-based freelance writer who began her career primarily doing music journalism, Zaleski’s been published by the A.V. Club, NPR Music, Rolling Stone, Spin, Thrillist and Vulture. Locally, she’s written for Cleveland Magazine and other Great Lakes Publishing publications and for Crain’s Cleveland Business. She’s gradually expanded her repertoire to include business, culture, food and personality profiles.
Two enterprising young writers helped co-found what has grown into one of the most popular reading series in the region: Brews + Prose at Market Garden Brewery. Dave Lucas, PhD, a poet and SAGES Fellow in the English Department at Case Western Reserve University, and Mike Croley, MFA, a fiction and nonfiction author and visiting assistant professor of English at Denison University, had a plan to launch something new and different in the literary scene, built on the fundamental assumption that “literature is better with beer.”
In June of 2013, RA Washington opened Guide to Kulchur. To call his bookstore anything less than a community arts center would be an understatement. Yes, it features an exceptional and ever-expanding selection of small-press books, many by local authors, but it’s also the scene of community meetings, author readings, live music and performance events.
Kisha Nicole Foster, considered one of Cleveland’s pioneers of performance poetry, started when she was 19 and has been writing and reading her poetry for almost as many years. She began attending open-mic nights in 1999 at clubs such as the now-closed Humidor, Spy Bar and Kamikaze. “Open-mic poetry performance had a time in 2004, 2005 when it was still popping,” says Foster
Eugene Sopher’s jovial, lighthearted manner is directly reflected in his medium of choice – cartoons. At first pass, his work elicits smiles and snickers from the viewer. But, looking deeper, his cartoons seem to represent a darker reality of living in Cleveland. “All my artwork represents what I see. Literally, when I’m walking outside, I’m living in the news.” Eugene says, “I’m a realist. I don’t sugarcoat.” There are so many preconceived ideas of who black people are and black culture, and Eugene plays with this theme in his work, bringing these preconceptions directly to the forefront. Though, he does this in a way that disarms the viewer with humor.
If you’ve spent any time wandering around Cleveland, it’s likely you’ve gazed at (maybe unknowingly) graffiti or murals by prolific street artist, Bob Peck. Bob has been marking up public spaces in Cleveland for decades, but also takes his colorful and rhythmic line work to the canvas. Find out more about him on the Cleveland Artist Registry.
Most recently the film work I’ve created traverses the space between experimental film and documentary film. Much the way dreams pull the non-fiction of our day, (the things we did, the people we dealt with, the problems we faced) of our waking life down into the unconscious whirlpool twisting and turning over these aspects that stress and frighten us, perplex and delight us, my films convey non-fiction events and people in swirling, dreamlike films seeking the epiphanies and understanding that the unconscious, sleeping mind gives to the conscious, waking mind.
Visual artist, storyteller and filmmaker, Shaun Doyle, has piqued the interest of Instagram followers with his quirky and curious shadow box assemblages. These self-contained worlds, composed primarily of modern-day refuse and pop culture ephemera, don’t appear overtly nostalgic. But upon closer inspection, one finds themselves trying to decode vaguely familiar objects and icons in an unfamiliar environment; like trying to bring into focus a fuzzy childhood memory, when prompted by a toy or place or smell.
Dave Lucas is a gracious ray of sunshine in Cleveland’s literary scene (and just generally as a human being). Poet and author of Weather (Georgia, 2011), Lucas is an active force in the community both creatively and socially and was just named Ohio's Poet Laureate for 2018.
CPAC: How would you describe your work briefly?DAVE LUCAS: I write poems and essays, I teach at Case Western Reserve University and for other conferences and programs, and I am a co-founder of the Brews + Prose reading series at Market Garden Brewery and of Cleveland Book Week.
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.”