They’re Here!

This article originally appeared on the Cleveland Foundation website April 9, 2013

Our next group of international artists arrived last weekend and are here for a three-month stay. Creative Fusion, the Cleveland Foundation’s global artist-residency program, has welcomed seven artists who will be hosted by six local arts organizations. They will learn about our city, work with their host to share their culture through outreach programs, to meet and possibly work with local artists, and, of course, to create work of their own.

For a short video on the Creative Fusion program, click here.

The artists come from: South Korea, Brazil, Vietnam, Chile, India, and a husband and wife team from Mexico who maintain studios in Tijuana and Beijing, China.  Their host organizations (in the same order) are the Ingenuity Festival, Cleveland Public Theatre, Young Audiences, the Rainey Institute, Art House, and Zygote Press.

The foundation has arranged a very busy orientation for the artists over their first two weeks here: a Lolly the Trolley tour of Greater Cleveland’s cultural districts both east and west, a docent tour of the Art Museum, an artist mixer at Negative Space in Asia Town, and performances at Playhouse Square, Great Lakes Theater, and the Cleveland Orchestra.

Each artist’s host organization will get them integrated into the community, and provide many other opportunities for them to learn the depth and breadth of the arts in Cleveland.

This will be a short post, just to introduce you to the artists. Look for more in future posts, on their activities and the public events associated with their outreach and creative activities.  I met all the artists last week and each brings enthusiasm and great talent and a desire to get going.  I am so excited about what they will accomplish while here – for themselves and for our community. For now, join the foundation in welcoming:

  • Sabi Yun, multimedia, installation, and performance artist from South Korea
  • Ana Paula Jones, actress, art historian, and performance artist from Brazil
  • Hue Pham Thi, musician and composer from Vietnam
  • Daniela Pizarro, visual, performance, and community artist from Chile
  • Alka Mathur, visual and community artist from India
  • Mely Barragan and Daniel Ruanova, public art artists from Mexico and China


This article originally appeared on the Cleveland Foundation website April 26,2013

A very important report just came across my desk:  Underdeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising  A joint project of CompassPoint and the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, it documents what grantmakers and, I suspect, most nonprofit leaders    have known for decades: that the development (fundraising) staff position in nonprofit organizations is a continually revolving door that makes it nearly impossible for all but the largest nonprofits to attract and retain qualified and skilled fundraising staff.

The report is peppered with quotes from executive directors and development staff alike, and any nonprofit leader will recognize themselves and the challenges they face.  The report clearly documents the vicious cycle that perpetuates the sector’s lack of capacity and success.

The report chronicles the many reasons why this is the case, and it also recommends 10 action steps to address the challenges.  Each of these steps is vitally important and there are some for funders as well as for the nonprofit sector itself, but two struck me as particularly essential to get right even without addressing the others.

“Share Accountability for Fundraising Results.”  The task of fundraising cannot rest solely on the shoulders of the development officer.  There must be a strong partnership with the executive director, with the board, and, yes, even with the rest of the staff.  There needs to be developed a “culture of philanthropy” within the organization and everyone must see themselves as part of the development team.

“Apply Transition Management to the Development Director Position.”  Most organizations have transition plans for the executive and the board chair.  With development being the most frequently vacated position in most nonprofits, it is critical that the relationships, strategies, processes, and internal supports not be lost in these transitions and that there be a plan to carry on when these transitions take place.

This is a report worth reading by all nonprofit executive directors, development officers, and board chairs.  Hopefully, it can begin a fruitful conversation that can at least slow the revolving door and begin to make fundraising a goal and responsibility of the whole organization – not just the person honored (or burdened) with the title.

Three Clouds Coming Together

This article originally appeared on the Cleveland Foundation website May 16, 2013

Last week, a privileged number of us were given the gift of a private concert by Pham Thi Hue, a (perhaps the) world master of ancient ca tru music of Vietnam. Hue is here as one of the Cleveland Foundation’s Spring 2013 group of Creative Fusion artists. She is hosted by Young Audiences. The concert was in a private home with about 25 people in attendance – board members and friends of Young Audiences, a few Cleveland Foundation staff, and local artists Hue has met during her time here.
Hue is a small, delightful woman, much younger looking than her impressive list of degrees and international awards would suggest. Her instrument, the long-necked, stringed Dan Day, is almost twice her height. She asked David Badagnani, an Ethno-musicologist from Kent, whom she met recently, to introduce the piece she would play. David, who leads the Cleveland Chinese Music Ensemble, helped us understand how rare this music is – and in fact suggested that the concert might be the North American premiere of ca tru music and certainly of this particular ancient song. The song was a noted translation of the 9th century Tang Dynasty poem “Pipa Xing” (“The Song of the Pipa Player”) by Chinese poet Bai Juyi, into Vietnamese. The song was a noted translation of the 9th century Tang Dynasty poem Pipa Xing (The Song of the Pipa Player) by Chinese poet Bai Juyi, into Vietnamese. The song/poem tells of a Chinese official moved to tears by the chance hearing of a young woman playing the pipa – a stringed instrument not unlike another of Hue’s instruments, the Ty Ba – a pear-shaped string instrument that reminds me of the lute.

Beautiful and serene, dressed in deep blue velvet, Hue sat on a piano bench at one end of the large, Cleveland Heights living room, closed her eyes and began to play and sing. As one who has heard much and many types of music in my day, I must say I had never heard anything like this. The words seemed to come less from lungs and mouth and more from deep in the throat and heart. The stringed instrument was plucked and strummed delicately and very melodically, but with some unusual harmonies. We all sat listening, in part not knowing how to understand what we were hearing and in part transfixed by what was clearly deep mastery of the instrument and Hue’s total immersion in the moment.

Next, Hue invited David Badagnani, himself a master of Chinese wind instruments, to play with her – a beautiful and otherworldly duet. David’s instrument, the sheng, goes back 3,000 years (although probably not that particular instrument!). It was also completely foreign to me. About the size of a small watermelon, it looked like miniature calliope or a tiny pipe organ – a dozen or more ebony pipes of different lengths clustered vertically together around a central drum and with a mouthpiece attached. But such beautiful sound!

Then came the final treat of the evening. Hue had invited two other local musicians, Ismael Douglas and Josh Sherman, to ‘jam’ with her. They had met just a few days earlier to see what they could do together. Hue had never heard a steel acoustic guitar before – Ismael’s instrument, and Josh was a master on the Indian tabla (small drum). So, Vietnamese and American musicians improvised on instruments native to three countries for the first time. Hue asked us to envision three clouds in the sky coming together as one.

This was a classical jazz performance of the highest order. Each musician was supported and showcased by the others as they took turns as soloist and came together in a rollicking ensemble. They delighted us – but I think they delighted each other more. A true cross-cultural fusion through music. One cloud indeed.

Of Superheroes and Venerated Trees

This article originally posted on the Cleveland Foundation website June 5, 2013

Chilean Artist-in-Residence Daniella Pizarro Works with Youth and Age
It has been a busy week for Chilean artist Daniella (Dani) Pizarro: costuming superheroes and dressing trees.  Dani is one of the foundation’s Creative Fusion artists, here in residence with the Rainey Institute.

For the past weeks, Dani has been working with the very young children in Rainey’s afterschool program, empowering them to believe in themselves as the superheroes of their own lives, and creating masks that embody their superhero character. The joyous, paint-splattered workroom at Rainey and the smocked and equally paint-splattered children were featured in a short story broadcast last week on Fox 8 Cleveland. The smiles on the faces in the photos below show how much fun these children were having at the same time they were thinking about and learning to take pride in who they are and who they can become.

“We all need superheroes,” said Dani, who works with impoverished street children back in Santiago, helping them to find strength and purpose in lives often lived without much hope of either.

During her three-month stay in Cleveland, Dani is living at Judson Manor.  There she also interacts with the residents of this retirement home and has spent time developing a project to “dress” the trees that stand outside Judson’s beautiful building on the edge of University Circle. Dressing the Trees is a tradition in many countries from India to England to Mexico and by Native Americans. In South America, it is a tradition that is usually practiced as part of a young woman’s coming-of-age ceremonies. Dani learned that the trees across from Judson were about the same age as the residents of the Manor and thought this would be a lovely way to both honor the trees and the residents, and bring a bit of her cultural experience to Cleveland.

She collected fabric donated by the Judson residents and cut and sewed it into large quilts that turned into colorful swaddling for three of the trees. Several residents worked with Dani on the project to help fashion the tree dresses. They now stand in a small area where she hopes people would come and sit and reflect on life and nature and time.

Year of the Cleveland Snake

This article originally appeared on the Cleveland Foundation website June14,2013

Artists’ creativity has children dancing through the streets with the “Lake Erie Monster”
Creative Fusion artists Mely Barragan and Daniel Ruanova live in Tijuana, Mexico, but spend a lot of time in Beijing, China, where they maintain a studio for Chinese artists to create temporary exhibits. So it was a natural placement for them, as Creative Fusion artists, to be hosted by Zygote Press, whose studio is in the Asia town section of Cleveland’s Midtown Corridor – a mix of light industry, Asian businesses, and residences.

As part of the outreach activities of their Creative Fusion residencies, Mely and Daniel have been working with the students at the Campus International School.  Recognizing this was the Year of the Snake in Chinese mythological cosmology, they began looking for parallels in American mythology. They were delighted to learn of the legend of the Lake Erie Monster. Using that as the basis for study and art-making, Mely and Daniel developed a project with the students to create a giant snake – reminiscent of the colorful dragons that are always part of Chinese New Year celebrations – and construct it for entry into the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Parade the Circle celebration held a week ago.

Over the past six weeks, Mely and Daniel designed the amazing creature that snaked and danced its way through the capacity Parade crowd.  It was a wonder of engineering.  Light – so the children could carry it; flexible – so they could move and the snake could slither; and portable.  The whole 40 foot snake collapsed into the size of a suitcase so it could be easily transported.

Many rehearsals in the school’s auditorium helped the children learn a simple choreography they performed at the parade. With colorfully painted “scales” on their cheeks, the smiling children were a vision of herpetological delight as they slithered and flicked their long red tongue through the cheering crowd.

This wonderful community project aside, Mely and Daniel have been doing their own artistic work here during their three-month residency. They will have an exhibition and lecture at Zygote Press on June 26. at 6:30 p.m.  Titled “Bipolar Order: a Thought Process from Tijuana to Beijing to Cleveland and Backagain,” the installation and discussion will offer insight into how artists with a high level of comfort moving across cultures have found meaning in their residencies here in Cleveland.

In fact, the final week of the spring Creative Fusion residency will see activities by many of the artists. Here is the schedule:

JUNE 19, 7 p.m. Vietnamese musician Hue Pham Thi, hosted by Young Audiences, will perform ancient Vietnamese catru music and jam with local musicians at the First Unitarian Church in Shaker Heights.

JUNE 25, 6 p.m. South Korean artist Yun Sabi, hosted by the Ingenuity Festival, will present an installation and discussion on the 4th floor of the Stokes Wing of the Cleveland Public Library.

JUNE 26, 6:30 p.m. Mely and Daniel’s exhibit at Zygote Press.

JUNE 27, 6 p.m. Indian artist Alka Mathur, hosted by Art House, will present “New Delhi to Cleveland: Tea Bags Measure Time” at 6604 Detroit Avenue.

JUNE 28 and 29, 7:30 p.m. Ana Paula Jones, from Brazil, offers a one-woman show at Cleveland Public Theatre.

What the World is Learning from Cleveland

This article first appeared on the Cleveland Foundation website August 21, 2013

More than 2500 Clevelanders – artists, students, and the public, had direct and meaningful contact with six international artists, in residence here through Creative Fusion – the Cleveland Foundation’s Global Arts Initiative. Many of these Clevelanders developed deep and extended relationships with these artists, working hands-on to co-create work and to share cultural ideas and perspectives. Many thousands more had the chance to know these artists and their work through lectures, exhibitions, informal gatherings and their contributions to Parade the Circle and other events.

In a week or so we will welcome the third group of foreign artists for a three-month residency. They will come from Senegal, Vietnam, Poland, Chile and Taiwan. We can’t wait.

Our experiences of the artists who have already been part of this program have been rich beyond our expectations. We are learning that our visitors feel the same way. I’d like to share a few of the comments that our artists from the just finished Spring residency shared about their time in Cleveland and what it meant to them and their work.

Alka Mathur, from India, was hosted by Art House, a community arts organization on Cleveland’s near west side. Alka uses conversation, teabags and quilting and collage techniques to document her daily life experiences. Until her residency here, this was a relatively private exercise – sort of her personal diary. But here, she worked with other artists, neighborhood residents and with children, employing her creative approach.  Here’s what she had to say:

“This is the first time doing something like this – reach(ing) out to the community. … There were so many people who joined into my work. …When I said I worked with teabags, nobody laughs about it here. … I said I want your teabags and your stories and so many people were sending me – and still are asking me – do you still want teabags and stories? … I said, of course. …The dialogue continues.”

Yun Sabi, from South Korea, wanted to experience an atmosphere of freedom for his work which uses multi-media to comment on the human condition. He was hosted by the Ingenuity festival and created a fascinating installation at the Cleveland Public Library. A quiet and very thoughtful artist, Sabi reflected on his experiences here, especially the openness and support of the people he met and worked with in Cleveland:

“In Korea, it is not so used to meet someone so very open and kind. … In our culture to be like that we need a lot of time. … But here, people are very open. … I could learn a lot from this kind of attitude.”

Mely Barragan and Daniel Ruanova, a husband and wife team from Tijuana, Mexico, who also maintain a studio in Bejing, China, were hosted by Zygote Press. These artists were very comfortable working in community and had a wonderful experience with young children from the downtown International Baccalaureate School, creating an amazing 60 foot long Lake Erie Monster for Parade the Circle. But they had their own exhibition of work at Zygote as well and were very clear about what they saw as Cleveland’s assets and attributes:

“..things we like about Cleveland – it has work ethic. … It is not like capital cities where the work ethic is conceptual. … Here, work ethic is – how we say in Spanish – get your hands (in it) and work. But I think that is the history of the city. Here there is common cause. Maybe you guys don’t see it, but we see it. I think (this is) something we can learn a lot from.”

All the artists we have hosted have expressed their gratitude about what they learned about “the real America” from their time here. Mely and Daniel said it this way:

“The history and presence of Cleveland opened our minds about life here in the States. That is important. …The people are the ones who make Cleveland. Working for community, working together. …Tijuana, where I’m from, has to learn about this.”

Calling All Playwrights!

This article originally appeared on the Cleveland Foundation website December 19, 2012

More than a year ago, the Cleveland Foundation sponsored the residency of George Seremba, Ugandan actor, playwright, and scholar, as part of our Creative Fusion program. George was co-sponsored by the Cuyahoga County Public Library and the Baker Nord Humanities Center at Case Western Reserve University. George came from Uganda to Cleveland by way of Ireland, as an exile from the repressive regime in his home country. You can read more about George’s background in several of my past blogs and hear him reading from “Come Good Rain,” his play about his narrow escape from death in Uganda.

But now I want to talk about what George has been doing here during an extension of his residency and a terrific event I attended this weekend.

Last summer, the county library sponsored a free playwriting workshop with George. Due to the enthusiastic response, the library and CWRU teamed to kick the effort up a notch, sponsoring a free master class workshop for emerging playwrights on the CWRU campus. A flier was circulatedthrough the university and the county  library, and 15 writers were selected to participate based on the evaluation of a writing sample. The playwrights worked with George for six weeks over the course of this past fall, developing and honing their scripts.

The culminating event was held Sunday, Dec. 9 in Clark Hall on the CWRU campus. Seven playwrights developed a short section of their work to be read in a public event. They recruited and auditioned local actors and/or other students, and rehearsed them for the reading. At the appointed time, an audience of students and fellow workshop participants assembled in Clark Hall and, for 2½ hours, we were treated to scenes from seven very different plays by seven distinct and colorful dramatic voices. Some scenes had two characters, others as many as eight actors speaking parts. And the topics ranged from life in an inner-city apartment building, to the death of a patriarch whose children all had very different experiences of his parenting, to twin musicians, both involved in a complex relationship with the same man. Oh, yes – and not one, not two, but three serial killers – all in the same play.

The playwrights came from the county’s summer workshop, from the humanities department of the university, and from the general public. They were:

  • Cornell Calhoun
  • Elise Geither
  • Mike Hammer
  • Deborah Magid
  • Sheila Sullivan
  • Craig Webb
  • Vickie Williams

I was positioned in the audience to watch George as he listened to his students’ plays being read. He was totally rapt – leaning forward as if to support the work itself with his body, smiling at well-delivered lines, laughing at all the funny parts, and intently focused on every word. It was clear that this reading was as important to him as it was to his students.

I spoke with several of the playwrights after the reading and was struck by how each of them independently wanted to tell me how generous a teacher and mentor George Seremba had been and how much they valued the experience. I even learned that one writer who was not chosen for the master class wrote an effusive and laudatory letter thanking George for his warmth and encouragement. Pretty unusual for a response to rejection.

But then I have to say how consistently this tracks with so much of what I have heard about George Seremba. His enthusiasm for his work with students, his engagement with the local theater community, and his unflagging kindness and humility of spirit has been an inspiration and an education for so many of the lives he has touched while here. George has left his mark on Cleveland – one which will not soon disappear.

Through a continuing commitment by the university, George will be able to stay on for another semester as an assistant visiting professor in the department of English. The university is considering offering another master class workshop in the spring semester 2013. So if there are budding playwrights out there, stay tuned, and check Case’s Baker Nord Center websitefor details.

Cultural Whirlwind Spins Global Artists Into the Cleveland Scene

It is just a week since our Creative Fusion artists arrived, and they’ve already begun to connect, frenetically, with the community.  After orientation at the Cleveland Foundation, a Lolly the Trolley tour of Greater Cleveland, a docent tour of the Art Museum, and an informal dinner at the Rainey Institute (all this between Tuesday morning and Thursday evening), the artists had part of a day off.

We all met again Friday evening at Negative Space at the Asia Town Plaza for a meet-and-greet with local artists.  Organized collaboratively with the Community Partnership for Arts and Culture, about 50 local artists showed up to meet their seven international colleagues and hopefully begin some new relationships.

Drinks; a very eclectic, delicious, and global cuisine; and lots of good music and conversation ensued.  Negative Space was the perfect venue for this event and we thank the owners/partners for their wonderful support and hospitality.

Tom Schorgl of CPAC talked about the truly remarkable variety of supports for individual artists here in Cleveland. We showed the Creative Fusion video to explain the program to those unfamiliar with it. Each Creative Fusion host presented their artist to the group and each artist spoke briefly and passed out their business cards (created for them by Michael Gill of Zygote Press – thank you, Michael). The meeting went past the scheduled time, but no one seemed to mind – even though the food was totally consumed.

Then almost everyone trooped from Negative Space’s fabulous facility the few blocks to Zygote Press’s equally fabulous artist space for Zygote’s annual 100 x 100 benefit event.  A totally rockin’ evening with one of Cleveland’s countless and always exceptional bands (Pompous Ass).

There were many hundreds of people vying to plop down $100 to get an original print by one of the 100 artists exhibited, and hoping to have their name picked early to get their first choice.  It was like hens clucking around the farmer’s wife at feeding time. (I clucked early and got a fabulous piece by Deborah Pinter).  I left around 11 p.m. and the place was still jumpin’.

Spoiler Alert: Opinion Forthcoming!

I love this benefit because people get to buy real art at a reasonable price and the artist can offer just one in a series of prints without having to donate a one-of-a-kind or go to the expense of framing it.  Much better than the ‘auctions’ where artists spend a small fortune presenting and  donating an original work and it gets ‘auctioned’ for a pittance.  The nonprofit and the artist both get cheated in that scenario – the non-profit never gets the full benefit of what the work is worth and the artist’s work is devalued in public opinion and the market by being sold cheap.

Off my soap-box now.

Look for more about Creative Fusion in upcoming posts.  This week, we are all off to see “War Horse,” then “Carmina Burana” and finally Shakespeare – “Much Ado About Nothing.”

Many, many thanks to PlayhouseSquare, the Cleveland Orchestra, and Great Lakes Theater for making this exceptional taste of Cleveland culture available to our global artists.

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