Cleveland Arts Prize

On June 26, 2014 I was honored with the Robert P. Bergman Award from the Cleveland Arts Prize. I am very excited and deeply grateful to have been chosen, along with my stalwart colleague, from the George Gund Foundation, Deena Epstein, for this very prestigious award. Deena and I have worked – separately and together through our respective foundations – for more than two decades to strengthen Cleveland’s remarkable arts community and open the doors of the arts to everyone in our community. I was proud to share the stage with her that wonderful evening. Here is a link to a 12 minute interview of Deena and me on WCPN, ideastream Public Radio.

And some photos from the wonderful awards ceremony at the Cleveland Museum of Art.  Me with venerable arts patron, advocate and leader, Barbara Robinson and Wayne Lawson, former renowned Director of the Ohio Arts Council.  (Other gentleman unidentified.)  Jill Snyder, Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art introducing me and Deena Epstein with whom I shared the award.  Getting the medal from Jill, and all the 2014 Awardees.

For those who care about such things, the  dress is from Paris via a wonderful small boutique, You Two  a block from my house.  The shoes are Ivanka Trump – two words I never expected to be associated with my personal wardrobe.

Me with fellow honoree Barbara Robinson and Wayne Lawson, Former head of the Ohio Arts Council.  Don't know the gentleman on the left.Deena Epstein and me being introduced by Jill Snyder, Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, ClevelandReceiving the Robert P. Bergman Award of the Cleveland Arts Prize2014 Cleveland Arts Prize winners

Kathleen Cerveny has made access to the arts a personal and professional challenge: Cleveland Arts Prize 2014

This article originally appeared on the Cleveland.com website June 20, 2014. The audio interview is also available here: http://www.ideastream.org/applause/entry/62650

CLEVELAND, Ohio — There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about making the arts more accessible, but Kathleen Cerveny knows, in her bones, just where such access can lead.

As an eighth-grader with working-class parents in Middleburg Heights, her experience of art was literal – she drew landscapes with her father, a former star athlete and craftsman whose spirit was unquenched by the loss of his legs at the Battle of the Bulge.

Undoubtedly, some of that spirit rubbed off on his daughter, who forged her own version of access to the arts. This meant taking the No. 51 bus by herself downtown, where she’d settle in on a Saturday afternoon on the third floor of the Cleveland Public Library.

There, she’d read Dance magazine, as one might expect of a teenager, and listen to recordings of Shakespeare plays as performed by the Old Vic players, including Laurence Olivier and John Gielgud – as one would not expect.

Cerveny loved all the arts she encountered, and it was hard to choose which she loved more: Ballet? Singing? Acting?

But her parents didn’t have the money to pay for private lessons for any of those, and it wouldn’t have been easy to find teachers in or near the then-rural Middleburg Heights.

So Cerveny focused on her library afternoons, on reading and on painting – and she was good enough at the latter that one of her teachers, a nun at Nazareth Academy, took her parents aside to tell them she had the talent to pursue it at the Cleveland Institute of Art.

As the first person in her family to go to college, it says a lot about her parents – her father, Robert, was Bohemian and worked at the immigration office in Cleveland; her mother, Virginia, was Irish, and worked, among other jobs, as a short-order cook at a bowling alley – that they would allow her to choose an art school.

Yet they did.

Cerveny graduated with a bachelor of fine arts degree in ceramic art in 1969 and set off on a career that veered to many different kinds of jobs – as a fundraiser for a visual-arts nonprofit; as the first producer of arts programming (and programs) for WCPN FM/90.3; as a board president of a consortium for Ohio’s professional craftspeople – but always with what she calls an arts-related “through line.”

Everything, she sees in retrospect, “led me to do what I do at the Cleveland Foundation.” She started as the person who oversaw all arts grantmaking; today, she also helps design programs and offers technical assistance to professionalize the management of arts and culture organizations.

That sounds staid – but for Cerveny, 67, her job at the Cleveland Foundation also encompasses joy. She recalls when Jeannette Sorrell first approached her about funding for a Baroque orchestra in Cleveland – a startling idea. When Cerveny told her what she needed to do to prove this was a viable venture, Sorrell did it. That, and Cerveny’s intuition, got her the nod. Apollo’s Fire was born, and has thrived.

In recent years, Cerveny is especially proud of the work the Cleveland Foundation has done with the Gund Foundation through the Community Partnership for Arts and Culture.

She says she is especially honored to receive from the Cleveland Arts Prize the award (along with Deena Epstein of the Gund Foundation) named for Robert P. Bergman, the former director of the Cleveland Museum of Art, who was a friend of hers.

Cerveny well remembers how Bergman put accessibility into action – “He’d speak to the Kiwanis in Parma and invite the members to come to the museum together, and he’d be there to show them around.” Not something many, or any, other CMA directors have been known for.

But in the midst of her professionally demanding job, Cerveny has also been serving as the poet laureate of Cleveland Heights – and this summer, she is receiving her MFA in creative writing, specializing in poetry, from the University of Southern Maine. She finished a two-year low-residency program, which included a thesis.

She still paints, and when she writes poetry, she confesses, it’s easy for her to lapse into iambic pentameter, even when that’s not her initial intention.

It’s a habit she’s quite sure goes back to the Shakespeare plays she’d listened to so raptly in her youth.

As she tells young people, “You have to learn life skills – but you also want to follow your heart.”

Happy Skin

This article was originally posted on the Cleveland Foundation Website on 01/07/2014

Meng-Hsuan Wu (Meng – pronounced Mong), is a Taiwanese artist whose work employs whatever means necessary for her creative expression – paper, painting, sculpture, performance, video.  When Rainey Institute Director, Lee Lazar chose her as Rainey’s Fall 2013 artist in residence, he was totally charmed by her video documentation of a project, On the Move, in which she carried a small house on her back, equipped with a spy camera, and walked, in shoes with toes pointing both forward and backward, interviewing ordinary people about their sense of home.

Playing with the fishes

Meng is deeply interested in how people experience their lives through all of their senses and she explored this in a remarkable project she created while here that included video, a pool of water and goldfish. Working with sight-impaired people through Rainey’s partnership with the Cleveland Sight Center, Meng created a small indoor pond, filled it with small goldfish and invited people to take off their shoes and allow the fish to nibble at their bare feet, recording their comments in the process.

Although the fish, the water and the pond were the mediums, what the work really became was an incredible series of memoirs. People sat quietly so as to not frighten the fish, and allowed themselves to be open to the gentle and strange touch of these creatures which we know, but rarely if ever encounter directly as living beings.  In the process, which required trust, particularly among those who were without sight, the experience allowed memories, often of childhood, to rise up from the deep well of the past.  It was a kind of meditation and therapy session. I finally understood why Meng chose the word(s) happyskin as part of her email address.

Meng is a natural teacher and collaborator. As the resident artist at Rainey, she worked every day with the children there.  Interestingly, more and more of Rainey’s clients are Asian, and so Meng was able to make a strong cultural bridge between the increasingly diverse population of youth served by the Rainey Institute.

A geography lesson - Taiwan

Before she left Cleveland, Meng’s parents came to visit her as did her sister and brother-in-law who live in Boston. Director Lazar invited them all to his home for Thanksgiving – and Hannukah.  Meng’s father, who coordinates services for underserved youth in Taiwan, was interested in how Rainey serves this population, and so there was another, unplanned opportunity for cross-cultural sharing through Creative Fusion.

 

Meng, we miss you.  Our skin is happy just thinking of you and remembering your joyous sense of wonder and delight.

Happy Skin

This article originally appeared on the Cleveland Foundation website Januray 7, 2014
Meng-Hsuan Wu (Meng – pronounced Mong), is a Taiwanese artist whose work employs whatever means necessary for her creative expression – paper, painting, sculpture, performance, video. When Rainey Institute Director, Lee Lazar chose her as Rainey’s Fall 2013 artist in residence, he was totally charmed by her video documentation of a project, On the Move, in which she carried a small house on her back, equipped with a spy camera, and walked, in shoes with toes pointing both forward and backward, interviewing ordinary people about their sense of home.

Meng is deeply interested in how people experience their lives through all of their senses and she explored this in a remarkable project she created while here that included video, a pool of water and goldfish. Working with sight-impaired people through Rainey’s partnership with the Cleveland Sight Center, Meng created a small indoor pond, filled it with small goldfish and invited people to take off their shoes and allow the fish to nibble at their bare feet, recording their comments in the process.

Although the fish, the water and the pond were the mediums, what the work really became was an incredible series of memoirs. People sat quietly so as to not frighten the fish, and allowed themselves to be open to the gentle and strange touch of these creatures which we know, but rarely if ever encounter directly as living beings. In the process, which required trust, particularly among those who were without sight, the experience allowed memories, often of childhood, to rise up from the deep well of the past. It was a kind of meditation and therapy session. I finally understood why Meng chose the word(s) happyskin as part of her email address.
Meng is a natural teacher and collaborator. As the resident artist at Rainey, she worked every day with the children there. Interestingly, more and more of Rainey’s clients are Asian, and so Meng was able to make a strong cultural bridge between the increasingly diverse population of youth served by the Rainey Institute.
Before she left Cleveland, Meng’s parents came to visit her as did her sister and brother-in-law who live in Boston. Director Lazar invited them all to his home for Thanksgiving – and Hannukah. Meng’s father, who coordinates services for underserved youth in Taiwan, was interested in how Rainey serves this population, and so there was another, unplanned opportunity for cross-cultural sharing through Creative Fusion.
Meng, we miss you. Our skin is happy just thinking of you and remembering your joyous sense of wonder and delight.

Dear Mayor Jackson…

Cheikhou Ba, from Senegal, was the quietest of our Fall 2013 Creative Fusion artists – but only in his speech. His work spoke very loudly indeed, and his presence made a profound impression on all those he touched – especially the young people with whom he worked during his residency here. Even Cheikhou’s name – which we all struggled to pronounce properly out of respect for him (Shaykhoo is as close as I can come in American English and that’s not quite right) – bespoke the gentle, thoughtful and sweetly generous spirit he brought to all his encounters.

I remember at the closing dinner we host for our artists, Cheikhou stood with the beautiful, handmade cast-glass award we present to each artist that represents the continents of the world crossed by the trade routes and flight paths artists travel to share their cultures, and said he wished he could break it in pieces to share with everyone he worked with while here. It was a very moving and heartfelt moment.

But his paintings – amazing work: large, incredibly colorful canvases, linked to a body of work he calls the Mouth of Freedom and which he has been pursuing for some time, now, based on the writings of Martinique poet Aimé Césaire’s in his “Notebook of a Return to the Native Land” (Cahiers d’un Retour au Pays Natal); “My mouth shall be the mouth of those calamities that have no mouth, my voice the freedom of those who break down in the prison holes of despair.”

Identity is a central concern for Cheikhou, who spends half his time in Dakar, Senegal and half in Geneva, Switzerland, with studios in both countries. He is an international artist and citizen with deep concern for the planet and its diverse people and cultures. His resume is incredibly impressive, with solo and group exhibitions around the world.

With the young women of the Cleveland’s Sisterhood program, he explored the issue of identity – so important for young people, and in particular young people who must find themselves in a world sometimes absent the guidance of a caring family. With these young women he encouraged them to express the often dual nature of their personalities, the face we show others and the face we keep hidden.

Cheikhou’s artist statement from his exhibition at Waterloo Arts for the close of his residency says much about an outsider’s experience of our city and carries a gentle but pointed message to not only the people here, but for our Mayor as well.

I have come to love this beautiful city of Cleveland and dream of seeing more underrepresented people reaching galleries, museums and theaters. I would like to go to the football game and not see the people reduced to the demeaning task of serving others, as the vendors of beer and sandwiches. I dream of a united and solid city.

My dream for Cleveland is to see this great city have a brilliant future by bringing in more color to this country. I would like to slightly alter the Honorable Mayor Frank Jackson’s words when he says: “Cleveland needs to be where the world is going, not where the world is”. With respect to the mayor, I would add, “Cleveland needs to be where the world should be, not where the world is going”.

We will miss Cheikhou’s quiet dignity, his deep caring, and his brilliant smile, and what he taught us about people being greater than the sum of their parts.

Paper Magic

This post was originally featured on the Cleveland Foundation website January 24, 2014

Carolina Illanes uses the most ephemeral medium of paper to capture the stone and steel of a city’s infrastructure. You may be thinking that she is a draughtsman or watercolorist. But no. She doesn’t draw or paint. Her work investigates cities, capturing iconic architectural features in delicate, even lace-like patterns cut with a razor blade – X-acto knives and box cutters. She is a master of folded paper techniques and creates wonderfully intricate wall and table sculptures from heavy, fine art paper that intrigue and captivate the eye.

She was first inspired by the architecture of her home city – Santiago Chile, and has come to Cleveland as part of the Fall 2013 Creative Fusion team of international artists, to find new inspiration in our city’s architecture, and to share her skills with others.
Carolina was hosted by the Center for Arts Engaged Learning (formerly, Young Audiences) where she worked with students at Metro Catholic High School to teach them techniques used in making pop-up books. She taught paper engineering to the education staff of the Cleveland Museum of Art and teaching artists from her host organization and worked with more than 400 Cleveland residents – children and adults, as part of the Art Museum’s Second Sunday Family Day in the Museum’s Grand Atrium. Carolina also had the benefit of working with a commercial laser cutter here to create new work.
In a joint exhibition of all Creative Fusion artists held in the Hanna Theater in PlayhouseSquare at the close of the fall residency, Carolina showed a life size paper representation of a wrought iron gate she found in her journeys around Cleveland. Rock solid when seen from the front, one gasps, when circling around, one encounters but a sheet of paper suspended in thin air. Quite, quite stunning.

Carolina, we miss your quick smile, your good humor and your magic tricks with paper.

 

And Now, a Brief Analog Moment

This post originally appeared on the Cleveland Foundation website January 10, 2014

Przemyslaw Jasielski, or Przemo, pronounced something like pshemo came to Creative Fusion from Poland, bearing the most remarkable dreadlocks, an engineer’s sensibility and an artist’s sensitivity. A graduate of the Poznen Academy of Fine Arts, Przemo creates installations, objects, drawings and photographs combining art with science and technology. The hallmarks of his work are scientific research, close attunement to place (geographic as well as historic), careful planning, intellectual and conceptual creativity and incredible craftsmanship.

His Creative Fusion residency was jointly hosted by the Sculpture Center and Cleveland State University. While here, Przemo spent time getting to know Cleveland, responding to its its blue-collar roots, its 19th century immigrant population base, and its focus on its past. From this inspiration he created a technology-free space, a room, a kind of haven for those who want to escape the constant onslaught of digital technology, if only for a moment. In his own words, here is Przemo’s concept for Analog Immigration, the work he created during his residency here.

“Shortly after coming to Cleveland I realized that Clevelanders have a very specific sense of history. Whereas in Europe historical heritage is grounded in very old things and forgotten times, in Cleveland history is fresh — you can almost taste it or smell it. Most of the people I talked to explained things to me in an historical context, which is a very pleasant surprise to me. What is important is not remembering the good old days and complaining about the present, but to understand history as a continuum from the past to what we have now.

The second inspiration for the project was an idea created by Marc Prensky, the American thinker, dividing mankind into two groups: digital immigrants (individuals who grew up before computers were widely available) and digital natives (all who were born in the digital era).

Combining these two notions with the very present industrial character of this place I came up with the idea of ‘Analog Immigration’ – a specific back-in-time travel to the period when there were no digital devices. I’m going to create an environment that will allow viewers to experience the analog era – a place devoid of constant Internet access and cell phones.

With the help of CSU Sculpture students we will build a cubical wire-mesh structure inside the gallery. This structure, like a Faraday cage, will block and filter electromagnetic signals including wi-fi and mobile networks.”

Przemo recently sent this video that chronicles the creation of the work. In addition to the gift of his work, Przemo was generous with his friendship, his mentorship of students and his unique and very pointed sense of humor. One example is the Jack-o-Lantern he carved during a Halloween get-together with the other artists. After encouraging him to carve a scary pumpkin, Przemo came up with the scariest face he could imagine. See for yourself.
We will miss Przemo, as we miss all the artists who come, share and leave a part of themselves with us during their brief residencies. But we remain grateful to Przemo for his unique contributions to all the artists and individuals he met and shared experiences with while here.

Moved by the past

This article first appeared on the Cleveland Foundation Website on January 31, 2014

Bui Cong Khanh (Khanh) is probably the happiest and most playful artist you could ever hope to meet. He is also an old soul, wise beyond his years, whose creative work concerns itself with what we lose when the traditions of the past are cast away. Khanh works in an incredible diversity of media – clay, paper, canvas, charcoal, oil paint, video. He is a graduate of the University of Fine Arts, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) Vietnam and is the 2005 recipient of the famous Fulbright Fellowship at the Vermont Studio Center, USA.

In Ho Chi Minh City, Khanh saw a slum – home to the homeless – destroyed overnight to build new infrastructure. In one of his most memorable exhibitions, The Past Moved, 2010, he re-created the street façade as a charcoal drawing and invited the homeless ‘residents’ to have their photo taken in front of what was no longer home, giving them each at least a small memento of their destroyed past.

In Cleveland, he worked with children from several inner-city schools to help them draw their neighborhood as a large mural, and photographing them in interaction with the mural and each other. He also created spectacular murals of Cleveland scenes – our bridges, highways, buildings – the infrastructure of our city. Some of these works will be reprised at PlayhouseSquare’s International Children’s Festival in the spring.

In partnership with his Creative Fusion host, PlayhouseSquare, Khanh mounted these works across the huge stage of the Palace theatre as backdrop to a one-time performance by Inlet Dance. He connected with a local composer who wrote an electronic score, took charge of the theatrical lighting and made a video of the spontaneous dance event. Talk about a cross-disciplinary collaboration! Khanh and Inlet are planning to continue their collaboration.

Here’s what Khanh had to say about his time in our city and the work he produced here:

Until a few months ago, I had no idea where Cleveland was, in which state it was located. All the children here think the same of my city, Saigon, Vietnam. That is not ignorance. There is a whole, wide world out ther4e waiting for us to explore and like my people say; fate brought me here. I experienced a sudden wave of nostalgia when I was passing the old World War II industrial factories, the railway bridges, the wooden colonial houses. All those images reminded me of our history. And that’s how I would like to tell “The Past Moved” – our stories, in Cleveland, to Clevelanders with high hope they will narrow the gap between Saigon and Cleveland.

Just a few more observations about this delightful and constantly delighted artist. Khanh reveled in American pop culture. He could be caught at any moment singing – from Sinatra ballads to rock and pop songs. And although he had never bowled in his life, he got the second highest score of all the night we all went bowling at Mahall’s. I think there is nothing Khahn could not do if he put his mind, his big heart and his old soul wisdom to work on it. We miss him very much.

Creative Fusion

Creative Fusion is an urban-based, community-engaged residency program for international artists created by the Cleveland Foundation.The program consists of two, three-month residencies in Cleveland in the spring and fall each year.  Each residency period hosts up to six artists from cultures not well represented currently in Cleveland’s professional arts sector.

Originally found on the Cleveland Foundation website.

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