The Next 400: Destination Cleveland creates public art passport to amplify Black voices
The CVB bureau created a public art passport, called ‘Expressions of Black Culture’
CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Here in Cleveland, you don’t have to go to a museum to see and experience art.
You can walk out your door, look up and see it on the walls of buildings all around the city.
Much of that art tells a story from the Black perspective, one that hasn’t always been shared.
For decades, Black artists were shut out from the art world.
Destination Cleveland has been actively working to right that wrong.
The visitor’s bureau has created a public art passport that highlights the Black experience, called ‘Expressions of Black Culture.’
On the corner of West 3rd Street and Rockwell Avenue in Cleveland, wide brown eyes, draw you in.
“I painted this one in 2020 during the pandemic, however, this one is called ‘Obstruction’ and it was my interpretation of how there are things that get in the way of seeing someone’s true beauty or seeing their inner self. And so this was my interpretation of people being obstructed by stereotypes, prejudice, prejudices, how you look on the outer part, and not seeing the interviewee. So that is what this is about,” said Stina Aleah, a Cleveland-based artist.
She tells 19 News that when she paints, it’s with a purpose, using her canvas to tell a story.
“I think, as artists, we have a duty to spread messages and awareness through our work, especially if we have a platform. And so Destination Cleveland giving us even more of a platform is just I think it’s just amazing,” said Aleah.
In February, the convention and visitors bureau created a public art passport, called Expressions of Black Culture.”
“The black community here is just such a strong part of what makes Cleveland who we are. So we really wanted to tap into that, and really give people a chance to learn something new about this community, really understand the experiences and the history behind this community here in Cleveland, and continue to amplify these Black voices,” said Jen Brasdovich, Public Relations Manager for Destination Cleveland.
It’s the first in a series, a virtual app you can pull up on your phone and see more than 35 works of art all over the city.
“So if you’re checking it out with some friends, read through that history, read through the inspiration for the artwork and start that conversation. And we’re hoping that people will take that conversation wider and start to have these conversations within the community and continue these conversations that we’ve already started here in Cleveland. We know there’s a big opportunity here and a lot of these works demonstrate some of the difficulties that we’ve been dealing with the last few years,” said Brasdovich.
For decades, Black artists were shut out of spaces.
In 2019, a Williams College study surveyed 18 major museums in the U.S. and found that 85.4% of the works in the collections of all major U.S. museums were created by white artists.
African-American artists accounted for just 1.2% of the works, despite being 15% of the U.S. population.
Fast forward to 2020 in a global pandemic and a summer of racial reckoning.
Some organizations are now recognizing that disparity and trying to create opportunities to showcase Black artists, in and out of the museum.
The last few years the city of Cleveland has drawn a large number of visitors in part because of it’s public art. As evidenced, people, businesses and organizations are using that opportunity to share a story or two about the community.
Something that Aleah as a self-taught artist is taking advantage of. Her work is spotted in all corners of the city.
“It was just one of those like feelings of overjoyed because like when you have a chance, an opportunity to, to have your art and your messages that are attached to your art and more Clevelanders hands, I think that’s really important for Black artists. And so I love being a part of that,” said Aleah.
“This has been received really well so far. And we think as we head into the summer months, and it warms up, we’re going to see a lot more people start to sign up for this. And we’re really hoping that people will get out into those neighborhoods, visit some of the shops, some of the restaurants that are there, as they get to see this art that’s on display,” said Brasdovich. “We have murals, we’ve got sculptures, some statues, that African American cultural garden, so a lot of really great ways for people to experience the public art scene here and learn something new,” she said.
“I can see myself now as I walk around the city and see different pieces of work. I see myself in it versus when there was a time where we were kind of closed out of that and you couldn’t see yourself in the artwork. They didn’t look like me. And so I think that’s what I really get from being able to experience different works from Black artists,” said Aleah. “Seeing someone doing it that looks like them is important. And I think that is also another driving force to why I want to be in the forefront. I want to have these conversations. I want my art big on walls, because I want a little girl to walk by and say oh, I can do that,” she said.
The virtual passport has 35 locations to check into.
Once you check into 25, you’re able to enter to win a prize basket made up of items of minority-owned business in Cleveland.
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