Creativity Works at CIA

CIA-Joseph Strunk skate rampOn one of the first summery Saturdays in spring, Laura Yurko draped herself in vibrant fabric and walked slowly around the gallery at Praxis Fiber Workshop in Waterloo. A crocheted shroud hid most of her face. For hours, Laura and a pair of friends created her performance piece, Ensnare/Drift. They walked and crawled in the space, peeking through eyeholes. They stopped to invite audience members into the dance.

Some onlookers demurred. Most played along, donning a piece of Yurko’s hand-dyed fabric and stepping into the performance. Several times, Yurko gestured to a stranger to come under a tented headpiece with her and just be silent.

“It was a mixture of people I knew and people and I didn’t know,” Yurko said after it was over. “Having that different space with people that don’t know me was really interesting — to see their willingness and how open they are to a new experience. That’s something I was looking for.”

In the afterglow of performance, Yurko, now a senior painting major at the Cleveland Institute of Art, was exhilarated. Ensnare/Drift consumed about three hours that afternoon, but it was the culmination of months of making and planning. This was Yurko’s first foray into performance outside of school. She conceived the work, painted the fabric and — most importantly — worked with Praxis founder Jessica Pinsky to plan and promote the event.

Yurko is one of nine students in spring 2016 who took advantage of Creativity Works, CIA’s self-directed internship for visual arts or crafts students. Others included Joseph Strunk, who designed and launched ramps for pop-up skate parks; James Waite and Ben Grossi, who built an interactive block sculpture called Stack on Toby Plaza in June outside MOCA Cleveland.

Creativity Works was launched two years ago to give studio-based internship opportunities to students in fine arts or crafts disciplines — typically, those studying painting, drawing, printmaking, sculpture, ceramics, glass or jewelry and metals.

These majors have fewer opportunities for paid internships directly related to their studio work than students studying applied arts such a design or illustration, says Maggie Denk-Leigh, Printmaking chair and one of the Creativity Works faculty advisers. The idea is to help young artists “jump-start their studio practice while they’re still in school, to be funded for projects and to expand their network,” she says.

Creativity Works is funded by the Fenn Education Fund of the Cleveland Foundation, and provides a modest budget that students can use for materials and promotions.

The program has special resonance as it enters its third year. This fall, CIA introduces a new requirement that all students will need at least three credit hours of engaged-practice experience to graduate. Engaged practice course work primarily means field-based or real-world projects and collaborations with external partners. Creativity Works, with its emphasis on partnerships, fills that bill nicely.

In fall, academic project leaders and CIA’s career center introduce the option to newly risen juniors.  Interested students begin thinking about projects and potential partners. Each student submits a proposal, budget, timeline and promotion plan. Proposals enter a jury process and are awarded based on feasibility and scope. The internship begins in earnest in spring semester, when students begin making, promoting and showing their work.

“The students already know they’re going to be taking on more than they ever have in an academic year,” Denk-Leigh says.

But it’s well worth the effort for those who dive in, because they get a taste of what it means to be an artist and entrepreneur.

“One of my favorite parts of working with this program has been seeing the students figure things out — everything from approaching a potential partner organization and overcoming unanticipated obstacles to transporting their work to the site and maximizing their budgets,” says Rachel Browner, CIA’s experiential learning specialist.

Yurko says the motivation to apply for the internship was “the opportunity it opened up to have that extra push to go out in a community that’s so fertile for artists. I’m a bit shy, honestly, even though I do performance art. I need the mask.”

Her studio work began with dying fabric at Praxis and making loosely constructed garments for the performance. “With those pieces, I created these interactions that were specific to the suits that would allow the audience members to become part of the performance, blurring the line between the spectator and the spectacle.”

The biggest challenge was developing a timeline for a more complex project than she’s used to, she says.

Painting major Xyl Lasersohn used the internship to partner with the Nature Center at Shaker Lakes, where he created a solo exhibition of paintings, prints and sculpture. The show, which opened in March, was grounded on site-specific themes, starting with the wooden boardwalks that appear on the trails around the park.

Like Yurko, Lasersohn says the project gave him an excuse to step out of his comfort zone. “I’m definitely doing a lot of techniques I’ve not done before,” he said in the weeks before the show opened. “I’ve learned how to weld because I’m making this large outdoor sculpture.”

Nature center events manager Lisa Frederickson says Lasersohn’s project succeeded.

“Our visitors and guests enjoyed the exhibit very much,” Frederickson says. “Hopefully, the Nature Center can play a small part in nurturing local artists and their appreciation of nature, as well as connect our audience to the beauty and talent of young artists.”

Cleveland Institute of Art
11610 Euclid Avenue
Cleveland, Ohio 44106

Lunch on Fridays presents Creativity Works
Sept 15

Peter B. Lewis Theater

Credit lines/cutlines

Joseph Strunk’s skateboard ramps at Lakewood Summer Meltdown | photo credit Jeff Mancinetti


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Ben Grossi and James Waite with STACK on Toby Plaza / photo credit Robert Muller