A Feel-Good Moment: The 59th Annual Cleveland Arts Prize Awards
Last night at the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Gartner Auditorium, broadcasting icon Dee Perry (CAP 2016) presented the 59th Annual Cleveland Arts Prize Awards to some of the region’s finest. Winners included poets, writers, musicians, composers, visual artists, dancers, leaders, and visionaries at what was a truly uplifting night filled with powerful speeches, delightful music, and extraordinary performances. It was what I would call a “feel-good” moment, and a nice reminder that Cleveland is lucky to have such an incredibly strong arts community.
As CAN is tasked with covering the visual arts in the area, we are here to relay the news that several in our field were honored last night – including a lifetime achievement award for textile artist Janice Lessman-Moss, painter John Pearson was named a Special Honoree, the venerable Print Club of Cleveland won the Martha Joseph Prize, and three of the new Verge Fellowship awards went to visual artists: Na-Te’ Sturdivant, Antwoine Washington, and McKinley Wiley.
Janice Lessman-Moss has been teaching textiles at the Kent State School of Art since 1981, and since then has become a pillar of the textile arts community both nationally and internationally. She mentored and inspired many well-known artists in our region, including Hildur Asgeirsdottir Jonsoon (CAP 2008), and Rebecca Cross, and was one of the first artists to incorporate digital technology into her weaving practice.
Lessman-Moss fought to get one of the very first digital jacquard looms available in the United States to Kent State, and by applying digital technology to her own woven tapestry paintings, single-handedly brought weaving with looms, an ancient practice, to the modern age.
The Cleveland Arts Prize had Ted Sikora make a wonderful film about Special Honoree painter John Pearson (CAP 1975) (which you can see here). The short video shows the artist in his studio, discussing some of the challenges he faces making his geometric, op-art style wavy canvases. The award was actually accepted by the artist’s son, Jason Pearson, who took the opportunity to thank the arts community for their support in celebrating the life of his mother, Pearson’s wife, artist Audra Skuodas (CAP 2010), who sadly passed away earlier this year.
Not a person per se, but rather an entire group of them won the Martha Joseph Special Prize – the Cleveland Print Club, a group of print and printmaking aficionados, who are celebrating their centennial year. For a hundred years this group has supported the Cleveland Museum of Art’s print collection via generous gifts, and by stimulating local interest in collecting prints via its annual Print Fair. Over one-third of the museum’s excellent collection of prints were gifts from the club or its members. They recently published a complete history of the organization for their centennial, a publication that features images of the complete collection of publication prints as well as an illustrated selection of notable gifts over the past several decades.
The Cleveland Arts Prize also awards 10 artists “on the verge” one of their Verge Fellowships. The fellowship began last year with five artists and expanded this year to 10. The artists each receive $2,500 stipends, which are funded by the Cleveland Foundation and Cuyahoga Arts and Culture. Like the Cleveland Arts Prize awards, the Verge Fellowship rewards practicing artists in the Literary Arts, Visual Arts, Dance & Theatre, Music, and Design. The three visual arts winners this year were Na-Te’ Sturdivant, Antwoine Washington, and McKinley Wiley.
Na-Te’ Sturdivant first took up photography at the Newbridge after school program, and now the 20-year old shares stories through her crisp, technically stunning black and white photographs. These sensitively shot scenes of everyday life give glimpses into this emerging artist’s world: “I make art about my family my situations my stories my interactions – the things that I see – like black people, like people that look like me, people that don’t really get seen, people that don’t really get the chance to share their story or be behind the camera.”
Antwoine Washington, a skilled portraitist and draughtsman, is an artist who paints and draws from the black experience in America. In his very first Northeast Ohio art show, the Artists Archives of the Western Reserve’s “New Now 2018,” Washington received the People’s Choice Award – Honorable Mention as voted on by viewers. His recent mural on Public Square, 154 Years, commemorated the 154 years since blacks have been out of antebellum slavery. As he explained, “Blacks have been out of antebellum slavery for 154 years. However, through it all we were able to persevere and move forward by taking our tradition with us and applying them to our situations….Every human is the creator’s masterpiece, we are all walking museums.”
McKinley Wiley, a graduate of Baldwin Wallace, is a lifestyle and editorial photographer and aspiring filmmaker. His work includes commercial, fine art studio, and on-location photography. “The camera is a tool that allows me to connect with people on a really deep organic level.” Wiley, while a self-professed introvert, has a way of effortlessly capturing the moment with his subjects, perhaps because “not only is there a level of vulnerability for the subject, but I’m vulnerable too.” The resulting portraits are cautiously sensitive, while also stark and powerful.
This feel-good night ended at the historic Alcazar Hotel in Cleveland Heights with a hauntingly beautiful Spanish-inspired dance performance in the tile-covered courtyard, while inside the crowd got down to Prince on the dance floor. I would be remiss if I didn’t give a hearty round of applause to Alenka Banco-Glazen, Executive Director of the Cleveland Arts Prize, for her leadership, vision, and hard work – it truly was a night to remember.