You Can’t Win If You Don’t Play

You can’t win if you don’t play. That’s the kind of flippant, easy thing people say about the lottery. But it is an important message in the midst of the greatest challenge we face in the US, which is to deal with our history of racism. We can’t deal with it if we don’t try. You are not making progress if you are not working at it. The people who have to work at it are White people, and that includes the staff at CAN Journal.

If you’re a regular reader, the cover of this issue probably looks familiar. It’s an obvious allusion to our Summer 2020 cover, which featured images of artists wearing COVID 19 masks. The important distinction is not that the artists this time have hands over their eyes instead of masks over the rest of their faces, but that on the cover of our Summer issue, 41 of the 42 artists were White. “I guess that’s the face of art in Cleveland,” is how one African American photographer responded, with clear frustration.

The issue was filled with stories from Northeast Ohio art organizations about how they had been affected by the COVID crisis, and so we had invited them to send us COVID mask selfies. We used all we got. Nonetheless, as I wrote in an apology, “the cover image [did] not accurately reflect the rich diversity of people making, showing, and looking at art in this part of the world. As editor, I take sole responsibility for that. As a publication that means to serve galleries and artists in Northeast Ohio, we have a unique and very public responsibility in the discussion of racial equity. I apologize. I simply have to do better.”

If you saw those words online three months ago, you may think by now this is old news. But if you’ve been paying attention, you know that despite measures of progress large and small, despite the work of heroes and allies, the work goes on.

You will find some people doing that work on these pages. Two members of CAN’s Board (Gary Williams and Gina Washington, along with artist, Ron Shelton) address that Summer cover in essays. Brittany Hudak interviews Amanda King, creative director of Shooting Without Bullets, who consulted with moCa on its decision to not exhibit Shawn Leonardo’s charcoal drawings of police violence against Black people. Daniel Gray Kontar, director of Twelve Literary and a former member of CAN’s board, reflects on the life of Stephen Bivens, the photographer who wrote those words in frustration about the face of art in Cleveland. Sadly, Stephen passed away in June. Contributor jimi izrael interviews artist Erykah Townsend, who just graduated from the Cleveland Institute of Art. Of course there are other stories, including dozens of organizations telling you about their upcoming programs and their own efforts to encourage diversity.

The year 2020 feels like a moment in which we can make progress. The idea that Black Lives Matter has the attention of White people. As you have read countless times in recent months, we—White people—have work to do.

There is no question that it is hard work, and that learning takes time, and changing attitudes and becoming comfortable and making new relationships take even more time. The thing about work is that it is work. The thing about taking steps is that there will be missed steps. The thing about trying is that there will be failure. But you can’t win if you don’t play.

We look forward to seeing you.

Michael Gill

Editor / Publisher