ABC in a Time of Upheaval

Gene Epstein, Illustration for But it Don’t Feel Okay

Artists may be uniquely positioned to weather times of crisis. Their activities can focus attention on social and environmental concerns and provide emotional outlets for everyone.

As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds, Art Books Cleveland members have found solace in pursuit of their art, but with new twists that alter the process and product. Laura Martin notes that her progress on new collage projects was so slow and “different from my usual kinds of book-making or paper-cutting that it sort of concealed itself from me!” Shari Wolf indicated that staying home has allowed her greater productivity—adding mask making to her portfolio. Rachel Morris notes that “I actually find myself more interested in process over product lately. I think it is a coping tactic after hearing the daily virus infection numbers, deaths, shootings. One month I cut out two hundred butterflies. What do two hundred butterflies amount to? Then I started cutting out leaves. What do three hundred leaves look like?”

Such benefits are counterbalanced by significant challenges. Limits on in-person social interaction have altered opportunities for shared discussion and critique of work. Gene Epstein reports that her sketching group now meets online to discuss online assignments the group takes on. While artists often work in isolation, social support and regular discussion of works-in-progress have been an important part of artistic endeavors that require rethinking.

One thing that has not changed is the commitment by many Art Books Cleveland members to social justice issues. The ABC show in 2019 at the Morgan Conservatory, A Moral Compass, included works considering economic disparities, environmental degradation, and race relations. For example, the larger political context underscores the relevance of work by member Diane Britt on migrant issues. And 2019 also saw successful continuation of the Art Books Cleveland program at the Cleveland Public Library Sterling Branch designed to provide creative outlets for children in the Central Neighborhood.

As the movement for racial equality and social justice has exploded recently, members have found a variety of new artistic activities to make a contribution. Gene Epstein, working with African-American authors of children’s books, has illustrated But it Don’t Feel Okay, by John Ballom, Jr. (in press) and The Sermon by Cheryl Goggans.

Our 2020 shows have been postponed, but Art Books Cleveland is looking forward to a spring 2021 show at Beachwood City Hall, by which time we hope the immediate crises have passed.