We were not much more than halfway through the year when the horrors of 2020—so extreme, so numerous–became a kind of prompt for generating poetry. Across platforms, people would recite the litany of wildfires and floods, and police violence against People of Color, and one failure after the next to hold police accountable; they’d note the COVID pandemic, and the national embarrassment of a response, and the murder hornets, and the deliberate undermining of the US postal System, and deliberate suppression of the right to vote, and more. Social media poets would stretch their vocabularies to apply descriptions, like “dumpster fire” and “dystopian hellscape,” and they’d talk about what unanticipated wreckage you might have had on your Bingo Card.

It’s been a rough year. Now the election is behind us, and so are some of these other events, but the political division in our country has not gone away. The threat of natural disasters—exacerbated by climate change—has not abated, and the economic devastation brought about by the COVID crisis is far from over. The virus itself is far from over. We’ve got work to do, and stuff to get through.

The arts exist in this context. We’re still isolated from each other physically, and divided ideologically, and the fact is that culture thrives in a crowd. It is what we share, what we have in common. It exists as a collection of ideas, creativity, and values held among a group of people. So, the arts are hit especially hard by this pandemic, which has isolated us in our homes.

We can look at this from a survival perspective, and we have no choice but to do that. Consider that the performing arts industry was immediately shut down in March, and remains so, and it is all but certain that some beloved organizations will not survive the loss of ticket revenue.

You could say the visual art sector has had it easy, by comparison. Unlike concert venues and live theatre, commercial galleries were allowed to open in May, and most of them did, at some level. Museums and non-profit studios were allowed to re-open in June. You could go see art, face-to-face, not on a screen. First, they allowed visitors to see shows that had languished on the walls, unseen during the lockdown. Then galleries like Photocentric, Deep Roots Experience, Abattoir, HEDGE, Prama, and Gallery Plus began mounting new shows, even with opening night celebrations—though marked by strict precautions to reduce spread of the virus. Benefit events became live-cast, carry-out affairs. Crowds have been decimated and sales reduced, but they go on. This is survival mode, and artists have been good at it. And yet we’ve got to go beyond.

Especially when history strains our systems, art is more than an industry to sustain: it is a way to inspire, to motivate, to make needed change.  If culture is a shared set of ideas and values, then art is not only a tool, but the substance of the change. That’s what we need, and why we work so hard to keep getting this magazine into your hands.  As you’ll read in Brittany Hudak’s cover story, Public art plays a huge role making new expression accessible in the COVID era. As you’ll also read, the Cleveland Foundation’s Creative Fusion program has evolved to put a substantial amount of public art in Cleveland neighborhood around Clark-Fulton, working with Metro West, Julia de Burgos Cultural Arts Center, and others. You’ll read Amanda King’s interview with Bakari Kitwana about hip-hop and activism. You’ll read personal reflections from Cleveland collectors, former students, friends, and family about a pioneering dealer of African American art, the late artist and gallerist Malcolm Brown. Henry Adams talks with Dennis Barrie about facing obscenity charges over Robert Mapplethorpe’s exhibit, The Perfect Moment—thirty years after the exhibit touched off a battle over the future of the NEA, and the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center became the first museum in the US ever to be sued for the art it was exhibiting. Culture wars are nothing new.

We have no idea what 2021 will bring, but we do know this: In January, CAN Journal begins its tenth year.  We’re honored and thrilled to be part of this continuing dialog. And as always, we look forward to seeing you.

Michael Gill

Editor / Publisher