Antwoine Washington. Photo by Alvin Smith / The Urban Design Suite.

Anwtoine Washington—artist, curator, and creator of the Museum of Creative Human Art (MOCHA)—found work at the post office, but made a choice to commit himself to his vision full-time. We talk about finding funding for MOCHA, the therapy of working with pencils and paint, and how the pandemic has actually been good for his movement.

JIMI IZRAEL: Tell me about your use of pencil, paint and other materials and how it all figures into your vision.

AW: I think a lot of people are drawn, especially from our community, a lot of people are more so drawn towards more realistic photos or just the skill of a person’s art, you know what I mean? I think [charcoal] is one of the key things I use, and I know that draws my people in. But from the other side, the reason why I paint the way that I paint is that I like to use that as therapy to kind of get all of the tightness out that I use and all of the concentration that I use on being so, I would say, detailed when it comes to my pencil work. So, a lot of the looseness and abstract and just really me telling these violent stories with these violent strokes is really a way of telling the story from an emotional standpoint. So, that’s pretty much me lashing out on canvas. So, that becomes actually therapeutic for me, as an artist, to step away from the pencil and just sitting with headphones on in one spot doing this, I can actually use my body and full motion to actually bring forth a work of art. So, a lot of that is just really me just letting a lot of the pain out. I would say it’s therapeutic.

Antwoine Washington, Late night, Date Night, 48 x 60 inches. Acrylic on canvas. 2021.

JI: What is the Museum of Creative Human Art?

AW: Yes, yes. It’s basically an initiative to inspire, create, and help youth within our communities that are underserved. We see through a lot of the institutions that’s here in Cleveland how unequitable they are towards our community, as Black people. And I’ll always sit down with my peers and talk about how we can change things. And most of the time, as Black folks, we get in a room and we just complain about the problems, while we never figure out a solution. So, I’m always asking my brothers and sisters, “What’s the solution? What can I do or what can we do, what are some action items that we can do to combat white supremacy or anything that’s happening when we’re feeling slighted in these spaces?” And every time we leave the conversation, nothing gets done, and I’m like, “All right, well, bet, I’ma just do it.”

JI: Have you had any challenges getting institutional partnerships or funding?

AW: This is almost five years in the making. It wasn’t easy, you know what I mean? [Michael Russell and I] started trying to even shop this idea around four years ago. We sat down with some of everybody. Not a lot of the funders, but just some of the people that’s supposed to be who’s-who in the city. And people just kind of looked at us like, I would say, “What y’all trying to do? What is this?” Because most people don’t understand, when they see two black men trying to do something in the arts, they don’t take us seriously.

Antwoine Washington, Powernomics II (Woman).

JI: Do you currently have any institutional backing or partnerships?

AW: Well, we’ve done collaborations with, I would say, local…We did a collaboration with Stella Walsh, which is in Slavic Village. We actually launched our first initiative through them: a graphic design course for the kids in that neighborhood. And then we just ended up finishing up doing a collaboration with Waterloo Arts. We did a partnership with PCs for People. That’s when we were doing the graphic design program; we were giving away computers and graphic design programs, software for the youth, to be able to not just give them the knowledge, but to actually hand over a computer with the tools on it. As far as with the other initiatives, with the gallery and the gallery space over at Mahall’s, is another tentacle that we sought out to address because we…

JI: Wait, wait—there’s a gallery space over at Mahall’s, the bowling alley?!

AW: Yeah, in the apartment upstairs.

JI: Wow.

AW: Yeah, so we’ve done two art shows and helped two artists so far, two Black artists—Lauren Pearce is one and Davon Brantley is the other.

JI: How has the pandemic affected your organization?

AW: I think it’s impacted us in a positive way, to be honest with you, because we were able to give artists opportunity, give people an opportunity to come out and see art during a hard time. We were also, actually, helpful to a lot of the parents, because they wasn’t able to get they kids outside and they was in front of computers all day, looking at their teachers and people through squares, on Zoom.

JI: What do you need to completely realize your vision?

AW: Number one, we need resources. We need funding. Money. Money is one thing that we do need to be able to one day get our own place, to be able to get the kids what they need, and to be able to serve the kids the proper way that we need to serve them. Number two, we need support from our community. Not enough Black people in Cleveland are supporting what we’re doing; it’s mainly white folks that’s really supporting what it is that we’re doing.

Now, we’re starting to get some Black support, but I think it’s a reason why that’s not happening: because of the history of us being pit against each other due to those small pots of resources that we feel that we got to fight over.

JI: I don’t know about that. I mean, I’m telling you that there’s plenty of people around here that supports the arts… but it’s really about operating outside of a cubbyhole and saying, “Hey, everybody, I’m here.” And not relying on the kindness of white people to get you to get out there.

AW:To give you a little bit more context, man, I’ve sat down with plenty of Black organizations, like I told you in the beginning. I sat down with some of everybody who was Black in the city.

JI: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

AW: I can’t let you off the hook. I understand where you’re coming from, because you’re coming from a certain point. But you got to understand that I’m going through it. So, I see it and I know it’s a little resistance from my community, due to the fact that a lot of people … they feel that it’s not enough funding for everybody, because it’s small pots of money.

Same thing with local artists. The reason why we don’t support each other the way we’re supposed to. You go to Detroit, if one Black artist has a show, everybody in that community comes out for that one Black artist; here, a Black artist has a show, everybody’s mad at that Black artist because he got that opportunity. So, that’s my goal, is to change that, and that’s the reason why I’m doing what I’m doing at the space. Because a white person reached out to me and said, “I love what y’all are doing, here’s a space.”

JI: What are your goals for 2021?

AW: My goal is to hopefully secure a space where we can independently run our own program, where we don’t have to do so many collaborations with white organizations. I really want to scale what we’re doing on our own, you know what I’m saying? Securing our own funding, where we can do it the way we want to do it; because we’re a 501C3 organization and we want to secure that funding so we can be able to dictate our pace and what it is that we want to do for our people.

Other than that, it’s all about independence, it’s all about uplifting my people, Black men, Black women, and showing that we can do this thing.