Creative Fusion: Metrohealth, Signs of the Times
As mayoral and congressional elections approach in Cleveland, yard signs promoting the candidates have already begun to proliferate. This year, the candidates have some strong visual competition from artists chosen for MetroHealth’s Signs of the Times project, sponsored by the Cleveland Foundation through its Creative Fusion program. In styles as diverse as the community, the artists’ signs call the community to attention and to action: to listen, to create, to do the right thing, to bear in mind that Black Lives and Voices Matter.
The project faced a year-long delay because of the COVID-19 virus, but circulated a call for artists in English and Spanish early this year. Artists were encouraged to create designs that “address issues that are affecting Clark Fulton and Greater Cleveland in 2021, possibly including the coronavirus crisis, protests related to the Black Lives Matter movement, or the importance of civic engagement by participating in local and national elections.”
“We believe an engaged community is a healthy community,” said Linda Jackson, director of arts in medicine at MetroHealth. “The arts provide so many means for engagement. They remind of us of the humanity and connection we all need, and enable us to build trust and create safe spaces for and in our community. They serve as a universal language through which we tell our stories, raise our voices and share lived experiences. [. . .] The events of the past year provided another lens that reflected the importance of civic engagement—be it an election, a future census, public health or a movement.”
To kick off the application period, MetroWest hosted a virtual conversation with visual artists Hector Castellanos-Lara, Ryan Jaenke, Dakarai Akil and playwright/actor Lisa Langford, on the subject of art and democracy. Akron Art Museum Deputy Director Seema Rao moderated.
At the end of March, MetroHealth convened a selection committee, comprised of members of its own staff, plus MetroWest Community Development Corporation, LAND Studio, and a local artist. From the 41 artists who applied to be part of the program, they chose eight whose signs will be printed in quantity and circulated among the public.
All the selected artists are from Cleveland, including some from Clark Fulton and nearby. They include Amelia Casiano, Amber Esner, Bruno Casiano, Alicia Vasquez, Maia Delegal, Anitra Frazier, Hector Castellanos-Lara, and Maya Peroune. Their designs use text, graphics, and even photos to combine messages about the need for inclusion, about heritage and aspirations for a better life. Maia Delegal reminded that “In These Times We Fight / In These Times We Rise.” Text from a banner in Maya Peroune’s design, based on a photograph of protesters, reminded that “A badge is not a license to kill.”
A first printing of the signs was completed in June, and distribution began immediately with support from MetroWest and LAND Studio. A second printing was completed in July. In all, 100 of each artist’s designs will be in circulation: a total of 800 signs. That volume compares favorably to the number of signs commonly printed by candidates for Cleveland City Council.
Throughout the summer, MetroHealth continued to engage community in the project by offering blank signs for people to create their own messaging. Jackson says MetroHealth, MetroWest, and LAND Studio plans to choose one or two of the eight final designs to install as a mural—or two—in the neighborhood. For additional information, including to request signs for display in your yard, go to signsofthetimes-clarkfulton.com.