MAKING ART COUNT: And Making the World Richer

Martha Cooper was one of the early documentarians of New York graffiti. Her 1984 book with Henry Chalfant, Subway Art, ranks alongside Jon Naar and Norman Mailer’s seminal 1974 volume The Faith of Graffiti as one of the primary records of the then-nascent form. We bring her up now because in March, the Cleveland International Film Festival will screen the Selina Miles documentary about her life and work, Martha: A Picture Story. CAN is once again proud to be a media sponsor of the festival, and specifically to help spread the word about that film. Screening dates weren’t yet set when we went to press, but check the CIFF catalog and website, or watch CAN’s weekly e-newsletter for updates. You won’t want to miss it.

Martha Cooper clearly knew there was something vital in the urge of young people to make their stylish mark in the street, and by following her intuition she taught us something about the world, and made the world richer for it. Just about anything you can think of can teach something about the world, from kids painting their names on walls, to professional artists painting portraits, to the way a society treats all its people, to the way we remember our history. CAN is inspired by the collective realization of that idea—the telling of stories that reveal something more about the world than we thought was there.

That’s certainly the case in our coverage of the Cleveland Foundation’s Creative Fusion program, which in 2020 is built around the theme “Contar,” the Spanish verb that means both “to count” and “to recount,” as you would a story. Both the counting and the story-telling, in this case, refer to the 2020 census. It’s critically important for Cleveland and Ohio to count all the people who live here, because federal funding for a variety of programs is allocated based on the number of people that live in a place. The number of representatives we have in Congress is also determined by the census. And Cleveland—especially in its neighborhoods on the Near West side—is historically under-counted.

That gives half a dozen organizations, plus a cohort of artists from Cleveland and around Latin America an opportunity to use art as a way to engage the community: to listen as people tell their stories, and to make stories that relate to them, and to help people realize that all their stories matter. The more people realize that, the more likely they are to stand up and be counted.

Elsewhere in this issue of CAN you’ll find Maize Arendsee and Moco Steinman-Arendsee’s gathering of experiences by artists with disabilities as they have made their careers in Cleveland; Douglas Max Utter’s tribute to the late, visually-impaired sculptor Chappelle Letman; Brittany Hudak’s exploration of portraiture in Cleveland—a practice that demands a high level of skill, but which often gets little respect from contemporary art curators; Joseph Clark’s preview of David King’s CAN Triennial Exhibition Prize show at BAYarts; and jimi izrael’s review of John Backderf’s soon-to-be-released graphic novel, Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio.

And on the following pages, in our Members Report section, you will find dozens of other galleries, museums, and studios doing exactly that—telling Cleveland and the world their stories about art-making, exhibits, techniques, and more. By doing that they connect people to opportunity and to each other, and we’re all the better for it. We look forward to seeing you.

Michael Gill

Editor / Publisher