Creative Fusion in a Time of Social Distance

Due to the COVID-19 Crisis and the need to limit gatherings of people and international travel, Creative Fusion projects of the CONTAR cohort are on hold. Watch CAN for stories about the artists and their community-oriented projects in August and other upcoming issues. ABOVE: Detroit-based painter Gisela McDaniel, hosted by MetroWest, may start work later this summer on a mural to honor kidnapping survivor Gina DeJesus and the organization she co-founded with cousin Sylvia Colon: the Cleveland Family Center for Missing Children and Adults.


A lot has happened since the last issue of CAN hit the streets. Change and uncertainty have become the backdrop of our lives as we attempt to adapt and reorient, with conflicting bits of news swirling in an overwhelming eddy of information.

Most of us in the arts or nonprofit world understand the importance of flexibility and creativity. It’s essential to our survival. In art, ambiguity is a given. Rather than shrink from the challenge, we persist and use these opportunities to try something new or to find inspiration. While this current situation is unique and unprecedented, the need for this mindset is not.

I am writing this at the end of March, during the early days of “social distancing,” a term we will long remember. I don’t know what is yet to come, but I am heartened by some of what I have seen.

On March 20, in partnership with Creative Fusion: The Art of Democracy, Thomas Fox hosted the first virtual CreativeMornings Cleveland. His fellow CreativeMornings hosts across the globe shared ideas and tips on how to make it work. Instead of hosting the event at our Creative Fusion partner venue, Julia De Burgos Cultural Arts Center, we attended remotely from our homes to hear speaker Daniel Ortiz, whose heartfelt message on identity, community, and civic engagement felt incredibly relevant. Everyone seemed happy to be socializing and it showed that collaboration is still possible from a distance.

I’ve seen fun ideas like art-to-go kits from neighborhood arts organizations, such as Art House, and I was impressed by the Rapid Response Fund formed almost immediately by the Cleveland Foundation. My own employer, MetroWest Community Development Organization, has quickly adapted to a distributed work model to continue providing resources to the community, such as listings for school lunch locations or local businesses open for carryout.

With all this in mind, I am hopeful for the future of the Cleveland arts community. I know that, while many art events have been cancelled, art is still happening, waiting in the wings, ready to squirm its way to the surface.

This year, Creative Fusion takes place within a community that is rife with creativity and resiliency. Before this crisis emerged, Clark-Fulton, Brooklyn Centre, and the Stockyards were neighborhoods already dealing with unemployment, ICE raids, and the looming challenges of development. Even so, it is a community that is easy to love and has deep roots and an identity that is difficult to quash. During my short time at MetroWest, I’ve already formed an attachment to this place that provides a real purpose to the work we are doing. I always say, if you don’t know why you are working in the arts or the nonprofit world, what is the point?

The “why” for me has long been Creativity. I have personally experienced the profound effects of creativity on my life and so, like a religion, I believe in its Truth, unequivocally. With that being said, I’ve also spent a good deal of time studying the science of creative thinking and what it means to “think like an artist.” Every mind has the capacity for creative thinking and often it is challenges that bring these skills and habits of mind to the surface.

Now is one of those times. Will we use this opportunity to experiment and adapt? Will we let ourselves get comfortable with the ambiguity of the moment? Will we have fun exploring new modes of communication and learning? Will we ask for help and discover the benefits of collaboration? I guess what I’m asking is this: How will we rise to the challenge?