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Shari Wilkins

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Grant Finalist Interview: Cleveland Print Room

How did you hear about the grant, and what inspired you to propose this specific project for the Crusade for Art grant?

This project is inspired by Crusade of Art’s visit to Cleveland last summer. I spent the last year trying to figure out ways that the gallery, studio, and community darkroom could engage collectors in a similar fashion to what I experienced when Jennifer Schwartz's Crusade For Art came to town. I was personally struck by the interaction between the artist and the passerby on the street. The conversations that took place enabled the artist to discuss their work with the potential collector. This kind of connection does not occur often and seeing the possibilities set me out to see how this could work in other forms.

How did you come up with the idea for your project?

I have been mulling these ideas over since last year. Taking the art and the artists to the public is paramount. It is the ultimate goal. I love the concept of poetry slams so I just altered the idea to fit art and came up with photo slams, which are in essence the same concept with the same end. Give the photographers a chance to show off their work in any creative way that they choose in front of a more passive audience that just happens to be at the venue for some other reason, in most cases. The public art installation (in places where public art is not generally seen) is a no-brainer regarding promotion of the arts and the artists. They will be able to stand in front of their work one lunch hour and talk to passers-by. This was modeled after Crusade For Arts' visit last year. Take the art to the people. Put the artwork in their face and see who lingers to find out more. That is where you will find your new collectors.

What do you think is the greatest struggle/weakness facing artists and the art community right now? What is the greatest opportunity/strength?

I think the greatest obstacle for artists these days is the competition from all other forms of entertainment and communication available to the general public -- there is entertainment and distraction on demand for everybody, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. So ultimately exposure is the real struggle for every artist.

On the other hand, real art is something that truly benefits from being experienced first-hand, in person, just the way it was made, and the way it was meant to be seen and experienced. No electronic gadgetry can deliver the same kind of impact as an in-person experience with art.

How do you think artists should play a role in educating the public or their audience about their art or art in general?

Artists should be more open about the creative process with the public. By being more forthcoming about the "whys" and "hows" of their art, artists could encourage the general public to relate more to art, and to feel like art has some actual relevance to their lives; that it could be a gratifying and rewarding experience that they could also go on to share with others. 

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If Chicago Was a Hustle, Cleveland Was a Mosey. . .

Chicago was by far the most challenging pop-up, and with good reason (downtown street corner on a cold, windy Friday before a holiday weekend), and when we got to Cleveland, we were still pretty keyed up from it.  When we arrived at the Root Café in Lakewood on Sunday, we were anxious to get things going and start “selling” our free art.  The photographers arrived, and Sarah and I were rushing around the bus to set up, get the photographers prepared for engaging people who may be incredibly uninterested, and get our game faces on.  No need.  Cleveland just a smooth, easy, lovely walk in the park.  At one point someone asked how it compared to the Chicago pop-up, and I said, “Well, if Chicago was a hustle, Cleveland was a mosey”.  Everyone stopped.  Everyone was more than willing to chat a bit and take home a photograph.  Was it too easy?

When we were able to get someone to stop in Chicago, the energy was high.  The participant was surprised and excited and very interested to see all of the work and get to keep an image.  Everyone in Cleveland was so nice and accommodating ("Sure, I'll take a photograph"), it was hard to determine if a real connection was being made.

And then there was Henry.  Henry is 8 years old, and prior to this event, he did not own any original artwork outside of his own drawings.  He fell in love with this Sarah Moore photograph from The Ten, and was beyond excited to learn she was there in Cleveland and could tell him more about her image.  Henry was able to really articulate what drew him to the photograph and what he loved about it.  It was a really special moment and definitely a highlight of the tour for me.

The next day Cleveland Print Room hosted a Memorial Day BBQ and Crusade talk, which was really relaxed and fun.  Several of the people we met at the pop-up the day before came to hear the lecture, and it was great to get to check out this new facility.  Shari Wilkins, the founder of the community darkroom which opened just a few months ago, was instrumental in getting the Crusade to come through Cleveland.  It was not originally on the tour, but she made a compelling case, and was absolutely amazing as my "on the ground" person, coordinating the entire Cleveland stop.  So thankful - there just aren't words.

On our way out of town on Tuesday morning, we had the supreme pleasure of meeting Fred Bidwell at Transformer Station, where he gave us a tour of the absolutely mind-blowing Todd Hido show.  He graciously allowed me to ask him a million questions about his love of photography, how he started collecting, the mission of Transformer Station, and I will be sharing those in a future blog post, don't you worry.

And finally, the photographers!  Shari Wilkins from Cleveland Print Room curated the five photographers for the local photographer showcase, which was unique to this city (I have curated the photographers in all of the other cities into the project) and super fun.  A huge thank you to the five of them: Donald Black, Jr., Stephanie Mercer, Angelo Merendino, Dan Morgan and Julia Van Wagenen.  

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