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Great Lakes Theater "The Merry Wives of Windsor," 2014

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Artist Stereotypes

A few weeks ago, I ran across a story titled “Artists Frustrated With Being Put in a Black Box”. The story, by David C. Barnett (WCPN), featured artist choreographer, Dianne McIntyre among other local talents. I met Dianne during her Fellowship in 2010. She is a world renown, Guggenheim-award-winning, trail-blazing choreographer. She is also welcoming, dedicated and all-around wonderful, as most of the other artists I’ve worked with. But I admit the concerns in this article never would have crossed my mind at the time.

Which stereotype is this?

At this point, it would be silly for me to try and be an informant on the “Black box” to which the article is referring. There are far more qualified people to discuss the many layers of societal structures and well-intended gestures that contribute to the issue. The article did get me thinking, though, about the stereotypes in artist fields: starving artists, sell-outs, the idealized genius (Emily Dickenson, Frida Kahlo, Mozart, etc.), the hippie art teacher or the hipster coffee shop regular.

In most cases these are either broadly accepted or simply a joke. And just as most stereotypes, these labels are hurting the industry and people who work in it.

It may seem trivial. I’ve heard plenty of extremely professional and talented artists call themselves educators or any number of day jobs instead of their primary career path of artist, musician, writer, and so on. I wonder why are these creative professionals—who have worked tirelessly to develop their skills, invested thousands of dollars and hours in education, who are so critical to building and maintaining Cleveland’s success—not identifying themselves as such? I find this particularly timely as Cleveland, a city built on making stuff, is gaining more and more visibility across the country. 

Just like anything, stereotypes can be perpetuated by individual viewpoints. Though, it’s important to acknowledge that some have used these ideas to their advantage. Plenty of brands have cultivated a die-hard following through their “going against the grain” status. 

I wonder though, how the artist stereotypes infiltrate the broader structure in which artists today are working. How are we speaking to and about artists?

As we make decisions, maybe we are including a creative on our board of directors to help us think through decisions,  along with the lawyers, accountants and executives. We make simpler decisions like designing our office spaces using local art. We book local musicians and see them play live in our local clubs. We buy books and read articles by local writers. At the very least, we see the potential of integrating the skills of a local artist into our own practical settings.

But there are other ways artists are making names for themselves, and we can help expand those opportunities. For example, in the Creative Minds in Medicine report and conference, we found a number of artists who are changing health outcomes and helping people with disease. This is not only expressive therapy. It’s practice, design, outreach and organizing. As we think about Audiences on May 14, we’ll hear from DANCECleveland, who expanded it’s reach after participating in Engaging the Future, by asking dancers to build real connections. They got people excited about dance and changed perspectives in the community. Creative placemaking is taking off in Cleveland and it’s no secret that artists are a key player in the work. Neighborhoods are not only seeing shifts as a result of engaging artists. Artists are accessing new audiences and building new revenue streams through the community development networks. 

With this knowledge, Cleveland has a gigantic pool of untapped potential. A million more partnerships are just waiting to be discovered. Ways we haven’t even considered as avenues that lead us to artists and back.

Once the idea is planted, though, it’s up to the artist to navigate these opportunities, and most often alone. To many artists, talking to an executive director of any kind feels completely out of reach, even if we know we’re all just people. Sowehave to create those channels to help artists find us. Creative Compass was designed to build these connections, and it can only be as strong as the people who use it.  Of course, I’m partial, and it’s only one stream of information. It’s a solid start though. Send us information about what you’re trying to accomplish and we can post it to the thousands of artists visiting the site. Whether you are looking to fill a space on your board or literally lease out a physical space, we want to connect more people.

So while Cleveland seems to be gaining momentum, our decisions are influencing our environment as it grows, and developing pathways for a new type of success. We are learning from what’s been done. (Working at CPAC, I can tell you my mind is regularly boggled by the kinds of infrastructural changes of which arts and culture has been a catalyst.) We ask ourselves if we are recreating the wheel or making the whole engine run smoother. As we move forward, what kinds of creative individuals are thriving in Cleveland’s environment? How do we build on that strength and bring up others with us? How do we build a culture of creativity that is just as deeply connected to our history?

These thoughts are not meant to be directed toward any person, community or group. They’re simply thoughts I’ve been stuck on since I read that initial article. All these are open questions and I have lots of ideas. Please share yours.

Categories: art therapy, Artists, creative placemaking, creativity, culture, innovation, Race, Storytelling

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