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Visual artists see the city's bright spots and envision a brighter future.
By Carolyn Jack
What does Cleveland have going for it? Fresh water and wind power always top city leaders’ list of assets.
But another natural resource is proving just as valuable: the steady supply of well-educated, creative graduates turned out every year by the Cleveland Institute of Art. As artists, designers, entrepreneurs, teachers, communicators and problem-solvers, CIA alumni are not only deeply involved in the life of the Cleveland they see today, but are also busily crafting the Cleveland of tomorrow.
And in a city trying hard to reinvent itself, who better to envision the future than visual artists? Take a look at the Cleveland some recent graduates see and want the world to know:
That’s Cleveland with a capital-of-France ‘C’. Yes, I.M. Pei turned the Louvre upside down, but Jack Storie ’11 turned the Eiffel Tower on its side. The graphic designer tipped over the tower’s silhouette and used its arched base to form the letter C in CLE on a version of Luke Neubecker’s popular “Cleveland is my Paris” T-shirts, which have been selling like hot brats at a Browns game ever since the New York Times mentioned them in a story this past July.
Storie’s successful image demonstrates what can happen when you’re in the right place at the right time – with the right skills. He was working alongside Neubecker at the Coffee House at University Circle when the original shirts, which bore just the slogan, went on sale. At that time, Storie was fascinated with turning objects into letters; when he happened to see a picture of the Eiffel tower, the C shape caught his eye. The rest, as they say, is haberdashery.
“Actually, I don’t think I did that great a job,” Storie says, modestly.
But recent events contradict him. After a spell of creating designs for the Crooked River Skate Park, the Tesla Orchestra and other Cleveland clients, Storie has been hired by Whole Foods in New York City as the company’s in-house graphic artist, and has moved there.
“I got real lucky,” the Illustration alumnus says. “I spend my whole day making designs.”
And fortunately, he’s up to the job’s demands, because at CIA, “they teach you a really good work ethic.” But, adds the new New Yorker, “I still love Cleveland. It’s my home. It took me a while to really appreciate it. It’s not the obvious choice, not the ideal spot, but once you get to know it, there are little pieces of gold everywhere. In a way, it is my Paris.”
Polished skills meet rusty burg. Chelsey Finnimore ’13 ended her four years at CIA last May wanting to extol the good in Cleveland and exorcise the bad attitudes people have about the place. Majoring in Communication Design, she knew how to get her message across: for her senior thesis, she created a web- and print-ad campaign called “Re-Design Cleveland,” that took all the tired old barbs the rest of the country aims at Cleveland and turned them into boasts.
The slogans she crafted – “ Stay rusty, Cleveland,” “Let them fly over” – told mini-stories about Cleveland solidarity, pride and the virtues underlying the city’s faults, virtues such as hard work, history and hometown values that Finnimore sees as the foundation of the future, not dead weight holding the city back. The whole project was her way of connecting longtime residents and new arrivals with pro-Cleveland spirit.
Not too surprisingly, “Re-Design Cleveland” linked Finnimore to other Clevelanders, too – including the principals of Reclaimed Cleveland, a young company that salvages and repurposes elements such as high-quality lumber and metal pieces from demolished Cleveland buildings. They attended a CIA show, looking for a graphic-design intern, and found Finnimore.
“It was like this instant connection,” recalls the young designer, who grew up in a small “washed-up steel town” in Pennsylvania and also lived in Pittsburgh before coming to Cleveland. She knows rust and she clearly loves it. “I’m always rooting for the underdog,” Finnimore says.
She continues to work part time for Reclaimed Cleveland while holding down her regular job at Agnes Studio, a Cleveland graphic-design firm where she interned as a student and stayed on after graduation. Since her CIA days, “I have just grown to love the company,” she says. “We just got to do a public-art installation for the St. Clair-Superior district,” a revolving door set up in an abandoned parking lot. “In Cleveland,” she says, “you actually see your work out in the world,”
Poster children for creativity. Cleveland has a lot of imaginative entrepreneurs. But Lucy Williams ’13 didn’t think that enough people knew about them. So, in a perfect example of creativity propagating itself, Williams got entrepreneurial herself. She used her own talents to spotlight those of others in a series of interviews and posters, called “The Cleveland Project,” that not only served as her BFA thesis, but may have an extended life on the Internet as way for other students to investigate and celebrate Cleveland’s creative assets.
To build her project, Williams talked with imaginative Clevelanders and designed original posters for their businesses, she said. One of those people was Jeff Finley, vice president and art director of Go Media, a local design firm. Finley, who is also the founder of the local Weapons of Mass Creation festival, later asked Williams if she would like to show her posters at the August 2013 festival, “which I was ecstatic about,” she says. It was her first professional show.
“The Cleveland Project” proved beneficial for her. But she wants the work to be beneficial for Cleveland, too: she expects to develop her work into an iPad application through which other student artists can add their own interviews and posters to the project, encouraging them to explore the city and bring its creative citizens to the attention of a broader community.
Williams sees her creative skills – and the chance to use them for personal and public good – as direct benefits of her studies as an Illustration major. “I feel like I had a lot of really good opportunities through the community of CIA,” she says. “Through the high-quality professors and the freedom to take any class I wanted, I was able to gain that skill set.”
Above: Robin Miller ’13 explores Chelsey Finnimore’s BFA thesis exhibition.
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