Heights Arts showcases images of activism
Heights-area artists can always be relied upon to respond to current events, and the recent activism around Black Lives Matter and related social-justice issues has energized a number of artists to begin creating new work. Some of the most immediate responses have come in the form of digital photography shared by way of social media.
Heights Arts staff were immediately struck by images that not only told powerful stories, but also could stand alone as visual art. Images have the power to pose questions and eloquently express things that can be hard to express in few words.
This idea has been explored previously at Heights Arts through two past exhibitions of photojournalism, where photographs that had initially been used editorially to support journalistic articles were gathered, framed, and presented at Heights Arts’ gallery. Heights Arts exhibition planners referred to these images as "stealth art"—works of art that sneak into one's consciousness under camouflage.
As people began to post images representing their experiences of the protests and responses to racism, Heights Arts asked some of these artists if the nonprofit arts center could share their images through its own social media outlets.
The first two artists that were asked, Bryan Clark and Aj Almy, had posted photos from the May 30 protest in downtown Cleveland; both agreed to let Heights Arts share their images. Since then, the list of artists has grown, and includes former Heights Arts intern and Cleveland Institute of Art graduate Davon Brantley.
Heights Arts plans to continue sharing images that tell the story of how artists are responding to this moment and to the Black Lives Matter movement, as long as artists continue to express their perspectives in ways that Heights Arts can note and share.
This project is a way for Heights Arts to keep a focus on these issues, and to feature artists of color, many of whom have connections to the Heights and nearby University Circle. In the longer term, there may be opportunities to translate some of this material into a more formal exhibition or program.
In important ways, this project is a return to one of the founding ideas of Heights Arts: that the Heights is already home to a vibrant artistic community, and one thing an organization like this can do is provide venues for that creativity to bubble to the surface, and then call attention to that creative expression. In this case, there are no physical gallery walls and no performance stage other than the social media backdrop that has so quickly become ubiquitous in our lives.
To see these images, follow Heights Arts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
In addition, the year 2020 marks Heights Arts 20th anniversary, and the organization is celebrating with the exhibition Evolution. The show features pairs of works by 15 artists; one work from an earlier time when the artist exhibited at Heights Arts, and another from the artist’s present-day body of work. Stephen Calhoun, the featured Spotlight Artist, also has work on display in the gallery. Appointments, for those wanting a private viewing not during normal walk-in hours, can be made online or by calling Heights Arts at 216-371-3457.
Greg Donley is chair of the Heights Arts Exhibition Community Team.