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Frame of Mind

Murals are having a moment.

From Mike Sobeck’s whimsical pepperoni pizza slice smeared across a cinder block building on West 28th Street to Damien Ware’s vibrantly poetic Love Lunes Over Buckeye on Buckeye Road, the public art form seems to be brightening all corners — and brick surfaces — of the city.

Heck, our outdoor art even caught Instagram’s attention (#amazing). After local and international artists partnered to create 11 murals and art installations in Hingetown, the social media company picked Erin Guido and Joe Lanzilotta to create Love Doves — just one of five murals worldwide — in celebration of LGBT pride.

“As soon as art is outside, it kind of becomes everyone’s,” says Guido, a project manager for Land Studio, which has funded 33 murals from local, national and international artists over the past three years.

What Cleveland once regarded as a quick face-lift for blight in the 1970s has now become an exuberant manifestation of our city’s resurgence. “We’re using public art as a means for building community, building culture in a neighborhood and placemaking,” Guido says.

And you thought they were just cool backdrops for your #picoftheday.

Take this spring’s eight murals in the Gordon Square Arts District. As the heart of art on the West Side, the neighborhood is home to Cleveland Public Theatre and Near West Theatre, the beautifully restored Capitol Theatre, live music at the Happy Dog and 60 additional artist studios and galleries in 78th Street Studios.

“The street has to have the same vitality and vibrancy that’s inside the theaters,” Land Studio executive director Greg Peckham said at the project’s ribbon-cutting in May.

Whether it’s Lisa Quine’s typographical Dream Big vision, the whimsical creatures of Justin Michael Will or the explosive Latin-American mythology behind Dante Rodriguez’s mural outside Astoria Cafe & Market, the creative and economic energy builds upon itself like a kaleidoscope.

“I tend to favor the areas that have more public art and more color,” says Will. “It gives people a reason to be there and a reason to embrace it.”

By transforming public spaces such as the three-story green wall on the side of the Centers for Families and Children, which serves nearly 2,000 residents each year, into an accessible free work of art, the city’s artists unveil potential that may have been previously overlooked

“All of a sudden it changes their world,” says artist Katey Truhn, who painted the mural alongside her partner Jessie Unterhalter. “It’s hopefully making them feel better or positive or hopeful so they can maybe make a change like that, too.”
“It’s really cool to have people from all over come and work alongside local artists just to show what else is out there. Through the arts and through social media, you can get out there beyond your community,” says Unterhalter.
“My piece talks about them falling as a couple — falling apart or falling however you want to take that. It’s about having something you can hang onto,” says Sweeney.
“I want my work to feel like it’s part of the neighborhood. I almost want it to recede into the background after awhile. I want it to become a memory. I remember growing up and seeing some murals around town and seeing different storefronts and signs and other landmarks, and those things became a part of a visual narrative of my life,” says Jaenke.
“Xochipilli is the Aztec god of beauty, poetry, dance — all that good creative stuff. It kind of made perfect sense that Xochipilli come and visit the Gordon Square Arts District. His name translates to ‘flower prince.’ There are dahlia flowers coming out of his body with vines, berries and strawberries. Dahlia is the Mexican national flower. He has one flower in his hand as an offering to the neighborhood and the people walking by. The umbrella is a Hindu symbol: chatra. It’s symbolism for protection and royalty,” says Rodriguez.
“I thought that was a universal message and it applied to the neighborhood because there are so many local businesses and an entrepreneurial spirit. You’ve got a whole neighborhood full of dreamers,” says Quine.
“My son is kind of a stand-in for a lot of the things I’ve experienced. The mural on the wall is my wife as my mom and my son as me. She’s trying to help him, she’s trying to pull him up. She’s his ladder and his support system. She’s helping him from getting swallowed whole by the everyday struggles,” says Steward.
“I tend to approach things with a little bit of frivolity. In this day and age, there’s a little too much information out there. ... So I like to work on art because it helps me either avoid or work around all of that abundance of things,” says Will.
“It makes art accessible to the public that may not have the access to go see a museum exhibit or an art gallery. When you have these pieces of public art in a space that is everyone’s, everyone can gain something from that,” says Dorsey.

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