Power of the Arts talks to makers, performers, teachers, students, administrators, technicians, patrons & entrepreneurs: the heart of our arts.
James Shuttic is a Warren native and graduate of Warren G. Harding High School. He earned his B.F.A. in painting from Youngstown State University and later went on to earn a degree in computer drafting and design. James is co-owner/artist at Shuttic Arts alongside his wife and fellow artist, Julia Shuttic. James is a founding member of the Independent Artist Association, and sits on the board of the Fine Arts Council of Trumbull County, where he serves as Board President, and helps manage and oversee the operations of the organization, along with the day-to-day at Art on Park, home of a number of artists studios and art organizations. Through the arts, James has helped raise money and brought awareness to a number of charitable organizations and causes, including the Mikeyfied Fund for Adult Autism, Sahara Club Recovery Center, animal rescues, recovery and mental health, urban blight, and urban redevelopment.
James has helped create and organize a number of arts-based events, including the Warren Art Hops and the annual THINK shows, where artists of all fields are invited to participate as where the public has the opportunity to interact firsthand with the arts. As an artist, James works in a variety of mediums including painting, sculpture, photography, mixed media, digital/computer, and has for the past several years been collaborating with poets, writers, musicians, and members of the community on a series of live painting and performance works for the public. Over the years, James has shown in a number of both solo and group shows, and has won multiple awards for his work, as well as aided and promoted other artists.
Power of the Arts Coordinator Karen Schubert met with James in early September for coffee and conversation. Click here to listen:
KS: This is Karen Schubert and I’m here with James Shuttic. We’re upstairs at Pressed Coffee Bar and Eatery near campus and James was just telling me some of his memories of being here when it was the Beat and I remember that, too. This has been an iconic place and gathering place for a long time.
Thank you so much for taking time to talk to me today. I really appreciate it.
JS: Thank you for asking me.
So let’s talk about your work. I know that you have a BFA in painting from Youngstown State University and it’s occurred to me many times over that having YSU here with such strong programs in the arts really creates a whole crop of artists that graduate every year, and a lot of them stay, and it just gives us this wonderful artistic density.
Exactly. Are you connected with people that you went through the program with?
No, actually– I was fairly reserved when I was here, so I didn’t have too many friends. I was kind of quiet and did my thing and that was about it.
And so now you’re a multi-media artist, you have many interests and pursuits. You have a studio that’s an artist collective, right? Tell us about that.
Yeah. We term the building Art on Park, or that section of the building. It’s located directly on Courthouse Square in downtown Warren at 180 N. Park. There’s about seven different artist studios in there; a couple of them are collectives within themselves. There are different hours and whatnot. The Fine Arts Council, we also operate our office out of there as well, that’s kind of like our headquarters for things.
So all of the artists share a space, you share the cost of the space–
The Fine Arts Council, we rent out the major space, and then within that, it’s divided into separate studios. And then, so, we’ve invited different artists, or organizations, Collective Palette is one of the organizations, which is a collective of mental health agencies with artists with disabilities throughout the county, as well as Mikeyfied Fund for Adult Autism which is a nonprofit that uses arts to raise money for autism, adults with autism, and then there’s some independent artists. My wife and I work out of there and a couple of the artists do community-based work. So there’s not just those artists in there, but the people that they associate with work on projects, and there’s a lot of stuff that goes on at any time, at all hours of the night, which is kind of fun.
Yeah, fun and a brilliant concept, because you’re anchoring down these historic buildings right on the Square, so you have this beautiful space right in front of you–
Walk right outside, the courthouse, yeah, it’s beautiful down there.
And rather than any of you struggling to keep it alive on your own, you can pool your resources.
So before we talk about the Fine Arts Council, I would like to talk a little bit more about your own work. I was listening to your podcast on The Makeshift with Brandon Noel, just a really terrific interview that I recommend everyone listen to, and you were telling him that you’re a painter, photographer, you’re a digital artist, you work in graphic design, printmaking, and you’re also a writer. Talk a little bit about how you maneuver through all of those different media—
I think for me it goes to my, I guess, personal viewpoint of what art means to me. I think back to early childhood, I used art as a means to express those things that I couldn’t, verbally. Later on I would get into writing and what-not. So for me, I look at it as what– there’s something inside I’m trying to express and essentially use whatever medium is best suited or I feel pulled to, to do that. Which leads me to use a ton of different things. I try not to limit myself or restrict myself. That can be overwhelming and problematic at times, but at the same time, it definitely keeps me busy. It’s a lot more fun, it can be chaotic, kind of, projects all over the place, one thing leads to another, and you just kind of follow a flow of things.
That sounds really fun. And you always have the coolest t-shirts. Do you make them?
Oh, thank you. Some I do, and some I buy. [Laughing]
I’m glad tie dye is alive and well. I grew up in the era of tie dye.
I started wearing tie dye in high school but then when I came to YSU when I started taking painting classes. It hides paint and stains and coffee– I love it, to this day. [Laughing]
That sounds like a good shirt to cook in, too. [Laughing]
So talk about the Fine Arts Council of Trumbull County. What is it, exactly, what kind of an entity, where do you get your funding, what do you see as the mission, what are a few things that you have going on?
The Fine Arts Council was founded in, I want to say, 1971, so we’ve been around over forty years. I believe it was six different artist organizations and groups that came together. The reason they came together is they saw that coming together they’d be able to do more as a whole than they would as any individual singular entity or group. So six led to however many organizations over the years. They started doing programs.
One of the things that was early on, that we still have as part of our mission statement, is that we use the arts, through fostering the arts, we attempt to improve the quality of life for individuals in the community. And so we do that through providing different types of programming, it could be free music or maybe movie night or whatnot to the general community where they can just come and enjoy things. We sponsor and organize art hops where artists are invited, and artists and vendors to sell their creations, and it provides opportunities to artists that are either established or wanting to be established to reach out to the community to get involved, to have contact, to get feedback, to maybe make a little bit of money and step a foot in, and some of them decide to take a deeper pursuit, and some don’t, more hobby or whatnot.
So we do those type of things, we do Ghost Walk which is one of our events coming up in October. We have volunteer actors that re-enact famous people, historically within Warren and Trumbull County. You’re guided from the historic location and while you arrive they re-enact their story. It’s kind of cool. That type of thing helps give people a sense of what this area was about, by connection, and we try to do it in a fun way. And it’s always cool to learn new things.
And we also, this will be the second year, now, but we’re organizing, it’s actually the end of this month, is Warren Homecoming, we oversee. It’s a four-day citywide celebration of Warren with the hopes of bringing the community together to celebrate our past, our present, and hopefully guide our future somewhere more positive, working together. We get people from out of town that come. I think one of the things, with that event, it highlights what we’re able to do, and that’s a lot of smaller organizations or businesses or individuals are able to join in that weekend. Essentially what we do is, we create a community calendar, is one of the things we do. We also assist them in answering questions like, How do I set up an event? Do I need permits? What would I need to do? So we’re able to answer those types of questions and we’re also, the big thing is promote them, in a way they wouldn’t be able to do by themselves, so I think that’s important, because it kind of goes, in a sense with the mission statement of the Fine Arts Council, if we come together, we can do a lot more as a whole. Improve the life of the people in our community. So it’s kind of fun. It’s exciting.
So those are some of the things we do. We get grants, various grants, not as much as we used to, but we do get donations from businesses, organizations, as well as individuals. And thankfully because of that we’re able to do these type of things.
So you’re really helping people in the area re-conceptualize the community as being an artistic hub, a creative place, right? A place where people come together, they have a sense of identity [of the place], know their own history a little bit better, have a deeper emotional connection through the history and cultural events.
I think a lot of our area is kind of nostalgic, as you say, you’re calling it a homecoming, a lot of it is people returning who grew up here, right? And they’re remembering this place and I think when people return and they feel a certain way about the place when they come back, it has an impact on the people who are still here.
Absolutely. Through my personal experience, I think this is common with a lot of people, we kind of get stuck in our own little bubble and we see things in a very restrictive way. We forget there’s a larger picture, or a past, or other stories within the community around us going on so that weekend is a way for people to come out. And I think a lot of our programming does that, too. It helps bring people out and realize Oh! there’s this, there’s that.
I think the common thing, and I was one of those people, even when I was at YSU, I was like there’s nothing to do! There’s so much to do. You just get stuck in your own little thing and it’s like there’s a whole world going on around you. So we try to highlight some of those things and we try to bring people together, bring artists together with the community as well as bring the community together with each other, get them out of their homes, or out of their yards or whatnot, and try to engage with other human beings rather than being stuck on the t.v., computer or cell phone.
That’s really terrific. I just attended a talk by Ohio Citizens for the Arts Executive Director Bill Behrendt and he was saying, the people who are in the arts really get the value of the arts to the community. But if we have to talk about economics, we really can. The arts bring a tremendous amount of economic benefit to our communities. In fact, the return on investment is 10:1. So when the Ohio Arts Council, for example, gives an organization a dollar, the State of Ohio reaps $10 of benefit from that.
I believe it. I see, from our experience in Trumbull County, when we do events, especially if we do them downtown, we’ll even do just art openings within our gallery, within our space, maybe a third to a quarter of those people eat within the area, or go get coffee. They buy things, maybe not there, from a shop or place down the street from us. We definitely see that. So it’s been important to the revitalization of, not just Warren itself and the county but, I mean, to the state and the country as well. To see the power of what art can actually do. And I think it’s true, artists see that. We have a better way to see that. We try to create these events so that the community can start to see that, too.
And just see the economic worth of the arts, as well.
Absolutely. And not just something that’s just nice to look at.
So you’ve done some interesting collaborations, as well. Tell us about the live paintings you’ve done in conjunction with the poetry readings.
Yeah. I’m friends with a few poets, quite a few, poets and writers, and when I attended YSU, one of my teachers was Al Bright. I don’t know if you’re familiar with him.
Al used to do live painting to jazz, and he always encouraged us to be expressive. In college, I started doing live painting to death metal or just going outside— one of the things to me, too— it was a matter of coping with my own insecurities and fears because I’m not very much a public speaker, I don’t like being in public and I think as an artist, a lot of us are self-conscious about what people will think about our work and being judged and if it’s no good. So I made the decision to just kind of say, screw it, I’ll just go with it and put myself out there and be very vulnerable. And so that led to me partnering with all types of people throughout the years and doing different types of music events, raves, and performance, then started meeting more and more writers and it just seemed logical. Poetry and painting are very much connected, to me. I used to do a lot of poetry, and I used to do a lot of painting, and I’d incorporate words as a lot of people do.
So it didn’t seem like an illogical leap to incorporate the two. So I just kind of put it out there, and all of a sudden when I did, people were interested in partnering, which was kind of cool. One of the things I think that’s important for me, when I do them, too, is that the poets and writers, the musicians— I go into it blind, not wanting to know what they’re going to read, or even what it’s about, the subject matter— because to me, I don’t want it to be something that I overthink ahead of time and then worry about, I need to do this or that. I want it to be more organic and the feel and just capture it immediately and put it down. When I do that and I don’t second guess, it seems to work really well and not only just for me for me, but I get the sensation and also get the feedback from the poets that they can see that happening. And how their tone can change or their remarks— after they see their words or how they’re reading it— how it looks, visually, because a lot of them aren’t painters, so they love it, too. It’s been a very cool thing.
That really cool.
The public loves to see it. It’s almost like when I first saw a photograph develop out of no where. All of a sudden it’s like this thing and you’re like, that’s what it looks like. And it’s fun.
I bet it’s really fun.
And nervous, because it’s hit or miss.
And that’s a really challenging thing that you’re setting up for yourself, because a poem, is maybe a minute long.
Right? That’s the concrete imagery, but there’s also a tone and a cadence to it that maybe can also be captured artistically.
Yeah, and what color is that? It’s weird because sometimes I’ve worked with different poets and they might say the word like “sun” and lot of us think yellow or orange. But there’s been times when I went blue or black, not questioning why. And I think that has to go to the tone of the piece. I think it’s fighting the things that maybe traditionally— I think art, poetry, writing, dance, allow you to see things differently, outside of the expected way of seeing things. That’s why I think the artists, they’re the rebels, the change to how people see. There’s more to this world than what you’ve been led to believe. I think people get to see that. And it’s pretty cool.
It’s really cool!
It’s nerve-wracking going into it, know what I mean? One of those things because I love, too— in the end, I have to accept it, whether I like it or not, it is what it is. I think that’s life. I don’t go back, I don’t rework, it’s just, that’s it.
Right. Right. Each of those media have a different opportunity for revision. I know with [metals sculptor] Tony [Armeni’s] work, I tease him that I can carry my whole body of [poetry] work on a flash drive and no one gets hurt. [Laughter] As we’re carrying a 3,000 pound piece of metal. And when he makes a mistake, there’s a lot of hammering and swearing and re-welding involved.
But it seems like you have maybe a little bit of synesthesia going on in your, the way you think about your artistic creation in the sense that the senses are not delineated, right? As you said, what color is that tone or cadence. As I was looking at a few of your paintings I was wondering if you had been influenced by Charles Burchfield or what your influences, who your influences have been.
Well, I think– I’ve had a number of influences. I think the first one that I can think of, as far back, was probably– I know for me, I guess as far as traditional artists and what not, I guess as a kid, going to Catholic school, you learn Renaissance artists and traditional– Byzantine art was one of those things. I remember when we got to Byzantine art, and even in college, I remember the look of it was very different from the Renaissance, almost like photorealism. It’s a little more expressive, the dimensions were off and stuff like that. I think as a kid there was something, for me, I loved DaVinci as a child, but I love his sketches. I love artists that would leave things to the imagination, in a sense. So I’ve always been attracted to art more like that.
Early on we used to have, when I went to Catholic school, in grade school, we had a woman come, she was Chinese I believe. She taught sumi, Chinese brush painting, and I remember I loved the black on the manila paper, I loved the space in that, and the expressiveness, the quality of it. I think for me that was a huge thing. Later on, the impressionists, and Degas. Where art can be this expressive, and void can have— like a well-placed pause, in speech or in a poem, the break, that being important.
And then later on artists like Jackson Pollock, that would just explode, pure energy on canvas, and color, and then, to me, too, my time at YSU I got into a lot of street art. I started getting on the Internet a lot. I think one of the cool things about technology, and sometimes we take it for granted now, but when the Internet was, not new, but newer, and we were on it I remember looking at a lot of art going on in like L.A. or New York that, you know, I hadn’t necessarily seen as a child. You can see things in like these colors. So I don’t know if there are singular artists, there’s a couple that I think have had an impact, but really it’s— I look at like the pieces or maybe their qualities, but I try not to get into– lock myself into favorite– but I do have, it’s hard not to. I always love a Degas. If I go to a museum, I always– if I know they have a Degas in that city, I almost always make it a point to see a Degas or a Van Gogh or Robert Rauschenberg or Jasper Johns–
And we also have an incredible amount of contemporary art coming through, the Butler–
Which I love. Yes, yes. I attended when Robert Rauschenberg has his show here, which was wonderful. I was a huge fan of his prior to that. It was almost unbelievable that he came. It was just amazing because Youngstown, Ohio! I’m from Warren. Youngstown, Ohio! It’s like– I’ve never been into sports, but that would be an all-star Hall of Fame player to me, it’s like wow. It’s like one of your idols is here! And you forget that. This place can attract all types of people. It’s an awesome thing.
That’s really cool. I would like to know more about the new ceramics studio and the Trumbull Art Gallery. So the Trumbull Art Gallery is– part of the Fine Arts Council?
No. A lot of people get confused.
What is that relationship? I don’t have it clear.
We do have a relationship. We partner on things. Being the Fine Arts Council, we do partner with other agencies or we have, even within our board, a number of individuals that are on our board as well as on the Trumbull Art Gallery. And I think that’s one of the things, when it comes to the arts, there’s a lot of cross-pollination as well as a lot of the nonprofits. My wife and I volunteer, we helped build, I was on the gallery committee for the Trumbull Art Gallery and still volunteer. It’s one of those things: they are two separate organizations but we do a lot together. One thing we see with the Fine Arts Council, I think something that if you look, nationally, I think a lot of people started to realize, to get out of that old idea of us vs. them, like let me get mine and screw everyone else. We saw the power of that. If we do something and we partner with someone else, we get the people that would come to theirs, and the additional people that wouldn’t come to either individually but will come, so we see the value in that. We do a lot back and forth.
That’s no small thing.
We’ll work with anyone willing to work. We try not to say no.
That’s really great. Every once in a while I kick a toe and think, “Is that a silo?” [Laughter] I think it’s so unproductive.
Yeah. But I think it does lead to some confusion because we’re just a couple doors down from each other, the Fine Arts Council and the Trumbull Art Gallery, we partner on events, so people see our logos and that–
And the art gallery is a nonprofit as well.
Correct. One of their big focuses is, they function as an art gallery, and while the opportunity for artists within the community as well as the region, they do regional art shows to show their work, to be shown, and they’ve had artists from out of state, too, so nationally have shown they’ve been able to bring artists from all over and then they’ve done workshops for artists in the community, and children, and they just recently opened, they just dedicated their basement towards, essentially, a maker space.
It’s stunning. It’s so beautiful.
It is. One of the things I’m excited about, well two of them. Because they have the ceramics studio. I used to love doing ceramics, but firing in the kiln, it gets expensive, once you do that. Just having a space dedicated to that so they are able to do that, and it will make it easier for a lot more people within the community, not just artists but maybe people that have always wanted to try. Also, they talked about doing a dark room for photographers. Which is another thing I’m excited about because I miss those days, too, so it’s hard to have a space.
And a residency.
Yes, and a residency.
That’s pretty cool.
Yes, it is. It is. And it’s just a couple doors down.
That’s just amazing, I mean, Warren is a pretty small place to have such a thriving arts scene. Do you have any theories about how that all works? I have a theory. Let me lay mine on the table and let’s look at it. My theory about Warren is that it’s really attributable to a handful of incredible individuals who didn’t only want to make their own work but also wanted the community to come together around the arts.
I agree. I think that’s the big thing. And that’s why I said it’s getting past that 20th century mentality of almost corporate mentality of like, it’s us vs. them, and we need ours, and more, more for me, not for you. And if you’re doing something it takes away from me. I think it took enough individuals to say, if we come together and do things for the greater good, it actually benefits us all.
And I think what it’s done, it’s created more opportunity for all those individuals. Not only did it help the community but it ended up helping some of those individuals, not just as much as it would have by their own means, but even more. It has exponentially increased the traffic.
I think so too and it’s so enlightened. For example, the brownfields exhibit. Where a number of photographers, maybe six–?
I think there were six of us.
And you all went out and took images of some kind of ruins– and just brought them back. How did you want the community to engage from that?
I think the one things is, when we were approached there was what they wanted, of course they wanted to, essentially bring awareness to the community about the largely industrial properties, some even vacant, or no longer there, that were either a potential hazard to the community or a perceived hazard, maybe just look bad, as well as some residential. So they wanted to highlight that and bring it together because some people tend to, some people can see things and they blow it up more than it is. And some people see things and they just kind of like, nah, it’s not that bad. So they wanted to give an honest evaluation of here’s what’s going on in the community. And not only that, they presented information of their plan, and not just here’s a problem, but here’s a plan. Things they’re trying to do. There was a clean-up on one of the sites, the old Republic Steel was one of the sites we documented and they’re in the process, it’s probably three quarters knocked down. They have funding through the county, state and federal government to clean the soils, a couple million dollars. So that was one of the things, not just to document the wreckage, but the process of what they’re doing which I think’s important, too.
But I know, for me, I grew up, I’m not sure about all of the other artists. I know a couple of them what they were trying to do. But I know for me, I grew up in an industrial complex with factories and right by train tracks, it’s in an area called the golden triangle, it’s in Warren, Howland. Back in the day, it was like the central location of business within that. On a map it looked like a triangle, and they called it the golden triangle because gold, money, and that was the hub. The Packards were there and all of these other places. It was the thriving part of the industry within the community. And if you were to go there today– it is a little better than a few years ago when we documented it– it’s getting better. At one point it was pretty rough and pretty bad.
So for me, I try to document some of that area but I didn’t want to– when I go there– I grew up in it– someone might say it’s depressing– to me it’s home. I grew up on the train tracks, playing in vacant buildings. I tried to, through the use of art, and photography, and I did kind of, I shot a lot of Polaroid, and packfilm for mine as well as did a digital slide show and then presented it in a way, like in an installation on the wall. I tried to make mine more interactive and draw the viewer in rather than present like an eyesore. To highlight things like the human factor without having humans in it and try to make it a little personal.
Because I think for me, when I look at– there was a point when I wanted to be an archaeologist and I remember I was always fascinated with objects, and objects that were worn down and had a story. I’d always think, what happened? The mystery of it all. And when I see buildings, architecture and that, I don’t look at it as being depressing, but having a story. I think our society looks– especially if you look at our treatment of the elderly. If something’s older, it’s no good. We get rid of it. This piece of equipment is old, let’s get rid of it.
I got into Buddhism at one point and started studying Asian culture and their value for the elderly and for history, how these things have a story. What’s the value, what can it tell the present community and what can that mean to the future so we don’t have to make the same mistakes? So for me, when I look at things I try to look at that. I look at an inanimate object almost as human. Because there’s a human element to it. It’s not just a broken-down eyesore, it’s someone that’s had a story and been through a lot, and just kind of left and abandoned but it doesn’t have the possibility– there’s a lot of possibilities.
Things can change, and in Warren we’ve seen that, where businesses started to come in, more recently, because they’ve seen the value in the community. We have tons of property and there’s a ton of potential there and we’ve used the arts to try to make life a little more enjoyable or pleasant to give people an outlet. I think when that happened, the quality of living started to increase and the desire for people to have fun things to do has increased, so business sees that, and they start moving into downtown and surrounding areas and it’s been pretty cool. So I think the brownfields, it was a huge success for that, for a number of reasons and I think that was one of them. The artists, the organizations, the county, the governor’s office, the EPA, the Port Authority, and the Fine Arts Council, Trumbull Art Gallery, that was an example of different organizations coming together.
In strength and collaboration.
Exactly. That none of them on their own could have done. And not only was it shown in Warren, it was shown over at the Erie Terminal, and after that they had some type of State function for it and they presented it there and they talked about maybe nationally next year or so. It was a wonderful thing to be a part of.
That is a great thing. So maybe a message to people from Youngstown. Let’s just just clear up a few things. If people from Youngstown want to come to Warren, do they need a passport?
[Laughter] Isn’t that a funny thing?
Does it take an hour and a half to get there?
Two days’ travel by horseback. Yeah. It’s so funny because [laughter] I just had this conversation. I remember going to YSU, doing events in Warren. And I was also involved with showing art in Youngstown, as well, to individuals. But I would always have a problem when I’d ask artists from Youngstown to come over to Warren, and vise versa, when I’d try to get people from Warren to come over to Youngstown. And I don’t know what that is. It took me 20-some minutes to get here today, and it’s not like a horrible drive, and I wasn’t speeding or that. I’m not sure what the mentality is.
We’ve tried to provide the opportunity for not just artists in Warren and Trumbull County, but regionally to do kind of cool stuff and we’ve done a couple of larger-based shows, like we’ve done these THINK shows, and the idea that I had for that was to create a big city show in a small town. I worked with a couple other individuals, a couple other artists. What we did was we found locations, businesses that could basically use the traffic. We used our show as a means to highlight the potential of different locations. We invited artists of all mediums, painters, photographers, poets, performance, we’ve had dancers, clay artists, just kind of like anything and everyone, you know, and we’ve invited them and we essentially don’t give them any limits, we just tell them, as long as it’s not illegal, we’ll show it. [Laughter] You gotta say that.
The other thing too, is, when I tell the artists, if you want to create something, don’t worry about creating something that you’re worried about what the viewer is going to think, or that you need to sell it. This is a show, if you want to do something really weird and get crazy with it and something that you’ve wanted to do but you’re afraid no one’s going to like it, do it. Don’t worry about it if it sells. Do that thing you’ve wanted to do. So people have done that. We’ve had these really amazing couple of shows.
The first one we did, we had 8″ or 10″ of show that day, and we thought, Oh no, this is going to be horrible, and no one’s going to come, and we had 5-600 people show up, from not just Warren and the surrounding communities, but we had quite a few people from Youngstown, some people came over from Sharon Pa., and we had some artists from Cleveland and Pittsburgh show up! And Cleveland had over a foot! A couple of the D.J.s, I couldn’t even believe they came. We tried to create a big show and on multiple levels and all types of stuff going on. I think that’s been something that’s been cool as well as partnering with others, those members and founder of the Independent Art Association which did some shows, who try to make art fun and engaging to where it’s like an event for people and not just like it’s hanging on the gallery kind of boring and snooty-tooty type of thing but, essentially, show the community that art can be fun. It doesn’t have to be something that’s sitting out of your reach and you can never afford it. And just because it’s not in a museum doesn’t mean it’s not good.
I think poetry has that liability as well, that it’s difficult and not accessible. But poetry is all over the place just the way art is.
Thank you so much for all of the work that you do in the community. We’re really grateful to learn more about it, and I hope you’ll see some more Youngstowners coming up your way.
I hope so!
Denise received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theater from Youngstown State University’s Fine and Performing Arts College and a Juris Doctor from Case Western Reserve School of Law, where she earned an honors concentration in Law and the Arts from CWRU’s internationally recognized Spangenberg Center for Law, Technology, and the Arts. For the past twenty years, she has worked with some extremely talented and creative individuals in the arts. Not only did she focus her legal studies on law and arts, but she has acted, directed, and toured as a dramaturg. A favorite speaker at Youngstown State University’s College of Creative Arts and Communication, Denise’s real world employment in the artistic arena allows her to address concerns from an artist’s perspective, while analyzing legal issues as a trained attorney. She is an attorney with the law firm of Harrington, Hoppe, and Mitchell, Ltd.
When not volunteering for The Legal Creative, Denise serves on the Executive and Development Committees of the Board of Directors for Opera Western Reserve; the Board of Directors for the Mahoning Valley College Access Program; and the Community Advisory Board for Youngstown State University’s College of Creative Arts and Communication. She is also a Pupilage Team Leader for the Nathaniel R. Jones Inn of Court, a member of the Ohio State Bar Association, a member of the Mahoning County Bar Association, and a member of Leadership Mahoning Valley’s 2017 Class (the Best Class Ever).
Power of the Arts interviewed Bayer at Harrington, Hoppe & Mitchell in downtown Youngstown. You can listen to the interview here:
Karen Schubert: This is Karen Schubert and I’m talking with Denise Glinatsis Bayer today for the Power of the Arts. We are in this lovely boardroom at the Huntington Bank Building and Denise is the director of Legal Creative. And Denise, I know you went to high school in Canfield. Was that a good program? Do you feel like it helped set you up for doing work in the arts? and for seeing wide horizons in your future life?
Denise Glinatsis Bayer: Well, I think that, academically, it was a wonderful school system to go through. While I was there I also attended YSU, through, at the time they called it SB140 program, so I was also taking classes at YSU. That was a great opportunity.
With regard to arts, I think that where I was first introduced to everything was being involved with the Youngstown Playhouse Youth Theater. So I was very involved in that, and in middle school and moving into high school, and it was just a wonderful experience. I am still friends with a lot of the people that, the kids that I was in shows with way back then. It’s very interesting how I think that experience in the youth theater and that responsibility– because we had to attend rehearsals, and we did need to miss school, for about a week, I think, to do the school performances– so you had to make sure that you were up on all of your schoolwork and didn’t get behind. I think that really set us up to succeed later. When I look at everyone that I was involved with, we’re all doing something interesting [laughter].
And from there you went on to YSU? What did you study there?
Well, I went into the theater program at YSU and I graduated with a bachelor in fine arts in theater. While we were there, again, I had a lot of great students that I went to school with that I’m still friends with, and while we were there we had a completely student run production company called Black Box Productions. I think that gave us a lot of hands-on experience into, not only, the theater production but also running a business, in general. We were provided funds by the university, but it was up to us to decide the season, to secure the licensing and the rights for the shows, to select directors for the shows and select the casts, do the sound, the lighting design, costume design, and then actually put on the shows. So that was a wonderful experience. And that was all in addition to your regular coursework. That was an extra-curricular activity.
It sounds like it was a really demanding program. I think there’s a perception that theater at the university is a frivolous program, and I know some local public universities have had to work hard to defend their theater program. You feel like it was a broad, very intense and responsibility-evoking–
Yes, definitely. We were there until all hours of the morning building a set or taking down a set, I mean, I had to buy engineering vellum to create a lighting design. So it was all sorts of skills that you tapped into for that type of degree. It did prepare me, I think, that that type of self-discipline certainly prepared me for when I went on to law school, and then even now as a practicing attorney.
So talk a little bit about your decision to go to law school. And did a theater degree set you up for that program?
You know, I am not a litigator. I’m a transactional attorney. A lot of people, when they think theater, they think oh, that will really help you with your public speaking and court work and things like that. On my end, it mostly helped me with time management and thinking of things from a different viewpoint, for lack of a better word, creatively. In working with Black Box, I thought it was just extremely interesting that I had to secure these licenses for these shows and there was this legal right on something that was intangible in creative works. I had also, through high school, I worked for a law office, so I was introduced to the law in that manner. And I knew I wanted to proceed in my education. I was either going to get an M.F.A and then maybe a Ph.D. in theater, but once I saw that there was a Law in the Arts concentration at Case Western, that piqued my interest, and so I applied and went there. That certainly helped me with– I don’t think people, especially with what I do, in terms of creating documents and agreements and trying to get parties to come together in some manner– I think people discount how creative attorneys really need to be. Because your clients come to you, they want a specific outcome. And you need to take that, given the fact of their situation, given the law, put that all together and come out with something that is appropriate, that meets your clients’ needs.
I’m so fascinated by the neuroscience that talks about how we gain empathy when we read novels, for example; maybe theater also serves you in that way where you’re actually embodying different people and so you’re really forced to see things from other points of view. And maybe it just sets you up to see the world in that way, that there are different points of view that are outside of our own selves.
Yes, definitely. And in my work, there’s a lot of things, people come to you, you know, when you’re an attorney and someone calls you, you may have hundred cases that you’re working on, a million different issues that you’re concerned about, but when your client calls you, that is at their forefront. They are worried, they are concerned, they want to make sure that this is taken care of. So you need to step back and realize that this is the most important thing in that client’s life. Right now, when they talk to you. And you have to take that into consideration when you deal with them.
Another place where I think that my background in the arts and theater really comes into play is with collaboration. With my clients, I’m not the type of attorney that’s going to hold the law up in this, like it’s some mystifying entity. I like to explain all along the way what’s going on, what we’re going to do. I like to get the client’s input. And want to make sure that they understand what we’re doing, so that it’s not just something that’s going to blindside them. So I think that I really look at my practice of law as a collaborative effort.
That’s really interesting. So talk a little about the law-and-the-arts program at Case. What kinds of things did you study?
Well, we focused a lot on, a lot of it has to do with contracts and intellectual property. So some of the classes that, the coursework that we focused on included of the music industry, law in the visual arts, a survey of intellectual property, in-depth copyright issues, in-depth trademark issues.
So that led you to start Legal Creative.
Yes. So after law school I came back and I was working for the federal court. I had a clerkship there for two years. And along the way I noticed, I was still involved in the theater and still had a lot of friends in the arts community here and there are a couple of things I noticed. One was that we did not have a Volunteer-Lawyers for the Arts here in our area. I noticed a lot of artists, and in fact, the people that assisted me with incorporating was the other folks on the board, they all noticed these same things, that we had a lot more freelance artists, people trying to make a living off of their art in this area. So taking that into account, and also the fact that, you may get that conservatory-type training, if you get a degree in any type of the arts, but you’re not really given that business or legal type of training as much. So that leads to lot of misconceptions about the law. So we wanted to create something that wasn’t just, Oh here’s an hour of pro bono legal advice, see you later, but it was also something that provided an educational resource for artists so they could understand and then they could explain to their clients these issues and the law. So that’s how the Legal Creative was born.
And you’re doing so much more than that. And so to bring that kind of information into the community you hold clinics where artists can come in and bring their individual concerns and you’ve had training sessions, right, about individual issues and things like that. But you’re also taking a really broad approach to the arts. Can you talk about some of your other initiatives?
Sure. I think that our mission is really that we want artists to be recognized for the economic impact that they make. And part of that is trying to get the public to respect the work that goes in to pieces of art, and understand that this is worth something, and that they do need to pay for these items. And that benefits our whole economic structure.
So some of the things that we’ve done, we’ve also done community art projects. We did the Youngstown Neighborhood Postcard Project, which was a lot of fun, at the YSU Festival of the Arts.
Talk about that. It was a wonderful program.
Thanks. It was based on a national program by a James L. Knight Foundation Fellow, Hunter Franks, and he was actually up in Akron at the time, which is a Knight Foundation city. So I got into contact with Hunter Franks and asked if we could bring this program to Youngstown.
One thing I feel about the arts, too, is that it’s a great equalizer in the community. So what the Youngstown Neighbor Postcard Project did was, we highlighted eight neighborhoods in the City of Youngstown. Part of the project we commissioned a local photographer, Tony Nicholas, to go into each of those neighborhoods and take a photo that was representative of that neighborhood. Then we created black and white little postcards where we asked the attendees at the festival to pick one of the eight neighborhoods that we highlighted.
So, say you had great memories of the Brownlee Woods area, which I did. My godmother lived there and I have a lot of wonderful memories of walking up to Youngstown Poland Road and Mavar’s and just being around the area. And the Happy Birthday Jesus cake, I love that, on Sheridan Road [laughter]. So a lot of great memories of the Brownlee Woods area. And that was one of the neighborhoods that we highlighted.
So you’d indicate on the postcard why you loved Brownlee Woods, and create your own personal artwork on the other side, it had a cute little Greetings From Youngstown on the other side, a traditional postcard design. During the festival, we put those postcards, we highlighted the artworks, to create a community art project around each of Tony’s photos. Then at the end of the festival, we collected all those postcards and just picked random addresses of people from other parts of the county and sent them those postcards.
And, you know, the reasoning behind that is maybe you live in Canfield or Poland or in another Youngstown neighborhood, and you think, I don’t know, what’s in The Garden District, or what’s in Brownlee Woods? Why would I go there? And then you receive this postcard with all these great memories or great things that people like to do in that neighborhood and you take a second look. So it’s something to bring people from different neighborhoods together. And also, a community art project that everyone can take part in.
And so lately you’ve been doing a project on hunger? I talked to Kent Kerr at the Summer Festival.
The Youngstown Social Cause Poster Project. Yes. One of the issues has focused on hunger in Youngstown. Currently we are partnering with the YSU Department of Art and the Mahoning County Technical College in their art department where the students in graphic design are highlighting a social issue that affects Youngstown. And one of the social issues is the access to healthy food, and hunger in this area. And so they created posters that highlighted some of these issues that affect Youngstown. For that, Kent worked on that and R.J. Thompson wrote the grant for that. We received a grant from the Puffin Foundation West for that.
So you’re using the arts to illustrate, to make visual, a community problem.
Yes. And I think that whole project should be unveiled in the fall of this year.
How do people find your– are you having trouble finding people or do you have a good formula for reaching the artists you’re trying to reach.
I think that what we need to work at is greater accessibility. For our legal clinics, it’s difficult because, usually we have them at the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County. Next week we have one at TBEIC in Warren. And we’ve been working with location, the availability of the volunteer attorneys, and the hours that we can schedule these clinics because we do need to have artists pre-register.
We can’t accept walk-ins for this type of thing just because we want to make sure we have attorneys that are there that are comfortable answering that specific legal question. So if you have a question in copyright law we want to make sure you have an attorney who is familiar with copyright law that meets with you and is available. So I think that just by social media, I think we are reaching them, artists, I think they’re aware of our existence. I think right now we need to work on how to make ourselves more accessible to the artist.
So what are a couple of issues that artists have in this area? What are a couple of things you really want artists to know?
You’d think it would mostly be copyright/trademark type of questions, but I think mostly it’s business-related questions.
More so: Should I form a separate entity for my company? Should I form an LLC? We do a lot of contract review, as well. We’ll have people who say you know, I’ve been been doing this verbally but I really think I should have a contract because we’re having some miscommunication with some of my clients. I think that’s great. I always– that is my big issue that I like to press upon people. Especially when you’re dealing with works that have that intellectual property layers to them, you want to make sure that you and your client are on the same page. Sometimes, as you mentioned, for tax purposes, forming a separate entity can sometimes help you and maybe streamline, hey I’m using all of this for business expenses, and this can be something that might be deductible. So sometimes having a separate account, a separate entity, helps you streamline those type of considerations.
Do you think that arts programs like YSU should offer more of these practical issues in their programming?
Yes I do, and we’ve actually been in discussions with YSU to present a series of lunchtime brown bag type seminars for the students throughout the year. So hopefully that will be coming into fruition. This would be something that would occur, you know, focused towards the students, at a time when they’re already on the university campus and addressing some of these, giving them some hands-on workshops. So hopefully that might evolve into a full-blown course in the future. But I think what’s nice is that the dean, the faculty at YSU recognizes that the students do need to have access to this, and we do need to make it easy for them to attend and to be apprised of these type of issues.
Any other thoughts about what you’d like people to know about Legal Creative or about the arts here? I just want to ask you quickly if you miss theater? Do you dip a toe in, sometimes?
I do. Right now it’s a little busy because I have two small children. But I was very involved in the Shakespeare in the Park and those type of shows, so I do miss theater. Maybe once the kids are a little bit older, I’ll go back, I’m sure. But I love being in the audience and supporting theater that way.
If I were to say anything, it’s just: You know. Go see a show. Go to a concert. Go to an art showing. You know the quality of artists that we have in this area. And just support them. The Legal Creative is here to also provide that type of support to artists so that we can get that message out there. Look at the quality of arts that we have in Youngstown, Ohio, in Warren, Ohio, in Sharon. Look at the talent that we have in this area and let’s support it, and let’s realize what a benefit it is to our community economically and not just as an aesthetic asset.
We’ll that’s a perfect note to end on. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us. We appreciate it very much.
Jimmy Sutman is a proud graduate of the now defunct Best Driving School. He also attended Grove City College for undergraduate work and Youngstown State University for graduate work. There he studied creative writing under the tutelage of Steve Reese and Phil Brady. Jimmy works with a diverse group of people at the Purple Cat, ISLE, and Golden String Inc. His latest passion is caring for peafowl, a passion groomed from the readings of Flannery O’Connor. His peacocks reside at Farmer Casey’s Ranch in Coitsville, Ohio. Jimmy resides with his wife, Jill, in Downtown Youngstown.
Power of the Arts interviewed Sutman in Jimmy’s Pearl Street office. You can listen to the interview here:
Karen Schubert: This is Karen Schubert with Power of the Arts and I’m interviewing Jimmy Sutman today. I’m in Jimmy’s office. You can tell it’s full of color and notes and books and there’s so much going on here. I just have a sense being in this space that you have a rich and varied life and lots of things going on at once. So thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy day.
Jimmy Sutman: My pleasure.
I want to talk a little bit about how you got here. I know that you went to Poland Seminary. You’re a Youngstown boy?
And you went to Grove City?
Yes, I went to Grove City College.
What were you studying there?
Communications. It has served me well. Public speaking, I do a lot of that type of thing. But everything from professional to creative writing. I was pretty blessed. I had a lot of good instructors there. And even not so much the instruction but just their passion for it, you know, they instilled a lot of that in me. I’m always on the hunt. I really like research. This was back in the day before we could look everything up on Google and our phones where you had to go to ancient books to find obscure facts.
I know what you mean. People who didn’t grow up with that will never cease to see it as a miracle.
Everything you want to know right in your pocket.
How much time, you know? I struggle with time because everything moves too fast. Especially for my adults with disabilities— this world that is getting faster and faster, is sending them further and further on the outside, on the edges, fringes of society. There’s a little bit of sadness of that, that I try to slow everything down. I just did an in-service with about one hundred of my employees and that was one of the main focuses where we have to slow down. Don’t be on your cell phone with the clients. Listen to them when they get home. Ask them questions. The details. Pay attention to details. Don’t skip over them.
I think that is something that is common in the world today, that those with disabilities aren’t interesting or aren’t capable of art. Their art is so unique and so beautiful, it just takes a little while to uncover it. You’ve got to take a little more time to see it. And when you do, it’s just fascinating. Especially in the world of autism, what’s going on in some of the minds of these individuals. It’s tough to tap into it, but once you do, you can find something that is just absolutely a miracle. So that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to slow things down and we’re trying to expose the personalities of these folks and I guess, in turn, find art in that.
Yes. And I think, really, a lot of my folks with disabilities, because they didn’t fit in, in so many different areas of society, that they really weren’t exposed to the arts. So I really think that that is one of our missions. We are to expose, inundate our folks with the arts, whether it be doing watercolors, or on the stage of the Youngstown Playhouse, or reading their poems on GoldenStringRadio.org, whatever it may be, just keep exposing them.
It’s kind of sad, especially some of our aging folks, we do a lot of residential for folks and that usually means when Mom and Dad are ill or when Mom and Dad pass away, they come and live with us. So we have a lot of folks who are in their 50s, 60s, 70s, and it’s sad that people that age, a lot of them have never been exposed to some of the arts. Even an individual, let’s say, with Down syndrome, at 58, might be getting their first real exposure to that. And— boy. It’s immediate. [Snaps fingers] We see changes, immediately.
I love your baseline assumption that people who don’t have disabilities are getting enough exposure to the arts. Do you really believe that?
You look back in your life and you see that they were pretty rich with arts.
Um— believe me, I think the human spirit gravitate towards it, even if you’re not exposed to it. Our first client Joe Gallagher who I’ll use as— I knew him the best. We were really tight. He passed away about five years ago. Joe was the inspiration for ISLE, which is the residential, the Purple Cat, which is the day program, Golden String, which is the 501c3 that raises money to support socialization and the arts for our folks, heck, Joe is even inspiration for the candy store, because he wanted to work somewhere, which is Touch the Moon in downtown Youngstown.
But Joe, working class family, Southside of Youngstown, hard Irish folk, they weren’t soft in many ways. They weren’t going to take Joe to art classes. As long as Joe was not in trouble, they really didn’t pay him a lot of mind. And Joe was the youngest of, at one time, seven or eight children. So as long as Joe was safe and he wasn’t in trouble, everyone was happy.
Joe, himself, found it. He found music.
Do you think his siblings did?
I think that they did, because they had the capabilities to go out and look for it. And they had friends that could drive and take them places, they could get on the bus and go places, to a theater or see a concert. But Joe didn’t have all of those options. He wasn’t trusted to do those types of things. There just wasn’t someone that would do it.
So he, on his own, this was in the era of rock ‘n roll coming in, Joe found 45 records, and he would go all over town scrounging them up and collecting these things. When he first came to live with us he would sit in his room for hours and just look, I mean, literally stare at the record player and when the song was over, flip it up and change something, or stare at the covers, the album covers. He found his own way and I think the family was probably happy with that too. Joe, go play with your records. Go up in the upstairs and get out of our hair for a little bit.
But who didn’t do that in those days? That just sounds like a universal experience. Right?
Exactly. And he found it. But Joe was a bright guy.
How did you meet him?
I knew of Joe when I was a very little boy. We lived in a similar neighborhood and our parents were friends. They used to play a lot of cards together back in the day when the neighbors would get together and do a lot of that type of thing on the front porch. But there was a period of twenty years when Joe was not part of my life. Once I graduated from Grove City College, I took a part-time job working at the sheltered workshops, which really changed my life.
I can remember the first day of my work in the field, at the sheltered workshop, Joe Gallagher got off a giant school bus. They were still at that time bringing our folks in yellow school buses even though they were adults. And Joe got off that bus and he looked at me and he just was by my side from that point on. It wasn’t like he recognized me, because I was a small boy when he knew me previously. But I don’t know, I don’t know what I did, but he just wanted to be near me a lot, and so because of that we became good friends.
Wow. What was the trajectory of going from that first job to deciding that you wanted to start a program of your own?
That’s a good question because that was not even a thought. I had gone to school for communications. My main job, I was working for WKBN, so I was heading in the news field. But I was disenchanted with that. I don’t know what I thought— I went to school for four years thinking I was going to become a t.v. journalist and then I found out it takes about twenty minute to write the news and you have to write it at a fifth grade level, and there really wasn’t much art or style to it. It was professional writing, and I appreciated that, a great resumé builder, but not something that I knew was going to keep me occupied or my mind occupied.
So getting back to your point there, at the workshops, here I was with these people who all had needs. Immediately I saw this as the ultimately problem-solving situation. Families would come to me and say, I don’t want to talk about the sheltered workshop, because I know Joe is o.k. here, but at home, we haven’t been on a vacation in twenty years because Joe won’t get on an airplane.
Or even worse, I had some families say to me, it would be a widow who would come and say to me, I go to bed every night worried sick what’s going to happen to my son or daughter because he’s an only child or she’s an only child, and there’s no one to take care of them and I’m not going to be around a lot longer. What do I do? So there was a lot of gravity to that.
So after working there for approximately five years, I thought, there’s bigger problems out there. I was tired of dealing with bureaucracy, too. The sheltered workshops were run by the state. There were a lot of employees that were your stereotypical state employees that really weren’t doing much. There were instructors that were content to sit a group of people with disabilities around the table and just have them cut coupons or color. And these are adults. And everyday I was coming home frustrated.
So it was time for a change no matter what. I kind of rolled the dice and said, maybe I’ll try this residential thing because all these families are saying the same thing over and over to me. And there were systems in place but they were very sterile, they were institutions, still at the time, this is the late ‘90s, so I thought, heck! let me go out there and start a home, a nice home, that people would feel like a home.
So you can be a lot more nimble, a lot more tailored, and create a rich and warm environment and programming.
We can paint the wall whatever color Joe Gallagher wants it versus it has to be this standard white because that’s what we do in all of our buildings.
No purple! So what is your relationship with government infrastructure or government funding?
I would classify it as positive.
What is it, exactly?
We are part of the Medicaid system. So most of our folks, we do have some who are private pay, or some we just take because it’s the right thing to do, but most of our folks are part of the Medicaid waiver system. So they either have what’s called an I.O. waiver, which stands for Individual Options, or Level 1, which is kind of like the baby brother of the I.O. People who are with us residentially have the I.O.s, because all the I.O. waiver pays for is staffing, some environmental modifications if needed, but those are minor. It’s mainly staffing, twenty-four-hour-a-day staffing. So if Joe Gallagher lived with three other people, all four of their waivers combined pay for twenty-four hour-staffing, seven days a week.
Purple Cat is day program. A lot of those folks have the Level 1, baby brother, waiver, and that pays for their transportation to and from Purple Cat and for their day program.
So I feel like, for those people who are really keeping track of the news I just want to note here, because they’ll be thinking about it, that you’re probably watching very carefully to see what happens with Medicaid. I wish we had more time to talk about that, but I did notice on your website that you have two hundred employees and one hundred fifty clients. I just, noted, that that’s an incredible ratio. You have more employees than clients! That’s amazing.
Yeah, and that’s outdated now, our in-services, every year in July we have to in-service every one of those employees on the latest news in safety and trainings. People with developmental disabilities, and we’re going to train close to four hundred people this year. Some of those are volunteers, but yeah. It’s kind of funny. People don’t think that, because of the nature of a lot of our folks, too, and this has been challenging, we don’t take just the easiest folks. We have a lot of folks who require a one-on-one, meaning all day long, twenty-four hours a day, meaning one staff person for this client due to behavioral concerns. We have some that one-on-one little periods of the day for medical concerns.
The face of everything has changed, and there’s no doubt about it, the government wants us to become a more a medical model. I like that, because that’s keeping people out of nursing homes; it’s keeping people out of hospitals longer; and we have such a good staff-to-client ratio. Joe Gallagher, there was lots of talk toward the end of his life of him having to go in a nursing facility and I wouldn’t have it. Most of the time in a nursing facility there’s one staff person for twelve people that have a myriad of medical issues. Where Joe was living, it was 1:4 ratio. I’ll take that any day. And plus I can get extra staff. A nurse even to come in to help Joe with specific medical needs.
I’m a little blown away with all you’ve learned since you got your degree in communications. Are you an autodidact?
It’s just— again— it’s problem solving. If I need to find some information, that’s where my research comes in. I will call the people. I will find it. I’m blessed and there’s no way I can do this— I have a great surrounding corps of dedicated, smart people who find things out for me and they go out and help me tremendously. So that’s essential. But you know, basically, it’s just a product of weird problems that pop up out of nowhere and everybody looks at me and says, What are we gonna do? And I was like, well this is what we’re going to do. We’re going in this direction. We’re going to do this. I’m o.k. with that role. I don’t know if I always will be, because, again, what we do is 24/7 and there are times where we have multiple fires going at one time, and you think to yourself I don’t know if I can keep this pace. But God always sends me some peace. The arts give me my peace. And I think that’s why I love it so much, personally.
Thank you for transitioning. I was working my way back to that, as well. So exactly what kinds of arts are you bringing into your programming? What does that look like?
Our Purple Cat really has allowed us to focus on that.
What do you mean by that, exactly, Purple Cat?
Again, just going back to me working at the sheltered workshop, if you’re an adult, and Joe Gallagher graduated from high school (which he never did because it just was a different era), but when he became an adult, he had no options. And then thankfully someone created the sheltered workshop system, so probably in his 20s Joe had no structured, any programming. In his 30s, he was able to go to a sheltered workshop for awhile. And it stayed that way through the ’70s, the ’80s, mid-’90s, finally, Joe, people like Joe that graduated high school, and folks with disabilities can stay in until the age of 22, either go to the sheltered workshop or now you can get a job. You can try to find a job. Obviously those weren’t plentiful.
But with the advent of Purple Cat and some of the other alternative day programs, finally, in the 2000s, people who were graduating had choice, and that’s what fueled me— you didn’t have to choose the Purple Cat. Families would call me up and ask, what should I do? Go to all five, six places, pick the place that’s best for you.
And so along that thought with the Purple Cats, my wife Jill and I, because Jill runs the Purple Cat, I’m the big running, trying to run everything, but day-to-day operations is Jill at the Purple Cat and Jill’s philosophy more than mine is, as we take new people and we have to grow. We’re not going to have cookie-cutter places. Because we want our folks to have choices within the Purple Cat.
All of our folks want to work. Not all, but most want to work. One hundred percent want some of the arts. So that’s been the flavor. Our Purple Cats range from our farm with alpacas, peacocks, now we’re having bees, we’re making honey—
So the short definition of Purple Cat is day programming.
Correct. It’s actually called day habilitation. Not rehab.
Yeah, enrichment’s a good word. So we have a farm, people can work at the farm, but we also, at every one of our Purple Cats have an art instructor and a music instructor. Anyone that you’re at you can always get that. But the farm, agriculture, working with animals.
Our Morley Theater, which is a theater, it’s the old Oakland Theater, so every day they can put on their own performances for themselves or record things or record videos or play Wii on the big movie screen, whatever they want to do. So there’s definitely a dramatic tilt to the Morley Theater.
Gallagher’s Lunch Bucket, named after my good friend Joe Gallagher, is a restaurant. That’s at the Oak Hill Renaissance, so people who want to work in the restaurant field get to do that. But there’s also instructors to do art and instructors to do music.
Here at Pearl Street we take a lot of folks who are on the autism spectrum, which is great. And we have Golden String Radio here which is an internet radio station, designed by our folks with disabilities where they are professional DJs, they get paid to do their own shows. We also have a kitchen, a training kitchen here. We also have arts. We do a lot with landscaping. We’re about to get animals out here if the City of Youngstown will allow such things.
What kind of animals?
Well, our first choice would be chickens. That’s a losing battle. But there are close variations of chickens. We’re looking at ducks and rabbits. The peacock thing— if they’re going to be upset about a cock being loud, they’re really going to be upset about a peacock screaming.
[Laughing] They are so loud.
I can circumvent the system and really turn the screw to the City on that one because I think they would allow the peacocks because they don’t know they can be quite loud.
But anyway, the Purple Cats are all different. And if people want to rotate, we rotate them. Maybe they want to work in wintertime in the kitchen at Gallagher’s, but they love to work in agriculture in summertime, at the farm. Bingo! That’s what we’re trying to do is put people, not put them into a specific place. Have them develop their space.
That’s interesting, too. When we first started the Purple Cat I thought, oh, boy we’re going to struggle to be able to pay people who are very specific in what they do. We have no problem with employment with Purple Cat. And people who have degrees. These aren’t people who— I’d be o.k. with that— you don’t have to have a degree to be an art instructor at Purple Cat, but we’re getting way professional people who can do huge, huge things. But our turnover rate hasn’t been— we just had a great instructor leave because her dream has been to work in library sciences and she has an opening to go a little far away and do that and we love that. We love that and she told me how, wrote a beautiful going away letter about how working with the clients has changed her thoughts, and how it’s going to affect her in the library sciences.
But a lot of folks with these degrees are sticking around. And I think a lot of that is creativity. We allow them to do what they want. You want to do this particular play, o.k. Amy Rigby leads our charge in that. I mean, she’s writing plays, to our clients’ needs because she knows the actors and actresses, their specific things, taking wheelchairs into consideration whenever she’s on the stage. So her adaptations and original things have been great. She’s the inspiration behind our variety show.
Our folks, a lot of them grew up, their parents would sit them in front of the t.v., so they’re very familiar with the variety show genre of the ’60s and ’70s, everything from Sonny and Cher and Donny and Marie to Bob Hope. They know all of that. So we’re going to kind of infuse that flavor. But you know, even specifics, ceramics, watercolors— this office is filled with little cards and notes, from people who— a lot of them can’t read or write but that makes them more special. They’re just allowing them to do specific little things with the arts. Just giving them supplies and saying, go with it.
So the arts are a vehicle for expression and creativity—
No doubt about it. And I think they all look at it as, I don’t go to a day program, it’s a job. This is my job. And it’s cute, Joe Gallagher used to say to me, every part of his day at the Purple Cat, he wanted to go to college. He called it college. That meant he could, and Joe couldn’t really read or write but I would write things and he would just copy it. He would sit there for hours in his own little handwriting but he loved it. It kept him busy and he felt he was doing, he’d see me at my computer or see me doing it, he wanted to do it. And in his mind, that’s what it was. So Joe went to college too. We always said, o.k., you’re going to college. Never, This isn’t college! That’s one of the fascinating things about my folks, too, is they come with what typical folks would think are wild ideas and very rarely do I say no. I’m like, that’s an interesting thought! and even if we have to adapt it or change it, we go with it.
That’s really great. So I know that you love poetry. Do you remember how you came to poetry?
Definitely the biggest inspiration was Frank Monahan who was my freshman high school English teacher. In fact, I was just watching, just a little bit, I don’t watch much t.v. but I couldn’t sleep the other night and I was watching West Side Story, which I always understood was Romeo and Juliet, because I remember watching it specifically in English class. My family never would have exposed me to Broadway, singing and dancing, and I can remember being blown away. These are gangs and they’re dancing! and this is so bizarre! I loved it.
That’s an example of what he exposed me to. But not only that, I mean, I can understand, again, the Romeo and Juliet that’s part, not an uncommon part of the curriculum at that age, but he would bring in comic strips. He would bring in little snippets of movies, old filmstrips of people from the ’30s and ’40s talking about the classics, and then we would compare it to how people talk about them now. How thought has changed in society.
Wow, that’s cool.
He really was brilliant with it, and of course I wasn’t brilliant, but it just stuck with me. And he was always, just very positive. I would like to think he saw a lot in me, but I think he was probably like that to everybody. And he’s passed away now, too. But there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about his influence. And that was the big thing with poetry. He liked modern American poetry. I thought poetry had to be sonnets. I didn’t think poetry could be— everything from haikus to Bukowski. I had no clue. So he said yes, you couldn’t be that way. You might not like the sonnet but you’re going to like this! And we did.
How do you think we get stuck on that? I know a lot of people, too, whose perception of poetry is that it’s difficult and archaic, and I feel like if everyone knew contemporary poetry, they would like it. They would know that they like it. It’s so likeable!
Oh gosh and it’s so much fun. Did you get my last email that I sent you, from [Barbara] Crooker? She described the moon as “a cheeseburger on a black grill.” That’s far away from, you know, Old English poetry.
Beautiful in its own right.
Yep. So domestic, and tender, and so sensitive, and just so easy to understand. It’s just little compressed little stories.
Oh gosh, and in a speedy world I’m surprised it hasn’t caught on more. You get such a story, and sometimes the best poets can say it in very little, so well without say it.
Have you been writing poetry yourself?
I have. I probably have about 200-250 poems that are never finished. Some of them are somewhat finished, but I always kind of go back and try to rework. Some of them I don’t because they’re so personal to that time in my life. And I read them during my poetry show.
Tell us about your poetry show.
Um, it’s called Oranges: Pop Music and Poetry. One of the people that Frank Monahan exposed me to is Gary Soto. Gary does write a lot teen-type stuff, and he’s written some books, but he’s just a great poet, and talk about describing normal, every day things in a beautiful way, he really has that talent. So I just named it after that. Because “Oranges” by Soto was really the first poem that kind of inspired me that I could write like that. Not as well, but I could write like that. So I just wanted to always think, like ISLE, stands for Iron and String Life Enhancement.
The “Iron” is Joe Gallagher. Joe loved to iron clothes. He was a fiend for that. My second client, his name was Bradley Huffman, always had a little ball of string.
Oh! That’s so lovely.
When I name things, I try not to lose the heritage. Oranges, I named it after that and whether it becomes something special or it’s just a little poetry show where Jimmy Sutman reads and not many people listen to it, I’m o.k. with that. But I try to have names that are kind of anchored in history.
But talking about the show, it’s great. I just read, what I do is I usually read a poem, very few are my originals, a poem from anyone, from local poets to the classics to new contemporary stuff and then I play a couple songs that I feel tie in to it. There’s a little bit of intrigue there, you have to figure out how they’re tied together; sometimes it’s quite overt. Reading a poem about flight attendants and then I play “Waitress in the Sky” after that, and obviously you can figure out why. But sometimes, there might be one lyric or one word in the song that ties into the poem. So, again, it’s the research of it. It’s goofy, I often say I narrowly missed being on that autism spectrum, because I can go on a hunt for weeks for that one perfect song or that one poem and again, I might only have a dozen people listening, or maybe five people listening, and I know they don’t pick up on it, but it pleases me.
That’s a wonderful quest. Jimmy, thank you so very much for talking to us today. I really appreciate it.
Tara C. Walker-Pollock is the Success After 6 Manager for United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley, which provides a number of enrichment opportunities and wraparound services for families throughout the Valley. Started in 2015 at Youngstown Community School, Success After 6 will now reach families in a total of 7 schools, including 5 elementary schools in the Youngstown City Schools District. Tara is thrilled about the opportunity she’s been given to serve children and families in the community where she grew up. She hopes to pave the way for the next generation of Youngstown to see themselves as being proud products of Youngstown and fully capable of moving the city towards a great future. Tara resides in Youngstown with her husband and daughter.
Power of the Arts coordinator Karen Schubert interviewed Walker Pollock in the Power of the Arts office downtown.
Listen to the interview here:
or read the transcript, below.
KS: Tara, thanks for taking the time to talk with me today.
TWP: Thank you for reaching out to me.
So we’ve just come from the ribbon cutting at the SMARTS Center in their new home downtown. It’s such a beautiful place, everything—
The room was full of hope and optimism. It’s great to see. Tell us how you have been involved with the SMARTS program.
So how I got involved working with SMARTS was, I am currently the Success After 6 manager for United Way of Youngstown and Mahoning Valley, and under our Success After 6 Umbrella we have an after school program. We started the program at Youngstown Community School in 2015 and then this most recent school year we expanded into Youngstown City Schools at Taft Elementary.
I was in charge of the program at Taft Elementary so we had SMARTS programming this year. They worked with us the entire school year. They provided three different sessions, so first we did theater arts for ten weeks, we did ten weeks of visual arts and printmaking, and then we did ten weeks of the drum circles.
That sounds incredible. I’ve seen some clips on the Taft Promise Neighborhood Facebook page and it looks like so much fun. There’s just this exuberance and engagement. So at Success After 6— does that mean only particular children can be involved? Is there some kind of a screening process?
So Success After 6, the after school program, we are really trying to work with students primarily that need extra support. Success After 6 is more than an after school program. We also provide a lot of wrap-around services but when it came to the after school piece, we wanted to make sure we were primarily working with students that needed extra support, be it academics, also social-emotional. We help support families; so we started by reaching out to families at the school, letting them know that this program was coming, and gave them an opportunity to be a part that way. We also worked with teachers to identify the students that really could benefit from the support that we were looking to offer. Again, academic support was very crucial to our program, but also the social-emotional support that a lot of students need.
We know that many of our students come from some very challenging situations, at times heart-breaking situations, and so even though we do all that we can to impact their lives in a positive way, sometimes they’re still going home to, again, very challenging and heart-breaking situations. So just wanting to make sure that we had that support to offer to the Taft community which was where we started.
And you started at Taft because it was selected as the Promise Neighborhood—
Yeah, Taft Promise Neighborhood has come together in such an amazing way. There are, probably, over forty partners from throughout the Mahoning Valley that have come together to make Taft Promise Neighborhood a reality. United Way specifically heads up the education piece of Taft Promise Neighborhood. The Taft area was chosen with the idea of having a school as the community hub. So impacting the children that are students of the school but also impacting the communities through the other services and programs that we provided. And Taft, at that point, was one of the only schools in the district that was still considered a true neighborhood school, where a lot of the students lived within close proximity of the school where they can walk or ride their bikes to school. That had a lot to do with why Taft Elementary was chosen as a community hub.
Is this a change of direction for the United Way? They’ve been funding other organizations that have programming, but then to take on programming themselves—do you know the impetus behind that? Was it filling some kind of a void?
We have taken a shift to a more “impact model” where we are providing the direct impact. We do still fund other agencies that support a lot of our impact work that we’re doing, so that part of United Way, that we’ve always known United Way to be, is still in place. But moving towards this impact model is something that more United Ways are starting to do. There are two United Ways in particular that we visited to explore starting the community school concept. There is a United Way in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, and then there’s one out in the Salt Lake City area where they’ve been doing this work in the community schools for several years now. And they really started to make great strides. So we kind of used those as our model.
And then when we were able to come together with the AmerCorps VISTAs, and the folks that had already signed on for the Taft Promise Neighborhood, it was the perfect fit. It just all came together at the right time, and we were able to move forward together.
Did they have arts programming at Taft, is there regular arts programming there?
They do have art classes, they also have music classes, so there is a teacher who would come in at least once a week to make sure that every class there was getting art and then also music.
So they would have art or music once a week?
Both. They would have both art and music once a week.
How long has the Success After 6 program at Taft been up and running?
This past school year, the 2016-17 school year, was our very first year in Youngstown City Schools at Taft, and now moving forward into the next school year, 2017-18, we will be in Taft as well as four other elementaries in Youngstown City Schools. We will still be at Youngstown Community School; we’re also expanding into Girard Schools, but in Youngstown City we will continue to be at Taft, also Williamson, MLK, Bunn, and McGuffey. So we are expanding pretty quickly.
That’s exciting. So, any assessment program is not yet complete. But what’s your feeling about what a difference it’s made? What are you seeing and hearing?
I’m feeling very optimistic. This is very difficult work. You become very attached to the children and the families and the challenges that they’re facing. But one thing I’ve seen is that children, and even some of the adults, they are so resilient. And you just can’t imagine the situations they come to school with every day and they still have smiles on their faces.
There’s a lot of warm and fuzzy feelings that you get from doing this work, but again, academics was a crucial part of our program, and you know, we’re working. We’re working on making strides academically, as well. One of the key changes going into this next school year in Youngstown City is that we will be working together with the district, because the district also started an after school program this past year, and so we will get to work together to help impact the children both academically, and then Success After 6 will also provide enrichment opportunities for the students.
It’s so much more than just an after school program where you’re just keeping people alive and maybe giving them a snack.
Which all of that is important, but we say all the time that we’re not here to babysitting children. No disrespect to that line of work, but for us, again, it was about academics, because it’s no secret that Youngstown City is facing a lot in terms of overcoming where they are as a district, academically. So anything that we can do to help support them, moving forward and reaching success, is absolutely so crucial to our program.
What about the arts, in particular? Why include that if you really need an academic program? Why not just focus on the academics without the arts?
We just heard some of the statistics at the ribbon-cutting ceremony: it’s very real that arts programming impacts children’s lives in a major way and gives them something to focus on and put their energy towards. One of the statistics was saying how children involved in the arts are less likely to dabble in drugs and do some other things. We have a lot of children who are going home to some very tough situations, and so I think the arts is so important to give them something positive to focus on and help them to find something within themselves that they might not have ever known was there, that they can aspire to.
Of course, academics is very crucial, but with Success After 6, it was also crucial to help with the social-emotional development of our students, because it takes more than just book smarts to be successful in life. While that is huge, it was very important to provide those other outlets for students to express themselves, and inspire them in the classroom but also expose them to different opportunities.
So— creativity and a sense of empowerment, strengthening those neural pathways, and just feeling really engaged. It’s often a collaborative or group project, so you’re working together, knowing people in different ways.
Speaking of AmeriCorpsVISTA, you and I met during an AmeriCorpsVISTA service year at Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation. At the time, you were working on your master’s degree at Penn State in Community and Economic Development. What do you think led you to want to do this kind of nonprofit work?
It really came during that time of being at YNDC as an AmeriCorpsVISTA and also being in school for my master’s at the same time. Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation provided such an amazing opportunity for me to learn and get into community development work because it was different from what I’d been doing. I learned so much there. But one of the things that came to me, especially while I was a VISTA, was, you know, the work that’s being done by organizations like YNDC and others in the Valley is amazing, but, as we who are here doing the work right now move on and start to do other things with our lives, who are we going to pass all of this work on to?
For me, I felt that it would be a disservice to our community if we weren’t also working just as hard on the development of our youth, so that they have something to grow up and say, like, I want to impact Youngstown! This is where I’m from, I’m proud to be from here, and I can have an impact right here, where I grew up. For me, growing up in this area, I’ll be quite honest, I was encouraged to go away to college, and I didn’t feel at the time that there were opportunities for me here to do what it was that I wanted to do. And when I came to YNDC and I saw, oh yeah, there is opportunity for me here, I became really, really passionate about being able to spread that to the youth that are coming up right now, so that they can have something that they can take ownership of right here in Youngstown.
I know exactly what you mean. I think there’s a big difference. For me, it just occurred to me that we all have a sense that things are good or not good or—whatever that general feeling is—and maybe we have a few theories about what might make it better. There’s something life-altering about looking at the data and really seeing how the data’s changed over time and looking at best practices, what have other communities tried, and what have really worked? It’s also very uplifting, but it’s also so concrete. You realize you don’t have to move forward making public policy on theory. We can really try out plans that have solid backing, statistics-wise.
And so, you’re a new mom—
How do you think that has that changed your idea of the importance of the arts in our individual lives? Do you see her engaging? I know she’s pretty little.
She’s 2 ½. I can’t wait— I was just thinking at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for SMARTS, I can’t wait until my daughter can benefit from programs like this. I was fortunate to be able to take dance lessons and piano lessons when I was a kid. So many kids don’t get that opportunity because their families just can’t afford to provide those types of opportunities. But to have things like SMARTS in our community is so exciting. I definitely can see my daughter being engaged in the arts. She’s already very expressive and loves music, just like me and her dad, and I can totally see how it can help further develop her. She’s very smart, very intelligent, and I just can’t wait to see how she can benefit from programs like SMARTS.
And I really appreciate the point you’re making that we are working to convey this idea that the arts isn’t just for people who can afford it. That that enrichment should be available to everyone. And people need to see themselves there. They need people who look like them, and people whose experiences are similar to theirs.
Do you have anything else that you would like to tell us about the power of the arts in the community, or anything you’d like us to know?
I’m just very excited for opportunities like this to be taking place, be it SMARTS, be it Lindsay Renea Dance Theater—there are amazing arts opportunities here in Youngstown being led by people who are from this community, and it’s really exciting to see. I just am grateful to be a part of it, grateful that we’re able to continue working with SMARTS and that they’ll be able to expand with us as we expand. Just being able to spread the word: this is arts. This is for you. I’m just really excited about this opportunity and where it’s going to lead.
⇒Watch a video of Taft’s end-of-the-year picnic with a cameo by Tara’s daughter. dance_party
Power of the Arts coordinator Karen Schubert interviewed Hallahan by the courtyard fountain on the YSU campus.
Listen to the interview here:
or read the transcript, below. (Please note: a few corrections were made in the transcription.)
KS: Ed, thank you so much for taking the time to answer some questions about your interesting life as an artist in our community.
EH: Well thank you, and it’s a wonderful privilege and I appreciate the opportunity.
So we’re meeting behind behind the Butler Institute of American Art, where you work in the exhibits, exhibit design, preparatory work. Tell us a little bit about the work you do at the Butler.
It has to do with all the hands-on work at the museum, I guess. The stuff you don’t see. Normally people walk into a museum and they just see paintings resting on the wall [laughter] in repose, kind of like you view the dead bodies of the paintings. Picasso said when the painting leaves the studio it’s dead. I have that fantasy sometimes, looking at paintings in the museum. [laughter] But what I do is handle a lot of the art work and physically put up the art on the walls or the sculpture whatever it is— framing matting, lighting, some minor curatorial stuff.
I also teach a class at the Butler for high school juniors and seniors. It’s called Arts Honors and it’s created to be a transition experience between high school and their college. Most of these students have intentions to go on in the visual arts so it’s an opportunity to stretch their experience a little more than what they would get from high school, a little more like what they would get in college.
I’ve heard art faculty at YSU say that one challenge that young people have today in studying the arts is that they haven’t—because their entertainment is so much more digital than it has been before—they don’t have as much experience working with their hands. Do you find that they are having to learn spacial relationships or how materials function more than they might have or is that just grumpy older people complaining about kids the way we always have? [laughter]
I think it’s affected their sense of concentration a little bit, their ability to focus or stay on track, but their sense of spatial reality—I don’t know, the ones I get—seem to be o.k. with that. The hands-on experience is probably more natural for them than for other people. I think the digital thing is hurting our sense of— changing our sense of reality. And maybe that’s a better word— I never did buy that idea that it’s only a tool, you know, like a gun is only a tool, a computer is only a tool, it’s what you do with it. Everything inherently has its own nature. I think that’s true of machinery as well. You are what you eat.
But we have the great human capacity to overcome obstacles and once we integrate stuff— I don’t believe we’ve integrated computer technology enough. Or put differently, we have to grow a different side of our human nature that would help us to get a better control of it. We have to get out of this entertainment consumer kind of fascination and get down to some serious business or else we’ll continue to have compounded problems.
What was your pathway into the arts? Do you remember yourself as a teen, as a young man and your exploration? What was your impetus?
My mother was very artistic and I think she was a main motivation for my interest. She was very hands-on and made stuff and encouraged me to do that as well. I also had a very good art teacher in high school, and music teacher as well. Those programs were very strong when I was in high school. But it’s something I always did and never questioned. I guess if I had come up in a different environment, I might have come out differently. I don’t know.
Do you remember seeing the arts as a kind of entertainment or was it something deeper, more a way to engage with yourself, and the world? or yourself in the world?
Yeah. It was a way to engage myself in the world. It has its entertainment side, but once you’re involved in the process of it, entertainment is not the word to describe it. It’s work, but there’s also very rewarding feelings, and sometime ecstatic feelings, but it has nothing to do with entertainment.
So the process of engaging creativity and solving problems is just something deeper than having fun; even if it’s enjoyable it’s more substantive.
I think so. The enjoyment is the short-lived part of it. (But oh— words are hard sometimes.) I think there’s a constant enjoyment with the process, actually, or happiness. I’m very happy with it. I can’t think of doing anything else, and I wouldn’t change what I have done, but it’s not entertainment like going to the movies or something like that, where you’re passive. It’s totally active and I think that’s what I like about it. We’re a creative species and we have this creative capacity. With me it’s always been a process of creation. I mean, I can’t see any other reason for being a human being other than to create something. [laughter]
You’re getting at a question that’s so deeply philosophical and really interesting. By talking about art being dead after it’s on the wall and about how movies are something that we passively take in, is it really, for you, is it really for you about the work of the artist? Because I know, I’m a writer and we talk about how we create but then that work isn’t complete until someone reads it, there’s that culmination of that. But do you not feel that way about film? about art?— that the heart of art is really more in the creation?
I think for me it really is more in the creation and the process. It must be because I don’t make an extreme effort to show my work a lot. It’s finished when it’s finished. It doesn’t take another viewer to see it. I think there’s a deeper magic. I think when you do art in the process of making it, it has an immediate audience, which is a larger kind of reality, and not just an objective viewer at the museum. In other words, I think the reason for doing it is on a plane of action that is every day kind of experience. Like breathing. I breathe, and I don’t need anybody to tell me that I’m breathing to complete my breath. I take it in and I exhale it. Do you know what I mean?
I do know what you mean.
So I think an ideal world would have no audience, [laughter] but participants, who were just making art. Of some kind. Or science.
But making. Yeah. And experiencing that process. It’s kind of an unrestrained activity, at a certain point.
Your wife Jackie Moutan is also an artist, and you collaborated, I saw your incredible installation at the Weller Gallery in Fellows Riverside Garden, and your work is carved wood pieces and she works with textiles.
She’s a fiber artist and we combined our two approaches.
Tell a little bit about that installation, the process of collaborating with her, and what the installation was about.
Well the one at Fellows was about a new group of works; we actually built them for Fellows, for that space. A lot of times, when you have the time, you take the space into consideration. And that will effect the making of the objects. There was a large piece at Fellows that actually was in Columbus as well, a large table with sculptural chairs and so we just knew that piece would just sit really nice in that space. The pieces on the wall were especially made for that space. Living in this ongoing kind of making activity there’s a lot of fluidity in terms of the objects. So they can come and go, depending on the situation.
A lot of it’s temporary in nature. But working collaboratively with her is no problem. Working collaboratively, in general, that’s another thing I seem to do. Not only do I work with her but I’m involved with a couple other artists in a performance installation group called Redhand, and we’ve been doing works over a period of twenty years, on and off. Not a lot has been here in Youngstown, but in other locations. When the Cleveland [whispers] (there’s a cardinal right there), performance art festival was going on, it was a major venue for performance art worldwide, and we performed there quite a few times during its history. Another one of those kind of like time—
Time and space?—
Live time and space kind of feel about it. So I think that’s another part of my make up, this idea of time and space and being a musician I work collaboratively with other musicians, too. And that’s also time-space kind of format. Working collaboratively is something I’ve always done but I like my alone time in the studio as well.
I’ve also been thinking a lot about the time and space elements regarding the arts in the Mahoning Valley because a lot of the arts are homed in these beautiful, historic, architectural gems, with, if I could use some hyperbole, terrifying maintenance needs, but they’re so amazing.
They are so amazing.
But then you also have these soulless strip malls in the suburbs, like where you’ve played, at Barrel 33 in Howland, just acres of parking because no one lives there. You couldn’t possibly walk there. And you just open this ugly door and step into a space that has been completely transformed. It’s so visually rich, and it has some of the best food in the area, and just the music coming through that place is just off the charts, it’s so good. So I think that’ really interesting, too. I want you to talk about your work as a musician, but if you’ll just indulge me in on question first: so a strip mall is not designed for really good music. So what is it like, acoustically, to play in a place like that?
It’s always kind of risky and sometimes it’s good but a lot of times it’s not perfect so you just kind of adapt to it.
Yeah, it’s not a concert hall, but jazz has a unique way of adapting itself to just about any situation.
Two books Ed recommends:
& The Gift by Lewis Hyde
You play the bass.
The upright bass.
How did you come to fall in love with jazz?
Oh, I think I was in junior high school. There used to be a program on television called the Today Show. That really dates me. [laughter] And Dizzy Gillespie was a guest on this program with his bebop group and I saw and heard that, and I said, That’s it.
You know, the former director of the National Endowment for the Arts, Dana Gioia, gave a commencement speech at Stanford in which he talked about being an immigrant and learning, not only English, from the kinds of shows on television, but also learning about the arts because in those days, the best artists of our time were daily features on these daily programs. And that we’re losing something important if we don’t continue that tradition—
Tradition of showing the best.
So what’s the name of your band?
Oh, right now I pretty much freelance. I get a lot of gigs currently up in Erie, Pa. I was just there over the last weekend, Saturday and Sunday.
They have a great arts scene in Erie.
Yeah, I think they do. A lot of good musicians everywhere.
You have some formal training in music. Is that right?
I have some formal training in music. I studied some at Dana School of Music and was kind of like a music and art major for awhile and then just evolved more over to art. My master’s degree is in art, in sculpture, from Ohio State. I’ve just always done them simultaneously. I think in some strange way they feed each other.
What do you tell your students who are looking toward an art degree? It seems wildly impractical and I imagine the pressures for practicality are greater than they’ve ever been.
I think they are. Because things are more financially at risk, especially for parents. The cost of education is incredibly stupid. But what I tell them is just, you have to do what you have to do. You know who you are at this point, you just kind of follow that. And there’s no easy answers for any generation.
That’s right and not everyone is making a living with art. They’re often working jobs to stay alive and keep the lights on, and finding good space for the—
That’s especially true for writers. And poets, I think.
I think so, too. I only know a handful of rich poets. [laughter] But it is so worth pursuing, that’s a point well taken.
Oh, for sure. I’ve been fortunate to always be involved in the arts, whether it’s teaching it or some kind of performance way. And I haven’t had to do jobs that weren’t somehow related to art. For the longest time, really. Working in a museum is a safe art place.
And I read recently, I was astonished to read that the arts, nationwide, they constitute 4% of our economy, which is one percent smaller than agriculture. So there really is an economic engine that is driven by the arts. So it’s not impossible.
No, it’s not impossible. I actually think the arts are becoming much more important, in light of other kinds of economic and technological realities.
So as we continue to lose jobs to automation, the the one thing we will never lose jobs to is creativity, right? Is art. Making art.
Being creative. Yeah. I think they help us understand who we are as human beings. Not everything contributes to that understanding. I think it’s important to be really open minded. The pressure for younger people is to find something, to focus in on something. That’s not always the best way to go. It’s just practical. Like you said earlier, we have this pressure to be practical these days, but the soul and the human spirit doesn’t live that kind of practical kind of life. We just have to pay attention to a larger frame of our human needs.
What do you— sometimes people ask me, because I’m not from here, they ask me my theory on why this area is particularly artistically rich. It’s a working class town, lots of manufacturing, it’s a town of the kids of immigrants, so why— what’s your theory?
I think it was particularly rich in terms of our immigrant history and those immigrants brought with them strong European traditions or African traditions where art was a part of everyday life. And it’s just like, that’s the way it is: you do— you sing, we dance, we make stuff, and I think that for some reason somehow continued here. And I think our location, too, between Cleveland and Pittsburgh, but I don’t know. It’s just— the way it was. It was part of life.
That’s a great answer. So what do you have coming up? Any installations? Any shows?
Our group Redhand is gearing up for a performance installations at Butler North, hopefully in the fall, it’s going to be part of a performance art night. There might be live music as well as spoken word, in addition to our performance. It’s still in the process. But we’re gearing for sometime in the fall or maybe winter. So that’s happening. Oh I continue to gig around, and in the studio make some new pieces, but nothing on the books for any art show.
[After our interview, Ed said he’d been thinking of his remarks “on Picasso, when he said that when the painting leaves the studio and is on the museum wall it is dead, means that his creative involvement in making it is over—that living creative process is over. But we can say that it now needs an audience ( as you pointed out)—it’s new life as an object in culture has begun—its transformer function begins—its need for an audience begins.]