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A look back: two CIA grads reflect on their time in Cleveland a 'well made place'

CIA grads Tracey Halvorsen and Amy Goldberg

Fastspot - web design for Ford's Theater

Tracey Halvorsen and Amy Goldberg at graduation 1993

Artwork by Tracey Halvorsen

When Tracey Halvorsen and Amy Goldberg entered the Cleveland Institute of Art (CIA) in the early 90s, computers were just making their debut in the art world.
 
Halvorsen, class of 1993, studied painting at CIA, while Goldberg, class of 1995, studied photography. Art-based computer programs weren’t a part of Halvorsen’s curriculum, but Goldberg was obligated to learn Photoshop during her final year at the University Circle institution.
 
“The school brought in a Photoshop expert to teach us how we could use a magic wand tool and replace someone’s head with someone else head in a few simple steps,” recalls Goldberg, adding that the computer was in a tiny room known as the Batcave. “I was irritated beyond belief, as this felt nothing like the documentary style street photography that I was doing.”
 
Halvorsen, on the other hand, was fascinated with Goldberg’s lessons. “When I told Tracey about this new stuff she was super curious and within a year she had gotten a big fancy computer of her own,” Goldberg recalls. “I slowly came around to appreciating that we could use the computer to share our physical art digitally.” 
Tracey Halvorsen and Amy Goldberg at graduation 1993 
Indeed, Halvorsen saw the computer’s potential and around 1994 she scraped up the money to buy a Mac, s scanner and a modem.
 
“Then I pretty much spent as much free time as possible learning to code for web pages, learning how to use Photoshop, and soaking up everything I could,” recalls Halvorsen. “It was all about trying to get your stuff online. It allowed me to show my paintings, but HTML and Photoshop were tools you really needed to know.  It kept my head on the computer in a visual way.”
 
The two initially met through a mutual friend while they were hanging out in the dorms on campus. In no time, Halvorsen and Goldberg were close, spending time in Halvorsen’s painting studio in CIA’s “the Factory,” an old Ford Model-T factor—formally the Joseph McCullough building and now part of the cutting-edge George Gund Building.
 
Halvorsen, who is originally from Bethesda, MD, went on to graduate school in 1996 at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Baltimore and took digital courses while earning her MFA. Goldberg, originally from Youngstown, soon followed her to Baltimore, and the pair went about launching their careers and their lives together as a couple.
 
During grad school, Halvorsen took freelance web design jobs to expand her computer knowledge. “I took whatever I could get to just get my feet wet and beef up my resume,” she explains.
 
In 1999 Halvorsen and Goldberg were married in Lacoste, France, where Halvorsen studied for a year through a CIA program and before gay marriage was legally recognized in the United States. “I guess you can say we eloped,” Halvorsen jokes.
 
By 2001, Halvorsen and Goldberg decided to take the plunge and go into business together, launching the Baltimore-based creative agency Fastspot. “I wouldn’t say we really knew what we were doing,” recalls Goldberg of the early years.
 
That changed.

Today, Fastspot is a successful, full-service boutique web design, marketing and consulting agency with a staff of 24 and four resident bulldogs. The team’s impressive client list includes everything from the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. and the historic Ford’s Theatre where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated to Yale University and Ohio Wesleyan University. In 2016 Fastspot made the Inc. 5000 List of Fastest Growing Companies.  
Fastspot - web design for Ford's Theater 
“I never thought I would wind up making my living running a digital agency and certainly never imagined I'd be surrounded by so many computers on a daily basis,” quips Goldberg. “I honestly wasn’t sure what I was going to end up doing, but a darkroom, film and cameras were part of my vision. I slowly came around to appreciating that we could use the computer to share our physical art digitally. ”
 
More than 20 years after graduating from CIA, Halvorsen and Goldberg have fond memories of their college years on the CIA campus in University Circle and around Cleveland.
 
Primarily, the two miss the arts scene they remember from their time in the 216. Goldberg counts the galleries—both established and up-and-coming—that she was impressed with in Cleveland.

Tracey Halvorsen artwork - 2010 
“I miss the gallery scene, the arts community, the way the community felt,” Goldberg says. “Zygote Press was just getting started, and they do such good stuff. Then there was William Busta Gallery and Spaces Gallery.”
 
Halvorsen adds, “I really approve of the work ethic in Cleveland—it’s such a hands-on approach. It’s a huge artist scene and it’s so tight-knit. When we moved, we missed it. It’s just really supportive, I think.”
 
In Baltimore, on the other hand, Goldberg feels the art scene is more spread out, so it lacks the insulated sense of community that Cleveland has.. “Artists here are constantly running up to New York or D.C. There’s this sprawl,” she explains. “Artists in the Beltway are dismissive if [an art show] is in our own town.”
 
Aside from the galleries in Cleveland, Halvorsen drew a lot of her motivation from the Cleveland Museum of Art. “I really enjoyed how close the museum was to the main building, wandering around the grounds and stopping in for some inspiration was a favorite pastime of my early years at CIA,” she recalls. “It was like an extension of the campus.”
 
Halvorsen waxes nostalgic over the interesting buildings she lived in during her time at CIA, which included an old warehouse on E. 72nd Street. “CIA students lived in the coolest places,” she recalls. In her time at another residence at 1961 Ford Drive “with way too many roommates” she learned how to refinish hardwood floors for a discount on the rent, build walls to separate the living space and that paying the utilities was a must.
 
On campus, Halvorsen and Goldberg took advantage of Cleveland’s nightlife, especially in the University Circle area. The Grog Shop, in its original location, had just opened and was the new hotspot on Coventry.
Tracey Halvorsen and Amy Goldberg  
“I loved going to the Cinematheque to see off-beat movies, and also eat cheap wings and order cheap pitchers of beer at the Euclid Tavern,” recalls Halvorsen. “We mainly hung out in the Factory. There was always something going on [there]. When it came time to get out for the night, we usually would head to the [Euclid] Tavern, the Barking Spider or some other spot to keep the conversations going until late into the night.”
 
Goldberg recalls Mama Santa’s in Little Italy, sneaking into Lakeview Cemetery and frequenting the now-defunct Mitzi Jerman’s Café on St. Clair Avenue for 75-cent Rolling Rocks and Frank Sinatra on the jukebox. “A ton of artists hung out there,” she says. “The neighborhood was really fun. There were so many good people there. We miss the people.”
 
Sitting in the Baltimore Fastspot offices—a renovated 1800s textile mill overlooking Jones Falls—Halvorsen and Goldberg wax nostalgic over Cleveland.
 
“We learned and really grew to appreciate what a creative environment needs to be,” says Halvorsen. “I miss the grit and craft of Cleveland. Cleveland just makes the greatest things. It’s just a well-made place.”

Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 18 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.
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