For a city with a 53 percent
African-American population, Cleveland doesn't have near enough black voices in the arts community, says Ali McClain, co-founder of acerbic,
an artist collective aimed at creatives of color.
McClain, a poet and artist who launched acerbic in 2014 with partners Donald Black Jr. and Gabriel Gonzalez, says she's often the only woman of color at various exhibitions and openings. She is similarly disheartened when international artists, most of whom are white, are called in for programs that could easily be helmed by locals.
"The art world is white, so it's hard to fit in or be part of that," says McClain. "There's always a feeling like we're the last called, or not called at all."
Instead of grousing about these issues, McClain and her friends formed acerbic, billed as an art producing collective, consultation group and education program. Housed on the fourth floor of St. Luke's Foundation
, the collective is a direct response to the stifling environment encountered by Cleveland-area artists of color.
Acerbic, which in its founders' eyes is defined as "sharp and forthright," offers mentorship, education and guidance for emerging dream-makers. Student volunteers help their young peers in scouting arts opportunities or writing college entrance essays.
The collective sponsors its own programs, too, McClain notes. This summer, the group will be creating politically charged artwork in response to the Republican National Convention
in Cleveland. Acerbic will also be working with LAND Studio
on a writing effort related to the Opportunity Corridor
Acerbic's founders view these programs as a way to turn frustration with the area's arts scene into a vibrant opportunity.
"You can't keep crying about things if you're not going to do anything about it," says McClain. "We needed to make a space for other people who feel like us or who just need support or relief."
Acerbic received assistance on its strategic plan from the Community Partnership for Arts and Culture (CPAC
), and is getting additional support from Cleveland Neighborhood Progress
. As for the future, group leaders envision forming a thriving collection of artists of color able to contribute to Cleveland's creative ecosystem.
"We're providing resources to give (young artists) a chance to feel good about where they come from," says McClain. "They know they have a place to go that's going to support them."