Still We Rise: Exhibit will showcase resilience, strength in 'forgotten' Black neighborhoods

The Sculpture Center will next month host a first-of-its-kind augmented reality (AR) exhibit at 12 historic sites around Cleveland, as well as in the Sculpture Center gallery, 1834 E. 123rd St. in University Circle.   

Crossroads: Still We Risewill open July 16 and runs through September 26. The transformative show features the work of 12 Cleveland-based Black artists who will juxtapose their artwork, using AR, onto historic and socially significant sites on the east side of Cleveland.

<span class="content-image-text">Grace Chin, Executive Director, The Sculpture Center</span>Grace Chin, Executive Director, The Sculpture CenterThe artists’ works demonstrate how six “forgotten” communities that were lost in the racial divide can be rediscovered and resurrected, says Sculpture Center executive director Grace Chin. “Still We Rise explores socio-economic changes in the Buckeye, Central, East Cleveland, Glenville, Kinsman, and Slavic Village neighborhoods and their influence on the lives of African Americans.

“I have witnessed the resilience and fortitude of the residents rise from the systemic erosion of once-thriving predominantly Black east-side communities,” says “Still We Rise” curator, artist, and community activist Robin Robinson. “I chose six neighborhoods to showcase and empower Black artists to bring the viewer face to face with these sites, their proud legacies, as well as the challenges that confront them today.”

The artists, all with Cleveland ties, are Lawrence Baker, Donald Black, Jr., Marcus Brathwaite, Hilton Murray, Ed Parker, Shani Richards, Vince Robinson, Gina Washington, Gary Williams, Amanda King, Gwendolyn Garth, and Charmaine Spencer.

<span class="content-image-text">Robin Robinson, Curator for Crossroads: Still We Rise</span>Robin Robinson, Curator for Crossroads: Still We Rise“These artists have risen from these communities, and for some of the artists who are older, they are familiar with the [communities’ histories],” says Chin. “The younger artists have found it to be meaningful to be in Cleveland, because of the [lower] rents, but also they know what it’s like to be Black in America. They can relate to the population’s history. They created their works in response to the sites and the community members they spoke to.”

The six neighborhoods were once thriving communities and are now blighted and just shells of what they once were. By using the AR, as people make stops on the tour and in the gallery, guests can get a glimpse of what these neighborhoods were like in their heydays.

“We want to utilize immersive experiences to reveal the invisible, yet ‘real’ memories, histories, and experiences layered onto the urban landscape,” says Chin. “This, to me, is how art can be a more relevant part of our lives—by connecting artists, their artwork, and Cleveland communities to drive dialogue around important issues.”

For instance, Chin tells of Garth’s “A Majestic Vision,” piece at the site of the former 1907 Majestic Hotel and later the former Goodwill building at 2295 E. 55th St. “It was one of the few hotels predominantly for African Americans—with a jazz club,” says Chin. “It was demolished in the 60s, then became Goodwill, and now it’s a dilapidated shell. Gwen lived in the hotel, and she chose the site because she has an actual connection to the building.”

Chin says Garth, who is also a community activist, not only has ties to Central, but she has also plans for its revitalization. “She grew up in Central and witnessed changes to the neighborhood when it was mostly African American, and it is now one of the poorest neighborhoods in Cleveland,” Chin says. “Gwen chose the site because of her connection to the building. Her art is what she envisions there [in the future]—a community center, a cultural space for African Americans.”

Through AR, visitors can see Garth’s vision for a vivacious Central neighborhood on the site where the Majestic once stood.

“You drive through Central, and it’s really been left to decay,” says Chin as an example. “We’re hoping this program will bring to light what these neighborhoods once were like, what this glorious [hotel] that stood there.”

Other works include Amanda King’s photograph “Resurrection,” which features a young Black boy kneeling in front of an altar, gazing at the viewer. When viewed in AR, the work is joined by an historic image of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. in a similar pose. AR will also allow “Resurrection” to appear across the façade of Glenville’s Cory Methodist Church—pairing the Civil Rights legacy of the community with the artist’s own racial reckoning.

Then visitors can view Charmaine Spencer’s “Listening Eye,an African spirit vessel made of clay and soil, at the gates of Woodland Cemetery.

At the gallery visitors will be asked to submit thoughts of healing into the physical vessel before bringing it to life through AR. The stories will be collected and incorporated into later works included in the artist’s solo exhibition at The Sculpture Center in January 2022.  

Exhibit attendees can travel independently to the twelve neighborhood locations (two in each neighborhood), after downloading the free 4th Wall app to see the artists’ works on the sites.  They can then go to Sculpture Center to view the actual works, as well as use the gallery’s iPad Pros to view a separate AR experience.

“Crossroads: Still We Rise” opens on Friday, July 16, when maps can be downloaded on the Sculpture Center’s event site. Chin warns it might take about an hour-and-a-half to tour are 12 sites at once.

Then on Saturday, July 17, trolleys will be leaving from the Sculpture Center to take visitors to the sites. Chin says artists will be on the trolleys to talk about their works. The show runs through September 26.

Karin Connelly Rice
Karin Connelly Rice

About the Author: 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 20 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.