Nearly a year after receiving a $150,000 grant from the Cleveland Foundation to create public art along the RTA red line between downtown and Public Square, LAND studio last week announced the launch of the INTER|URBAN website.
The site highlights each of the 18 INTER|URBAN art installations and profiles the local, national and international mural artists and photographers who created them. The site also explores the Anisfield-Wolf Award winning literature that inspired each artist. The 81-year-old award, administered by the Cleveland Foundation, recognizes books that tackle issues of racism, diversity, equity and social justice.
The project, a partnership between LAND studio, the Cleveland Foundation, the City of Cleveland, RTA, Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA) and the Anisfeld-Wolf Book Awards, originally came about in 2014 as a way to beautify the Rapid route for guests traveling from the airport to downtown for the Republican National Convention.
It quickly grew into something much more evocative. Sponsors asked the selected artists to add a relative cultural dimension to the works by responding to themes in the award-winning books they were given.
“We wanted to create a project that was not just murals, because a lot of cities are doing that,” explains Joe Lanzilotta, project manager for LAND studio. “The artists are directly responding to the literature, and it’s a perfect time right now for something like this.”
Lanzilotta says riding the RTA route, which is usually a passive experience, seemed to be the perfect forum to introduce issues about race and diversity. “It’s unconventional, but the perfect place to start a conversation about diversity,” he says. “Riders are introduced to these discussions in a place where they normally would not be.”
More than 300 artists submitted portfolios to LAND studios for the project.
Anisfield-Wolf scholars from CWRU helped choose the artists and pair each one with a book. “It was an interesting, very fun process to work with these scholars and it kind of worked out perfectly,” Lanzilotta says. “We knew right away when we sat down with them, we had something very unique.”
Eight of the 18 artists are from Northeast Ohio, while the rest hail from across the country and the globe, including Detroit, Austin, Texas, San Francisco and even South Africa. Cleveland native Fred Bidwell and mural expert Jasper Wong from Honolulu were hired to curate the project.
“We didn’t want the artist to take the book literally," says Lanzilotta, "we wanted them to interpret [their assigned works] – and take from their own experiences. We left if really open for them.”
This past June, all 18 artists descended upon the Rapid stops for one week, simultaneously creating their installments in time to welcome RNC visitors. The result is a series of distinctive works that add beauty to the Cleveland landscape and hopefully spark discussion.
“It celebrates our unique landscape and our unique approach to public art,” says Lanzilotta, noting how special the opportunity is. “We get a chance to start a discussion about social justice and equality. Each of us face these issues every day, whether it’s how we are viewed or how we view the world.”
The project was so successful, the organizations have already started to implement phase two – the expansion of INTER|URBAN along the eastern portion of the RTA red line, from downtown to University Circle. Phase two is scheduled to begin next summer.
LAND studio also produced a video, chronicling the first phase of INTER|URBAN.
INTER|URBAN from LAND studio on Vimeo.However, the vision goes beyond a second phase. In the video, Lillian Kuri, program director for the Cleveland Foundation states that she would like this project expand to as many of 70 projects along the RTA system.
“You could ride any line and understand how powerful this is and how the creative community has risen to say we’re a community that cares about race, equity, inclusion,” she says. “And then over time as we evolve as a community we continue to tell that story so that in a few years the entire RTA system will actually be the world’s largest art gallery that is talking about how we have come together to deal with these issues.”
Lanzilotta adds that he would like to include more interactive facets in phase two such as performance artists and literature. “We really hope to engage riders,” he says, noting that this initial foray is a sort of trial or proof, with significant opportunity in the future. “This could be a project that occurs every year to highlight the rich, cultural diversity of the region,” he says.
“We want another layer of Cleveland’s arts and culture scene. We want people to travel here from all over to see this.”
LAND studio is part of Fresh Water's underwriting support network.