The stories of the greater Cleveland LGBTQ+ art community will come to life in a new exhibit by the Artists Archives of the Western Reserve.
“CONVERGE” features 70 works of art in a wide variety of media by over 60 artists ranging in age from young adults to individuals involved with the Gay Rights Movement of the 1970s. The sprawling show will be displayed at the LGBT Center of Greater Cleveland, Lake Erie College in Painesville, Cleveland MetroHealth Medical Center Gallery (which will also display its bi-annual exhibition of the National AIDS Quilt at the same time), Judson Manor, and the Artists Archives of the Western Reserve from August 26–October 16.
The Buckeye Flame talked to the show’s chief curator, Kelly Pontoni (who leads a curatorial team including multi-media artist Sam Butler, textile artist Tony Williams, and ceramicist Mark Yasenchack, with curatorial assistance by Mary Proctor), about the show’s importance and some of her favorite pieces.
Why do we need an exhibit like this?
We really have been pushing to diversify our shows at the Archives to touch into communities that possibly don’t get touched into: LatinX, African American, women’s. We’re really trying to push different boundaries with diversity as far as the community, but also in the materials in the shows.
Artists Archives executive director Mindy Tousley had asked me if I would be willing to curate the show. I’m an out lesbian. I just graduated from CIA in 2019 as a non-traditional student and a lot of my work dealt with LGBTQ history and the AIDS epidemic. I think that people are excluded from shows because of their sexual orientation or because of their race. So to have a show of LGBTQ artists highlights the talent that we have in Cleveland and gives them space.
Also, I thought when I was at CIA, “Boy, my life really would have been different if I didn’t have to wait until I was 35 to come out…if when I was 18, 19, 20, that I would have felt comfortable enough.” My peers were comfortable to be out and be open. I was challenged about that. I was asked by one of my professors, “Well, how do you know that [my younger peers]don’t have other issues?” I started taking out my peers who were 20–22 years old for coffee and talking to them. And I realized that of course there have been some issues. I told them, “You know what, I don’t understand non-binary, you have to explain it to me, you have to correct me if I say something wrong, I want to be open to learning, I want to be open to hearing their voice.” I thought, if I don’t do this as a 50-year-old woman, then I’m the same as those people who didn’t accept me when I was 20.
What will this show mean mean for the LGBTQ+ community?
What I hope for the show is that even if one person changes their thinking about how they perceive the LGBTQ community, push their limits, and maybe ask some questions, then it was worthwhile. What I’ve found is that the younger generation is okay to talk to you about this stuff. You just need to ask. Having Sam as one of the curators, I told them you have to correct me every time I use the wrong pronoun. And, they’re like, “Well, that’s okay.” And I said, “No, it’s not okay. And if I’m not corrected, then it’s not gonna change.” We need to have these transitions in life. I just hope that people will come to the show and really look at the work and hopefully understand and connect with the individuals that are creating the pieces.
Why is archiving important?
When Mindy was writing up the synopsis for the show she started looking into the history of the LGBTQ community in Cleveland. And there is history: Pride and the Gay People’s Chronicle and different things that have happened throughout the last 20–30 years that are documented. However, there’s not any type of documentation about LGBTQ artists. So we are looking at doing some oral histories, recording people’s stories and experiences, and continuing after the show with this oral documentation and written documentation of this LGBTQ show. So that’s pretty exciting.
What are some of your favorite pieces in the show?
We have about 70 artists. I have done numerous studio visits and looked at numerous pieces of work. What I’ve seen in my own work and in my own life is that people have had a lot of struggle.
Brent Hines is an artist in Akron, and he does these amazing assemblages. He’s a gay man, and his brother was gay and died of AIDS. His brother lived in San Francisco and when he died, Brent and his family wanted to fly him home to bury him. They couldn’t fly his body home because he died of AIDS. It was heartbreaking for the family. They had to cremate him to bring him home. Brent didn’t start making these assemblages until his brother died and he told me that every single piece is a memorial piece for his brother. It’s been 20+ years since his brother passed away, and he still just holds so much of that with him and his art.
There are many, many other favorites. It’s all really powerful.
- Go see “Converge”! A variety of special events and programming are planned to coincide with the exhibit. View the schedule here.