Monday, October 3

Studio West 117 unveils new mural by Cleveland artists Stina Aleah and Aja Joi Grant

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Stina Aleah wasn’t always an artist.

Five years ago, she suffered a sports-related injury and turned to painting as a creative outlet.

At Studio West 117, splashes of her work color the walls above a mezzanine-level walking track.

The mural, which Aleah created in collaboration with Cleveland portrait photographer Aja Joi Grant, was unveiled as part of Phase 1 of Studio West 117’s Fieldhouse Art Mural Program.

Sponsored by West 117 Foundation, the program is set to sponsor two dozen murals by LGBTQ+ artists across more than 9,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor space.

Phase 1 Mural in the Studio West 117 Fieldhouse. (Photo Credit: Molly Castle, Small Organization Solutions)

The Fieldhouse, scheduled to open to the public in 2022, will host fitness classes, open gym times, and the LGBTQ+ Youth Sports League, where young LGBTQ+ athletes can train and compete without fear of discrimination or harassment.

The facility is the first segment of Studio West 117’s ambitious, multi-use LGBTQ+ complex set to span more than 300,000 square feet at the Lakewood/Cleveland border.

Co-developers Besty Figgie and Daniel Budish say the walkable neighborhood will also feature LGBTQ+ centered housing, social services, and healthcare — along with LGBTQ+ owned restaurants, bars, shops, and nightlife and entertainment spaces.

As a new wave anti-LGBTQ+ legislation sweeps the country, advocates and organizers say the camaraderie and community sports can provide for young LGBTQ+ people may be more important than ever.

At the mural’s March unveiling, it’s creators echoed that sentiment:

“[I’m] really excited to be able to provide art for a space where children come to be validated in their experiences and supported,” said Grant. “I think that’s really important.”

The Phase 1 mural unveiling at the Studio West 117 Fieldhouse. (Photo Credit: Molly Castle, Small Organization Solutions)

Painted, black and gray versions of Grant’s portraits interact with Aleah’s curved and colorful figures, exploring the experience of movement, place and identity.

“Whatever color on that flag you represent,” Aleah said, “I wanted people to be able to see themselves in it.”

For Deidre McPherson, who serves as program manager, Aleah and Grant’s mural is symbolic of a much larger vision for LGBTQ+ people across Northeast Ohio.

“The Fieldhouse Art Mural Program is part of the core of what Studio West 117 is about,” McPherson said. “[It’s] a vibrant space of expression, identity, and inclusion that will greatly add to the quality of life for LGBTQ+ people in our region.”

The Phase 1 mural unveiling at the Studio West 117 Fieldhouse. (Photo Credit: Molly Castle, Small Organization Solutions)

Ohio State Senator Nickie Antonio — the first out LGBTQ+ person to serve in the Ohio General Assembly — also spoke at the mural’s unveiling. 

“There are some people who do not want our community to exist…” she said. “They don’t want us to be able to celebrate our authentic selves and the wonderful expanded rainbow of what that means.”

Recalling her own experiences as an LGBTQ+ person, Antonio expressed gratitude for new safe and affirming spaces like the Fieldhouse, where LGBTQ+ youth can be themselves.

Referencing both the mural and the space itself, Antonio left attendees with a message of optimism and pride: “[It’s] a celebration not just of who we are, but what we contribute to our community, to our families, to this neighborhood and to Northeast Ohio.” 🔥 

Ignite Action –

  • To learn more about artist submissions to the Fieldhouse Art Mural Program, click here. Note: submissions close April 18, 2022.
  • To make a donation to the Fieldhouse Art Mural Program, click here.

About Author

H.L. Comeriato is the staff writer for The Buckeye Flame. A queer and non-binary writer and reporter from Akron, Ohio, they covered public health for The Devil Strip via Report for America.

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