Over a month has gone by, dear readerss, since I first arrived in wondrous Cleveland, Ohio. Since then, in addition to much research and work done in the employ of the Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities, I have also begun to explore the maker culture of the city.
Luck would have it that early on in my tenure here, I met a few of the participants and producers at the Center for Rock Research. These fine folks are devoted to music, art and experience production in Cleveland, not limited to but often housed within an industrial space in Asia Town owned and operated by photographer/educator/musician/all-around-crafty guy, Frank Prpic.
The timing of my arrival meant that I was able to volunteer occasionally at the center to aid in the preparation of an enormous Halloween bash. I wrapped tiny sticks, fashioning them into Blair Witch figures. I helped tape styrofoam bodies and eyes to bizarre swamp monsters. I meticulously cut a stencil of the name of a famous headless figure, which was used on a life-size guillotine. I generally painted, milled about, glued together and giggled my way through October just this way.
The end result was a space wholly tranformed, filled with ghosts, vampires, werewolves and all sorts of strange creatures enjoying a memorable evening, one that well outlasted my own energies. Proceeds from ticket sales went to the Cleveland Food Bank.
What I learned from this experience, and what I imagine will prove to be a city-wide ethos, is that the maker world in Cleveland is distinct in many respects from its counterparts in other cities. Clevelanders work to make the city and the spaces they occupy within it their own. And they are wildly committed to these efforts. It isn’t, or at least not at the CRR, a cliquish, hipster activity. It’s a necessity.
It is far too early to say whether this has something to do with the bleak winters or the sometimes disastrous economic busts that take aim at Cleveland. My suspicion is such things impact the way Clevelanders make their world, and thus, their art. It may be, too, that because the city is much maligned in the popular imagination of the rest of the country, Clevelanders feel pressured not only to defend but to thoroughly enjoy their urban landscape.**
Whatever the cause, if the Center for Rock Research is in anyway an exemplar of what DIY life in Cleveland can be like, it is well, well worth further exploration. Besides, who doesn’t like a serious, wild, glorious Halloween party? Fools and saints, that’s who. And I try not to keep either in my company.
*I hesitated to use this image in part because of its ubiquitous (though varied) presence in the hipster landscape. But you know what? I like it. I tend to like hipsters in general.
**Anecdotal evidence: This week I stopped into the Flying Monkey, a lovely pub a block from my house, and the bartender there donned a black T-shirt with two crossed pistols screen-printed on its chest under the slogan “Defend Cleveland.”