In any other city, a sports-themed art exhibition probably wouldn't be a big deal. In Cleveland, however, it's about so much more than sports. It's about culture, identity, celebrity, regionalism, economics, ritual and so much more.
"Our continual despair in regard to the ongoing failures and embarrassments of our sports teams is what binds us together as Clevelanders," says artist and Fandom216 co-curator Dana Depew, who has Bernie Kosar's famous number 19 tattooed on the back of his left hand. "At any time you could strike up a conversation and discuss how the Browns blew the most recent game or converse about some current off-the-field blunder. Regardless of demographic, race, gender or profession, we can all vent our frustrations to one another. It's what keeps us going, and false hope is all we have. It truly is a dysfunctional relationship. The sports teams in this town continually take and take and offer nothing in return except heartache, but we continue to allow it to happen and we stick around."
Artists, galleries, nonprofits and community development organizations throughout town are teaming up for Fandom216, a regional exploration of Cleveland's culture of professional sports and its fandom. Their aim isn't specifically a critique or an "honorific exaltation," but rather an honest exploration of their subject.
"Sports and art usually have disparate audiences, but in actuality often share the same unfulfilled sense of longing," says artist and co-curator Michael Loderstedt, who teaches printmaking at Kent State University. "Artists, players and fans work and spend tirelessly on pursuing our craft, only to achieve limited success. But our continued desire is born of the promise of the next contest, the next exhibition."
This monumental undertaking is being presented simultaneously in three venues throughout Cleveland: Waterloo Arts in Collinwood, Hedge Gallery at the 78th Street Studios, and Zygote Press. All three will host separate receptions throughout the month, but all three shows open Sunday, Jan. 10. Hedge's exhibit closes Feb. 7, while the other two remain on view until Saturday, Feb. 20.
"This exhibit reflects how artists in our region respond to sports culture, and Hedge Gallery's space offers these artists room to experiment with a variety of mediums, including video, installation and functional art pieces," says Hedge owner Hilary Gent.
Fandom216 officially begins with a tailgate kick-off sponsored by Covermymeds.com at Waterloo Arts from 1 to 4 p.m. on Sunday. The event includes art, traditional tailgating food, drinks, sports-themed spoken word compositions by youth poet athletes from America Scores, polka by Malphonia and an appearance by the Cleveland Browns' biggest fan, Debra Darnall, aka the Bone Lady.
The fun continues with a reception from 5 to 9 p.m. at Hedge Gallery during monthly Third Friday festivities at 78th Street Studios. Zygote Press will host a reception from 6 to 8 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 29.
In February, the festivities return to Waterloo Arts. In conjunction with February's Walk All Over Waterloo event, Waterloo Arts hosts another reception from 6 to 10 p.m. Additionally, Zygote Press' Ink House hosts Free the Ink during Walk All Over Waterloo, just steps away from Waterloo Arts. The programming culminates with a Super Bowl 50 Party and Chili Cookoff at Waterloo Arts from 2 to 4 p.m on Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 7.
Artists were recruited by Depew and Loderstedt. The co-curators also teamed up to create a Moral Victory Bar which will travel to all three venues for each gallery's events. Guests can select a drink from a menu (a beer, a shot or a shot and a beer). Each guest, one at a time, will have 10 minutes at the bar to discuss either sports or art career woes. The experience is complimentary, and all tips will be donated to the host organization.
Additionally, three local artists are combining efforts to promote their shared passion for cycling in Northeast Ohio. Visitors who bike to all three venues will receive a limited edition poster created by Elizabeth Emery, who had a 10-year career in professional bicycle racing before focusing on her studio art practice. To receive a poster at Zygote Press, cyclists must pick up a Fandom216 Passport from any of the three locations and have it stamped at each gallery. Passports were created by local artist, editor/publisher/director of CAN Journal and avid cyclist Michael Gill. Posters are also available for purchase, with partial proceeds donated to Bike Cleveland (bikecleveland.org).
Spaces executive director Christina Vassallo is also an avid cyclist and bike advocate. This July she'll be participating in the American Cancer Society's Pan Ohio Hope Ride. Anyone who contributes $25 or more to her online fundraising site will receive a limited edition "Be Your Own Year-Round Hero" postcard by Elizabeth Emery.
Fandom216 is supported by neighborhood community group sponsors Northeast Shores Development Corporation, Gordon Square Arts District and St. Clair Superior Community Development.
"I am so pleased to be working on Fandom216 with so many partners," says Liz Maugans, executive director of Zygote Press. "The artists have really developed some funny, challenging and fresh work and I believe it is these types of city-wide moments and exhibitions that will get us out of our own art bubbles and create new relationships in the mix. It is building these new audiences that can introduce passionate Clevelanders to the arts community and the myriad spaces, faces and places that they can experience for the first time."
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