The Creator: Jeff Finley 

Graphic Designer at Go Media and Founder of Weapons of Mass Creation Fest

There are music fests, of course. And tech conferences. And DIY fests. And fests for just about anything else you can image, and fests that combine all of those other fests into one big fest of fests.

But what about a fest for graphic designers and artists?

"I had been going to South By Southwest off and on since 2006, and I'd gone to DIY punk fests, and DIT fest, and fests thrown by bands," says Jeff Finley. "The community aspect of it all was really inspiring. I tried to get involved as a designer, making posters and doing T-shirts. They were bringing all my favorite bands together and it was this DIY space, very intimate. It was very underground and grassroots. But I never quite felt like I was part of them. I felt on the outskirts, and it gave me the inspiration to do it myself."

That's the short origin story of how Weapons of Mass Creation Fest was founded. Now in its fifth year, set for Aug 15-17, the festival has become a mainstay on the Cleveland scene and has become a destination event for others around the country, bringing together speakers and bands and graphic designers and artists and photographers.

"I'm into design, obviously, so I wanted to have designers show their work and treat them like rock stars," says Finley. "The 'Weapons of Mass Creation' name came from looking at artists themselves -- the artist is the weapon, they're a force to be reckoned with."

The first year, as Finley jokes, was basically Jeff Fest -- an accumulation of his favorite bands and friends and artists. Since then, it's grown not only in numbers but also in diversity.

"Our first little motto was, 'Defy the hand you're dealt.'" It was this mentality of authenticity and doing it yourself and reality," he says. "It's all emotional. You're on stage talking about deep issues, and last year it became a huge part of the event, because there were these speakers who were bringing tears to the eyes. So now it's really become, 'Three days that will change your life.' We allow you to shed your inhibitions and be honest. The community that we've been able to build has allowed people to open up."

And there's also diversity in regard to the elephant in the room. For the most part, if you take graphic design in a broad stroke, it's a lot of white males. Weapons of Mass Creation has taken efforts in the last two years to talk about that aspect of the community.

"We try to work to heavily feature women," says Finley. "And there was more LGBT interest, and this year is going to be a huge step forward in that regard. It's transformed from design rock stars to people addressing culture issues in the creative scene."

The music has always been a part of WMC and it will continue to be, but Finley and crew (he's got plenty of help from his friends at Go Media and elsewhere) are working hard to make the speaker series and vendor booths the main attraction, with the shows at the end of the night as a cap to the festivities.

"There are so many creative firms in Cleveland," says Finely. "When Go Media started, it was one of the first, and now everyone's on board and all these colleges are pumping out designers. There are a lot of small studios and it's cool that WMC is bringing these people together."


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