Local Artists Work to Reroute Cleveland Narrative Ahead of RNC

Local Artists Work to Reroute Cleveland Narrative Ahead of RNC
Image by Paul Sobota. Still frame from The Fixers trailer.

This summer from July 18 to 21, the brightest spotlight in recent memory will shine on Cleveland and Northeast Ohio, as the Republican National Convention (RNC) comes to town. While we're all excited for the nation and world to experience our city and re-evaluate the region, it's important to paint an honest and true portrait of our hometown. With agenda-filled, pro-Cleveland propaganda surfacing for months, local artists, filmmakers, community advocates and activists known collectively as the Fixers are working together to offer an alternative to the official, limited narrative. Quite simply, the Fixers is the most important art project in Cleveland this year, and perhaps, the most important ever.

Regarding the RNC, celebrated local writer, musician, artist, activist and founder of Guide to Kulchur RA Washington asks, "What narrative will be ours? What narrative will be this influx of activists and protestors? What narrative will be driven by money? What narrative will be driven by the missing? What narrative will be driven by truth?"

Official projections for the RNC forecast a tremendous influx of visitors and income, including the use of 5,000 hotel rooms in Cleveland, 16,000 hotel rooms in Cuyahoga County, 50,000 visitors, 15,000 members of the media and an estimated 10 billion media hits, totaling $200 million in direct spending. And it will all be here and gone in less than one week.

After decades of outside ridicule and jokes, it's understandable to want to show Cleveland in a new light, but some locals fear that the media coverage will be focused on a very limited view of the city, ignoring the neighborhoods, people and issues that need the most attention. We should all be proud of how far this city has come in a few short years; but we'd be doing ourselves and our fellow residents a disservice by ignoring the "less desirable" parts of our region.

The Fixers ask, "What does the RNC mean for a greater Cleveland?" However, these issues extend far beyond just Northeast Ohio to include issues of gentrification, predatory mortgages, redlining, access to healthy food and quality education, public transportation, police and gang violence, etc. Many of these same issues are shared by countless communities throughout the United States. In this way, Cleveland could be considered a microcosm for the country at large.

The project's organizers are a group of artists and filmmakers working with longtime (often lifelong) members of the community to shift, expand and deepen the dialogue during the RNC by asking locals what tour of the city they would take RNC delegates on if they had the chance. For several months, these loveable renegades have been recording conversations with local cultural leaders about the most overlooked areas and issues in Cleveland and Northeast Ohio that they feel should be explored by visitors during the convention. A full list of participants, or Fixers, will be released later this year, but organizers are still in the process of conducting interviews.

The Fixers are led by local artist and author Kate Sopko, who encourages public dialogue through social experiments and projects that border between public art and social transformation. Sopko is joined by a team of filmmakers, including the production team of Angela Beallor and Elizabeth Press, both of whom live in Troy, New York. Beallor is a native of Cleveland, and her work explores history, memory and politics through photo and video. Additionally, local filmmakers and photographers Robert Banks, Chelsie Corso, Tom Laffay and Paul Sobota are helping to bring the project to life.

"In journalism, a fixer is someone who a foreign correspondent will hire going into another country," Kate Sopko explains. "They give quick access to a story. This project is asking people who culturally operate as fixers in Cleveland what tour of the city they would give delegates if given the chance. Under the marked media gaze we expect that week, this project aims to bring local voices to the fore to narrate a deeper story of how political decision-making impacts the lives of Clevelanders, for better or for worse."

If you'd like to support this powerful and important project, organizers currently have a Hatchfund crowdfunding campaign online (hatchfund.org/project/the_fixers). The Fixers need to reach their goal of $5,500 by midnight on Monday, March 28, but donations made early on Friday, March 25, will help them receive additional support from Hatchfund's Match Fund.

"The money we are raising through Hatchfund will allow us to shoot and edit the final three films in the series," Sopko elaborates. "Every donation to this campaign really does impact if we will be able to complete this project or not. If we reach the maximum goal, money will be used toward hosting a series of public screenings and dialogues around these films throughout Cleveland this summer. Quite literally, every donation counts toward the success of this project!"

Before the RNC, the project will debut at Spaces (2220 Superior Viaduct) in Cleveland and Smack Mellon in Brooklyn, New York (92 Plymouth St.). Spaces will host an opening reception on Friday, May 20, from 6 to 9 p.m., and the exhibition will remain on view through July 29. The exhibition at Smack Mellon will be on view from June 18 through July 31. The Fixers are also currently organizing events during the RNC.

The Fixers trailer can be viewed on their Hatchfund page or on Vimeo at vimeo.com/156270302.

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