SPACES Selects Four Recipients for Urgent Art Fund Grants

click to enlarge Peek-a-Booth, Cassandra Harner - (IMAGE: BRIDGET CASWELL, WONDERLANDING, 2022)
(Image: Bridget Caswell, Wonderlanding, 2022)
Peek-a-Booth, Cassandra Harner

SPACES this week announced the four recipients in the first cycle of $4,000 grants from The Urgent Art Fund: Alice Blumenfeld/ABREPASCO flamenco, The Soleá Project; Jing Lauengco/OTHER BROWN GIRL + Jess Williams, OTHER BROWN GIRL - Digital Storytelling In The New Now; Shari Wilkins + Ruddy Roye, Playing The Devil’s Music; Cassandra Harner, Peek-a-Booth.

“These projects span a range of creative practices and diverse perspectives that we are overjoyed to support, said SPACES Executive Director Tizziana Baldenebro. “We look forward to seeing them emerge across the city.”

Alice Blumenfeld’s ongoing The Soleá Project explores solitude and loneliness through community art workshops. Participants learn about flamenco's soleá style, focusing on some of the movements and about the history and lyrics. By exploring creative movement, participants can tap into their own experiences of loneliness, solitude, and community building through activities.

Jing Laeungco and Jess Williams will present “OTHER BROWN GIRL - Digital Storytelling In The New Now," which is an exhibit, lecture series, and brand platform blending online and offline experiences using creative storytelling for positive self-expression + self-empowerment for the next generation of “other brown girls” who need positive role models around emerging self-image + cross-cultural - gender - DEI, identity according to a press release.

Shari Wilkins and Ruddy Roye will present “Playing The Devil's Music.” The title comes from the role the devil plays in blues music.

“I really said yes to this project because I wanted to create work that can immediately impact the Blues community,” said Roye. “My hope is that through photography I could create a revenue stream for the players I photograph that could help them in the years when they won’t be able to go out and play every night. I hope viewers will see how different disciplines can reach across the aisle to help each other. I also hope that through the education that is built up around these stories, our younger generation will be able to see the history and struggles of our ancestors and learn about the struggles and legacies of their people through the music and the musicians who played the blues.”

The project's mission is to spotlight Cleveland blues artists who trailblazed a foundation upon which rock n’ roll. The project integrates photography, video, storytelling recorded in audio files, and radio interviews. The musicians will be photographed and interviewed, producing work for exhibitions, radio interviews and a photo book.

"Usually, our culture takes, moves on and forgets. Elvis Presley sang the songs of black folk and became a famous, rich rock star. We want to showcase the history of blues in Northeast Ohio, recognizing and honoring Cleveland musicians who played in bands with Robert Lockwood Jr. and other bluesmen. We want to remember, celebrate, hear their stories and remind others of their contributions to the blues and rock n roll," said artist and founder of the Cleveland Print Room, Shari Wilkins.

The Peek-a-Booth project, which the artist says was a play on the concept of a peep show, is produced by Cassandra Harner and feaetures a rotating cast of performers reacting to a vending-machine-style menu of prompts. Viewers are ushered into the booth by a host ("The Madam") who exchanges dollars for Tokens, then escorts the viewer into an enclosure of curtains.

Harner says that she likes the formality of the title “Madame” and its reference to a brothel.

“The six menu items are going to be different for every entertainer,” said Harner. “One idea that was pitched was having choices like "spread it", "suck it", "shake it", etc. But if you choose "spread it" they spread peanut butter on toast. "Suck it" may be using handheld vacuum cleaner. Sometimes though, buttons may correspond to lengths of time doing a single action, so you're buying more time to watch whatever happens. We are all still building ideas!”

Harner aims to offer a unique experience to each viewer, as a one-on-one connection offers more intimacy and gives the viewer options and choices.

“Hopefully the Peek-a-Booth continues to grow and can be taken on tour around the country,” said Harner. “I would love to connect with other performers in this way and continue to uplift marginalized performers with this project. The true basis of the work is for artists to determine their own worth, and destigmatize queer performance, sex work, night life, drag, burlesque, etc. The format of this show is easy to adapt for all ages, but we will have adult shows too, to acknowledge the references the project stems from. I think there's going to be something for everybody, but it's not going to be what anybody expects!”

There will be three more rounds of grants, with the final ones coming in late summer or early fall. The award winners of the second cycle will be announced early next week.
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