The Secret Is Out

A show devoted to underground Cleveland debuts in ... Germany?!

Atechno party in Europe has paved the way for an unlikely international art show devoted to Cleveland.

It all started when Clevelander Helen Schneider moved to Cologne, Germany, four years ago to work for a design firm there.

Back in the late 1980s and early '90s, Schneider had been a radio host at Cleveland State's WCSB-FM. Then last year at an electronic-techno party — Germans love techno — she met the friend of an old friend who asked where she was from.

"When I said Cleveland, he lit right up," says Schneider. Turns out the man at the party had also worked at WCSB and was friends with longtime WCSB personality and underground scene documentarian Steve Wainstead. Schneider and Wainstead were also friends, and had talked casually over the years about producing a show of his Cleveland-centric photographs.

"He started drilling me about Easter Monkeys, Pagans, Rocket From the Tombs, Styrenes, etc," Schneider says of the man she met at the party. "And this guy was under 30. He was active at the campus radio station, so I asked him if he thought it would be interesting to produce a radio show about Cleveland music." He did, of course.

From there, the concept grew into the idea of playing the radio show on a loop amid a display of Wainstead's photographs. But it didn't stop there: Schneider also reached out to her former Cleveland State classmate, John Backderf, aka cartoonist Derf. Her sister, Cleveland artist Dott Schneider, connected her with Derek Hess and Arabella Proffer. Proffer hooked her up with poster artist John G, who turned her on to fellow poster artist Jake Kelly.

Armed with key works by each artist, Schneider assembled a show called Notes From the Cleveland Underground, which opened this month and is on display through July at the Kunstraum-Ampersand gallery in Cologne. The exhibit has grown from being a display of Cleveland music and pictures to including everything from punk bands to 1960s countercultural poet d.a. levy.

"The scope of the show is more on the DIY aspect of subculture and 'the underground,' or to be more specific, the expression that results from an existential urge to create or to capture," says Schneider. "As a concept, it allows a platform for multidisciplinary works to be shown together, to get a cultural community vibe, or in this case, the subcultural vibe."

She's hoping the exhibition will be a springboard to spreading news about Cleveland's subcultural wealth.

"There are elements to [the show] that can be experienced going forward as time and resources allow, such as the oral history project, a publication, a concert series," she says. "There are a lot more people tied directly to the scene that are doing amazing things with both preservation and action. If/when the show goes well, I'd like to connect more with these folks and continue to share The Cleveland Secret at the international level."

She's already doing that through the Notes From the Cleveland Underground Facebook page, where you can also make plans to attend the show if you happen to be homesick in western Germany this summer.

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