Massive, Multi-Venue "CONVERGE" Exhibition Highlights the Voices and Work of Cleveland's LGBTQ+ Community

click to enlarge "Pride CLE" - Chuck Fischer
Chuck Fischer
"Pride CLE"

CONVERGE, a multi-venue art exhibition made possible through a partnership between Cleveland's Artists Archives of the Western Reserve, the LGBT Center of Greater Cleveland, Lake Erie College, Judson Manor and MetroHealth, debuts this Thursday with work by 71 regional artists across those five venues.

CONVERGE brings together the stories of the LGBTQ community, including the historically underrepresented voices of women, transgender people, and people of color.

“LGBTQ history is our history, and the story of the community is the story of our region. Behind the jubilant parades and rainbow flags which blossom along porches in June, is a proud and diverse population who live, work, and contribute mightily to the creative culture of Northeast Ohio," the show's press release states.

Curator Kelly Pontoni and co-curaters Sam Butler, Tony Williams, and Mark Yasenchack selected more than 140 pieces in array of media including painting, photography, textiles, glass, fashion, assemblage, and immersive installations.

An in-person opening reception will be held on Thursday, August 26th, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Artists Archives, 1834 East 123rd Street, Cleveland, OH 44106. No registration is necessary to attend.

Additional programming includes artist and curator talks, panel discussions, workshops, and exhibitions examining a variety of subject matter.

“Tony Williams one of the co-curators brought the idea of CONVERGE….We looked at age, race, gender, lesbian, gays, bisexual, transgender, non-bianary, the whole spectrum. It was very important to us that we address all of these different identities,” says Pontini. “As a non-traditional student in my late 40s, I found myself surrounded by a new generation of LGBTQ+ students. I wondered where I, as a lesbian, fit into an increasingly non-binary word. But instead of holing up in my comfort zone, I asked questions. I listened. And over many, MANY cups of coffee, I gained perspective.”

Pontini, now 52, says she was an older student and felt that CIA offered acceptance for LGBTQ students. She wonders how her life would’ve been different if she were able to be “out” at 18, 19 or 20 instead of in her late 30s.

“I started taking my peers over coffee and we had these wonderful intimate conversations. I realized that me in my 50s, if I was not able or willing to listen to the younger generation then I was no different than the people that did not accept me as a lesbian when I was 18, 19 or 20.”

Pontoni, who works as the collections registrar for the Artists Archives, partnered with the LGBT Community Center and MetroHealth, which always hosts the AIDS quilt on World AIDS Day, to make the exhibition happen.

“The purpose of the exhibition is to celebrate and document the legacy and the contributions of these artists to the cultural fabric of the Western Reserve,” says Mindy Tousley, executive director of the AAWR. “I hope the viewer is struck by the creativity, strength, and size of our LGBTQ+ community of artists, by the sincerity of their stories as told through their art, by their struggle for equity and equality under the law, and come away with more tolerance and acceptance.”

Pontoni exclaims: “This is been the most amazing experience of my life, connecting with people, talking to them listening to their stories.” 
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