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Northeast Ohio Artists Show Hope Through Pandemic Creations

Artist Erin Guido seen painting one of two murals in Ohio City during April. [Erin Guido]
Artist Erin Guido seen painting one of two murals in Ohio City

Erin Guido has been working from home, but a project brought her outside to a normally busy intersection in Cleveland's Ohio City neighborhood.

After a car recently crashed into a building, the owner asked her to paint something on the temporary boards securing the site at W. 25th Street and Detroit Avenue. Guido painted two murals of positive messages in her typical style of bright colors and shapes.

Mural in Ohio City painted by Erin Guido, an artist and project manager for LAND Studio. [Erin Guido]

Guido’s murals aren’t the only colorful messages popping up in neighborhoods. In Northeast Ohio and beyond, chalk art and window decorations bring color and hope during uncertain times.

“It's like everyone is becoming a public artist in their own right, whether they know it or not,” Guido said. She is also a project manager for LAND Studio, which facilitates public art installations around Cleveland.

While art is a side job for Guido, some of the artists brightening the community at this time depend on art to pay the bills.

Cleveland artist Brandon Graves is one of them, and he said business slowed down with the pandemic.

“I just started brainstorming, like, what can I do, you know, to keep the ball rolling?” Graves said.

Artist Brandon Graves poses with a portrait he recently created of Amirah Perkins. He is painting portraits and murals as well as teaching art during the pandemic. [Brandon Graves]

Even with the stress and uncertainty, he is trying to stay positive. He continues to do portrait work and recently completed one of a young lady, embellished with a superhero’s cape. He is also now teaching others how to paint virtually, as another artistic revenue stream.

“I'm like the ‘glass full’ kind of guy,” he said. “I did seven years in prison for, you know, selling drugs in the past. So I say all that to say that, I even saw the bright side while I was in there.”

Keeping an eye on the bright side is part of what Summit Artspace is doing in Akron with a new virtual, juried exhibition, YOU-Topia. The organization called for artists to submit work envisioning a better world and different time.

“Individuals are looking for engagement and looking to the arts and culture as an escape from what we're currently dealing with in our realities,” said Megann Eberhart, Summit Artspace interim director.

Summit Artspace supports professionals, amateurs and youth, and Eberhart said she is seeing increased interest in art.

“We’re looking at how do we position ourselves as an organization, because artists and individuals in the visual arts are going to have new needs and resources as we're coming out of and evolving through this pandemic,” Eberhart said.

"How Much is Too Much? Pandemic 2020," in "Self Portraits: Artists Respond to COVID-19," Ursuline College Wasmer Gallery online exhibition [Ron White]

Ursuline College also put out a call for art for a virtual show, “Self Portraits: Artists Respond to COVID-19."

Submissions came in from around the world as well as Northeast Ohio. The online exhibit, on view until May 22, features more than 100 pieces expressing a variety of feelings.

“I see the fear, I see that, but I also see that there’s a kind of hope that, this is our situation but we are going to prevail,” said gallery director Anna Arnold. “But I do see some pieces that are very dark."

"Dance with Death," in "Self Portraits: Artists Respond to COVID-19," Ursuline College Wasmer Gallery online exhibition [Davon Brantley]

During the pandemic, Cleveland Heights visual artist Stephen Calhoun surprised himself as he created a dark, grayscale piece on his computer, a departure from his normal work.

“It kind of looks like a scary bear in a wetsuit,” he said. “It creates that impact of, what the heck is this kind of beast? But that doesn't happen much. I don't make scary artwork at all."

"Zabada Bottom" is an atypical creation for Cleveland Heights artist Stephen Calhoun. [Stephen Calhoun]

His work generally features bright, colorful mandalas. He’s sharing those on social media with added language promoting public health. 

"My intention is that it’s a beautiful way to reinforce our very crucial social distancing ask,” he said.

From social posts and digital shows to inspiring public art, creativity abounds as the pandemic continues.

Stephen Calhoun added positive health messaging to his mandala pieces and has been sharing them on social media. [Stephen Calhoun]

Want to share pictures of your art with ideastream? Email an image to arts@ideastream.org with a description and your contact information, and your submission may be featured in the future on ideastream platforms. 

Carrie Wise is the deputy editor of arts and culture at Ideastream Public Media.