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Cleveland artists take center stage with the return of CAN Triennial

Collective Arts Network
Lorain County's Dana Depew is one of several artists using 'upcycled' materials in his work as part of this year's CAN Triennial.

Two months of free art exhibitions and performances by local artists kick off tonight with the return of the CAN Triennial at venues around Cleveland. Delayed a year by the coronavirus pandemic, COVID-19 also inspired many of the artists this year, working under the theme “You Are Here.”

“We certainly saw artists dealing with the idea of community, the idea of isolation and the difficulty that brings: both in their subject matter and also just in the way they had to go about their practice,” said Michael Gill, executive director of the Collective Arts Network, which publishes the quarterly CAN Journal.

The last CAN Triennial, in 2018, was at West 78th Street Studios. This year, the work will be shown at 16 venues throughout the region, such as the Pivot Center for Art, Dance and Expression. The recently renovated building also houses FIG (Future Ink Graphics), Inlet Dance and LatinUs Theatre Company. The Rainey Institute is also moving its orchestral program for students, El Sistema, to Pivot, in the Clark-Fulton neighborhood.

Other venues include Hildebrandt Artist Collective and the Gold Building, which are both in in former industrial buildings. Gill says they represent an undercurrent of reuse, rebirth and recycling, which also runs through many of the works in this year's CAN Triennial.

Ron Shelton has focused on post-consumer waste plastic,” he said. “Sustainability - and not making waste material - is a key focus of his practice. He will use plastic as raw material in really any way he can conceive: from weaving the material from those blue plastic grocery bags to cutting up more durable plastic to use it in a kind of mosaic way or structural way."

Collective Arts Network
Artist Ron Shelton participated in the last CAN Triennial, in 2018, and returns this year with this installation at Praxis, in the Waterloo Arts District.

Shelton is a Columbus native who came to Cleveland almost 20 years ago. Another artist working in the medium of discarded objects is Dana Depew, from Lorain County.

"Whether it be lamp parts or neon sign material or elements of houses reconstructed into architectural scale installations - windows and panels and just any usable part - those are just a couple of examples," Gill said.

Along with exhibitions over the next two months, there will also be panel discussions. One is facilitated by the Cleveland Museum of Art’s “Currently Under Curation” program, which gives high school students exposure to the world of curating.

“How would [they] even discover that curation was a possibility, a job, a career path and even an experience to tell stories with art?” he said. “These students are getting this opportunity with contemporary Northeast Ohio art [in University Circle]. And that relates in such a way to the contemporary art dialogue because it's about who makes these decisions. What a powerful role it is to curate art exhibits. You are, in a real way, defining what is culture."

Gill said the CAN Triennial is meant to focus on Northeast Ohio artists as a complement to the FRONT Triennial, which opens July 16 and has a more national - and even global - focus.

Kabir Bhatia is a senior reporter for Ideastream Public Media's arts & culture team.