“Open” to Interpretation: CMA Community Responses

Cleveland Museum of Art
Jun 11 · 10 min read
Image courtesy Stuart Pearl for the Cleveland Museum of Art.

About a month ago, we were thinking about the CMA’s reopening, and we asked some of our staff and community contacts to consider what the word “open” means to them, as we come out of months of isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Below are the responses, and among them you’ll see the thoughtful community input that is personal, reflective of this current moment, and poetic. We are grateful for this sharing; share yours too in the comments, or email us at marketingandcommunications@clevelandart.org.


Kisha Nicole Foster
Poet

means . . .

it’s going to take more

than six feet and a mask

to open ourselves up to strangers

to humans. again. to being kind.

more than rules and control and fear

to open us up to moving as if a pandemic

is not still killing, still scaring, suffocating

a people

more than fancy signs that read:

“do your part apart together” “together,

apart, we are one together” more than

numbers everyday tabulating death

more than digits counting the spread. . .

in the wake of this pandemic is more racism

so that’s double kindness and understanding and empathy.

as an artist reopening means more making art

making love, making food, making right turns, making amends.

collectively Cleveland

we have made history, many fists over hearts

have made noise with our voices, many protests over blacktops

have made children over pain, more endurance than limp noodles

means justice

means equality

means empathy

means take a break at CMA. take in art. it has been our breath of fresh air

it’s been our out of town haven, been our free space to be all races

in UNISON

art knows no color

art does not see the masks

art captures pain turns it into beauty

scrambles anger and composes synergy

tackles injustice and makes you view stark realities

art whispers,

“come here, my shoulder awaits your tears, sob on me, and keep going”

reopening means we are human

means we are not what they tell us

whoever they is. . .

when we open our eyes

we open our hearts

when we open our hearts

we open change.

HUG THAT, EMBRACE IT!

Video courtesy Kisha Nicole Foster.

Philip Metres
Professor, Department of English
Director, Peace, Justice and Human Rights Program
Director, JCU Young Writers Workshop, John Carroll University

What does it mean to open, at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over, when it could yet cost the lives of millions? When George Floyd died because a police officer kneeled on his neck — a killing in a long line of killings of black people by law enforcement?

We have to open our eyes, lift the gates of our hearts, and not pretend that what is happening is not happening. Meanwhile, many Americans brandish their freedom like a lit torch, saying that wearing a mask impinges on their rights, forgetting about protecting the aged and infirmed.

To open now means to wake up, to know that we are each other or we are no one.

We need to shut down or transform systems that produce hatred without anyone ever having to confront their racism — that includes not only policing and criminal justice, but also our exploitive economic system, our segregated education system, our religious organizations, and our arts organizations and museums.

We need to open up the doors of the future, locked by inequity and injustice. We need to show loving-kindness to ourselves and others. We need to widen the circle of community, to create spaces where all belong. We need to keep learning, stop pretending we know all the answers, and refuse the fear and hatred of the other.

We need the arts more than ever, inside museums and out, and to see that the artists are everywhere, not just in elite academies. These artists are the prophetic witnesses to the past and visionary architects of a new future. We need to keep our spirits lit through the fire of imagination, the fuel of justice, and the oxygen of love. We need to hold each other up as we bear this new birth.

Image courtesy of Philip Metres.
Video courtesy of Philip Metres.

Randee Stroud
Ink Spot Program Coordinator, Lake Erie Ink

When I enter a new space, I find myself alert, paying attention to the details, listening closely for a soundtrack, inhaling to breathe in the stories. Over time, this newness can wear off. We start to tune out the soundtrack, or pass things up for a second glance. We begin to move through the space, unaffected, and unaffecting. We simply stop being open to them.

As we work toward reopening spaces, I urge us to individually, and collectively, stay open with our hearts, minds, eyes, and ears. We must consider what it felt like to have the doors closed for so long. Let us not be numb to what is happening around us, let us be open, let us listen, let us affect. And when we can connect through spaces again — through stories, art, and people — may we remember, these are the things that matter most.


Darius Steward
Scholarly Squad Program Manager, The Cleveland Museum of Art

I am open. I am open to change. I am open to several possibilities. But, being open also means that I am taking a risk. Being open at this time may result in you contracting a potentially fatal virus. Displaying openness as a black man has not always resulted in a positive outcome. In my experience, being open means that you must be accepting, thick skinned, and brave. As a black man my openness is tested daily. How I am received by others as well as how I present myself is something I think about often. Diversity, equity, and inclusion only thrives when all sides are open and are willing to embrace change. Change is often uncomfortable and naturally is met with resistance, so we all must consciously fight to practice openness.

Read the Signs, 2013. Images courtesy of Darius Steward.

In 2013 I created a series of watercolor work entitled “Read the Signs.” “Read the Signs” was intended to be a series about identity, placement, and the perception of blacks today. The blank signs in the paintings serve as an entry point for the viewer to communicate with the artist and the subjects in the painting. By creating a space for dialogue with the viewers, I am practicing openness. I welcome dialogue for all those who take part in viewing my work because I believe that the only way to move forward is if both parties are willing to engage in a conversation where we lay all of our cards on the table.


Heather Saunders
Director of Ingalls Library

To be open is to make peace with whatever comes our way, and following through is easier said than done. For me, spring 2020 feels like a sometimes cruel remake of the comedic film Groundhog Day, in which Bill Murray relives the same day until he experiences personal growth. The reason is that two years ago this spring, I was beyond eager to return to the CMA after a near-fatal accident. My place in the world was altered permanently — literally, as my height was adjusted by one inch, making everything seem slightly off. Having battled related PTSD and come out the other side, I see society at this point in time as bound by collective trauma. Trauma is a vastly overused term but it fits, and we can choose to see it as a burden or a bond. Rather than allowing external forces to be divisive, we can lift each other up. Metaphorically, of course: touching is the new taboo.

We must learn new ways to express ourselves, presenting exciting opportunities for creatives in particular. Artistic expression and complex thought processes go hand in hand, but in trauma, there’s a tendency to deny thoughts. It’s inspiring — and reassuring from a research perspective — to see an institution like the Hirshhorn Museum documenting artists’ reactions with their Artist Diaries. The project reminds me of the exploration of the connotations of the bombing of Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker in the inaugural Keithley Symposium, which involved connecting artists and inviting community members to share memories of this rupture. My takeaway from that event is that meaning can be found in tragedy. Like the marred masterpiece, we will persevere.

Image courtesy of the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Doug Katz
Chef

Image courtesy of Doug Katz.

When I think of the word “open” in a literal sense, it makes me think of my restaurants and being open for business. During this time, I decided to keep my restaurant dining rooms closed to protect the public and my team from the added dangers of the coronavirus. We are currently open for online ordering for curbside pick-up and delivery at one of my restaurants: Zhug.

When I think of the word “open” in a deeper way, I think of the word as a guide to optimism. My mind is open to new life possibilities in this limited environment. The Katz family has talked and dreamed about many possibilities. . . . Let’s sell our house and move to Colorado, let’s redecorate our house, let’s go on a road trip, let’s get a dog, and so on. All of these thoughts would have been at the bottom of our list a couple months ago.

As for my businesses, I could change my business model and take my growth in a new direction, I could open a new concept that works in our current environment — heck, I could change careers for that matter.

I think what I am trying to say is that the current time, though incredibly limited, gives our minds and bodies the freedom to think in new ways with new possibilities for ourselves. I have a newfound optimism that drives me to think creatively. These thoughts are unleashed only during these odd times of health and economic crisis. I am open to so much these days and I am optimistic for all that life will bring.


Xyhair Davis
CMA Teens Member
Open Essay

In honor of LGBTQ+ month, I’ll be talking about how I approach the word “open” and I’ve become open to others about my sexuality. Immediately when I think about the word “open” I think about coming out. Open can be approached in many ways like freedom, liveliness, and public. Open to me resembles the action of coming out to the open. Being open about your sexuality can bring good, open up conversations, bring together groups of people, and even support from allies. Where there is good there is also bad. Bad simply means the negativity you can experience coming out. For example, hate comments and bullying, but there is a lot to look forward to like acceptance and pride celebrations. The good side about being open about your sexuality is the feeling of freedom, liveliness, and acceptance. The bad side of being out is backlash, hate, and prejudice, which are things that make people feel “closeted” and uncomfortable.

For me, I still struggle with the negative at times, but I know good people are behind me like some family members and a lot of supportive friends. When I realized there still are good people in the world, it gave me the confidence to come out, but still it was a roller coaster to start with.

I came out as bi in the 9th grade and slowly introduced myself as gay. Later on in the year, I fully came out as gay with a big dance performance in honor of pride month. It consisted of two performances that were based on bullying and suicide and becoming confident. The songs that I used were 1–800 by Logic and Have Mercy by Eryn Allen Kane. By the end of the whole performance, I was pretty nervous that people were going to question me or even worse bully me. Soon I learned a lot of people accepted me, which made me feel loved.

Even though I am still opening up about my sexuality, it still feels like I’m being confined or closed in. Rather it’s at home with my family’s religious beliefs or in public with society’s stigmas on gay males. Even though being out led to negative things like hate and prejudice, I still saw positivity in my supportive friends and family. My supportive family and friends pushed me to become a confident gay man and to be a leader to show people I am just as human as you are!


Eli Millette
Marketing Manager, Lake Erie Ink

Language is sometimes seen as a static and reliable way of communicating. I do not believe this is the case. What a word means in context shifts so frequently that trying to corner meaning from a word is like climbing up a descending escalator and expecting to reach the top. Even if the specific definition of a word might never change, the context that gives the word life never stops shifting, especially in times of great uncertainty.

It is with this mindset I approach the word “open.” What it means for a business to be open is different now; it invokes a sense of danger. There is something ominous when a place marks itself as “open”; the follow up question is “Well, how open is open”? Hopefully not TOO open. I believe that as we move forward the meaning of the word “open” will end up being a great many things. Open is not the only “Freedom” comes to mind. “Progress.” As things evolve and devolve rapidly, I find myself understanding less and less what these words are meant to imply.

I believe it is the express purpose of places like the CMA and Lake Erie Ink to help people find words for that which we cannot describe but also cannot avoid. As we move forward, I expect many people will be desperate to find the right words.

CMA Thinker

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