Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Artist's projects get to heart of issues

What should visitors to Cleveland for July's Republican National Convention see and hear about the city's assets and challenges?

Artist Kate Sopko and a group of filmmakers are asking that question to a group of Clevelanders who are active in a range of civic ventures and asking for their answers in the form of tours they would give RNC delegates if they had the chance.

The films, combined into an installation Sopko calls "The Fixers," will be available at SPACES Gallery in the Flats this summer. The films also will be available online through the gallery's website, and Sopko is working on installations in places where convention delegates will stumble across them.

"We're trying to make it as accessible as possible," the Garfield Heights native said. "A convention is a moment where we galvanize around higher-level politics, and Cleveland has a landscape that has a lot we can say about policy being effective or ineffective, (trying) to serve people's needs."

As it's a work in progress, Sopko was reluctant to get into details, but she's planning for the films to cover seven or eight issues, such as school policy and infrastructure needs. Sopko also realizes that, given the time pressures visitors will face, her work may have a broader impact on Cleveland-area residents.

Each film will have anywhere from three to 20 interviews with people who are knowledgeable and insightful about the film's issue. For each film, the interview subjects were chosen, and the interviews were guided, by a person who is well-networked around the particular subject matter.

The cost of the project, which Sopko pegs at a little under $25,000, is being underwritten by SPACES; Art Matters, a New York foundation that supports artists who are pushing aesthetic and social boundaries; and an online crowdsourcing site called Hatchfund.

This is not Sopko's first foray into what she calls social practice, or public works of art.

"Public work has the possibility of just shifting the way we think about our world and the way we interact with our world, the way we relate to other people," she said. "We're setting the table so people can talk to each other about getting interested in the city."

Sopko, a 2000 Kent State University graduate, said she has been working seriously as an artist for five years. Before that, she worked as an arts administrator, at SPACES and elsewhere, and done what she calls, "kitchenwork," or work that she continues.

She sees her arts administration experience as critical to the kind of art projects she undertakes.

"You'd be surprised at how much art work is administration," Sopko said. "It's managing and scheduling people and you have to figure out how to ship work, insure work."

Among her recent projects is a series of what she calls "forts" - places people have created for centuries - that answer questions about the things people value enough to defend. She also has an ongoing project called "City Repair Cleveland," that brings people together to find ways to improve their neighborhoods.

"The Fixers" will be exhibited at SPACES, 2220 Superior Viaduct, from May 20 to July 29, and at Smack Mellon gallery in New York City from June 18 to July 31. The preview trailer can be seen at


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