Coventry Village showcased love-themed art from Aug. 7-31. The entirely outdoor gallery, appropriately titled “Inside Out,” featured art from local Cleveland artists. While much of the art was inspired by 2020’s difficulties, all of the artists found a way to express love.
Vibrant hearts and flowers spray painted along the sidewalk of Coventry Road created a path for this art walk. Windows along the street were adorned with art ranging from giant paintings to poems and photography. Some of the spray-painted hearts read “you are loved” and the gallery’s motto, “It’s all about love.” One piece that commanded attention was located in the windows where Big Fun, the toy store, used to be. It was a mural of two Black people fist bumping, reading “Hold on be strong,” with the names of influential Black icons above the piece. Another unforgettable piece was in the windows above bd’s Mongolian Grill, depicting the silhouettes of an African American family, surrounded by sunset colors and over 30 names of victims of police brutality. The yellow text above the family simply read “…and still we love.”
While much of the art was displayed in empty storefronts, Coventry staples such as Mac’s Backs-Books on Coventry also participated. There, co-owner Suzanne DeGaetano spoke about the art’s impact, saying, “It’s adding a vitality that the neighborhood was lacking because of COVID.”
Mac’s Backs actively collaborated with Mallory Phillips, executive director of The Coventry Village Special Improvement District, who spearheaded the “Inside Out” gallery. DeGaetano reached out to two local poets she knew from Mac’s Backs Poetry series, Kisha Nicole Foster and Dr. Mary E. Weems, to submit works that would “comment on the George Floyd killing and events of the summer.” These works were proudly displayed in the store’s windows, along with a curated section of social justice books. DeGaetano further emphasized how “art can revitalize and rejuvenate a neighborhood,” which is what she’s observed since the installation of the outdoor gallery. It is filling the art void in Coventry, one created since local bar and live music venue, The Grog Shop, has been unable to reopen. More importantly though, it is fueling conversation around various injustices, with DeGaetano saying that they’ve had a huge demand for social justice works—from nonfiction, to fiction, to poetry and even children’s books.
This project began when Phillips was contacted by Pop Life Universe and Contrast High, organizers and curators of a previous outdoor art gallery in Shaker Heights. They curated this event and came up with the theme “It’s all about Love,” while Phillips handled logistics. Culture Jock, a social commentary magazine, also collaborated and helped bring “Inside Out” to life.
Phillips expressed similar thoughts as DeGaetano regarding the way art can unite a community and spark conversation. Accessible art in a tight-knit community like Coventry allows for “uniting, understanding and expressing,” as Phillips put it. The nearly 20 artists featured vary in race, sexuality and age. The defining thread though the gallery was work that expressed, as Phillips described it, “a tumultuous experience with love and what love means during a moment of hardship”.
Artist JayePinot poignantly sums up the impact of a show like “Inside Out,” saying that “art is a form of reporting.” Art always reflects the culture and circumstances of its time, but having art so local and close to our community, while we face several pandemics, highlights art’s ability to unite.
As DeGaetano had noticed with the interest in social justice focused books, Phillips notes increased conversations on the street. Opening night, people approached the artists about their work, but beyond that people—strangers—stopped in the street to discuss the art. Unified communication and healing through art is essential during a year plagued with so much struggle and loss. The diverse voices speak to the individual struggles of 2020, but collectively they represent the community of Coventry with—despite all this year’s hardships—the overwhelming presence of love.