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Artist as Social Agent at the City Club

On Friday, October 10th, we went to a luncheon at the City Club where the program was "Artist as Social Agent" featuring Mr. Stephen G. Vetter who is the President and CEO of Partners of the Americas which was founded in 1964 as a component of the Alliance for Progress. We looked up its website and learned that its mission statement is to "connect people and organizations across borders to serve to change lives through lasting partnerships." Its vision is "an interconnected global network were people and organizations reach their fullest potential through long lasting partnerships."

We also found this paragraph that talks about its current standing, "partners has grown from an organization that sent seeds to farmers in Bolivia to one that carries out multi-year projects with lasting impact on communities. Today, our work covers areas as diverse as agriculture, cultural and educational exchange, domestic violence prevention, social inclusion and youth. Each year, our projects and activities touch the lives of more than 200,000 people in the Western Hemisphere. While much of our endeavors are supported with federal funds, our efforts would not be possible without the generous contributions of individuals, corporations and foundations that recognize the value of strengthening alliances between the U.S., Latin America, and the Caribbean."

Mr. Vetter was joined on stage by Mr. Grafton Nunes, President and CEO of the Cleveland Institute of Art (CIA) who asked him questions and sometimes gave his own observations. Here are some of the things that were said:

***Mr. Vetter compared the Partners of the Americas to the City Club of Greater Cleveland because they are both places where people come together and share. He said that one of the most important things that we can do to solve a problem is to listen in a thoughtful way.

***Mr. Nunes talked about how the students at the CIA are engaged in several important projects. One of them is to create a visual map that will show people where the social service resources are located in Cuyahoga County. Mr. Vetter said that this was music to his ears.

***Mr. Vetter said that the very act of creating art can be a therapeutic process. He has worked with gang members on projects and noticed there was a pattern: at first their works were "dark and frightening" and but they became more open and bright as they discovered that the process of creating gave them hope.

***Mr. Vetter said that in order to make an impact in the community one must bring together core city organizations with the power to convene like the City Club, universities and faculty, and innovative non-profits.

***Mr. Vetter believes that the toughest kind of poverty to work with is "poverty of the spirit" which can affect those who are wealthy as well as poor. A person can be held down by their spirit. He loved it when Shirley MacClaine said in one of her books that it is "amazing what you can do if you give yourself permission."

***During the Q and A, when asked about public art both Mr. Vetter and Mr. Nunes spoke of graffiti which can be damaging but some of it shows a creative flair. Mr. Vetter noted that in San Diego, CA most of the areas covered by graffiti were cleaned-up but they left a few walls for the graffiti artists to work with. Mr. Nunes discussed how the utility boxes in University Circle were recently decorated via vinyl wraps and since this happened there these boxes have been left alone and not vandalized.

***When asked about budget cuts to art classes in the schools of Ohio, Mr. Nunes talked about how the CIA has been sending their faculty and their students to the various public school to conduct their own classes.

***When asked about the possibility of the public, itself, participating in art projects, Mr. Nunes cited the possibilities that the Ingenuity Festival presented to people and also Zygote Press often has projects that the community can participate in.

***A student from Horizon Academy asked about the availability of jobs in the arts. Mr. Nunes said that businesses are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of design. As far as the CIA, he cited the facts that 90% of their graduates get a job in an arts related field within 6 months.

We got to talk to both Mr. Vetter and Mr. Nunes. Mr. Vetter, who is often abroad, had not heard of Margaret W. Wong and Associates so we gave him our contact information and briefly told him about our firm. Mr. Nunes said that he thought that Ms. Margaret W. Wong was an "incredible force" in our community and that he would like to work more closely with Ms. Wong since he is planning to bring a lot of foreign born artists to Cleveland. In fact we met several people from the Cleveland Institute of Art including Mr. Richard Sarian (Art Director), Mr. Bruce Checefsky (Director, Reinberger Galleries), Ms. Nancy Neville (Dean of Student Affairs), and Mark Inglis (Vice President of Marketing and Communications).

We shared a table with Mr. Ron Liesemer and Mr. Don McPherson, two older men who were enjoying their retirement and we enjoyed sitting with them. We also shared a table with Mr. Kelson Barber, an art teacher at Sheffield High School and several of his students, one of whom would like to study art therapy so we told them about our recent visit to the Cleveland Clinic where we saw the beautiful art that was tailored for each particular department.

The thing that we really liked that Mr. Vetter said was when he urged the students to apply themselves and work hard. He said that the reason that Peyton Manning is so good is that he "masters his craft" He concluded by telling the students to "get good."

Our other event for the day was the Kuumba Arts and Jazz Festival at the East Cleveland Public Library on Euclid Avenue. We weren't too sure what we would fine when we arrived but it turned out to be a program titled "Miles Davis: The Man and His Music" which consisted of a Q and A with an author who wrote two books about Miles Davis and a performance of some music by Miles Davis by the Kenny Davis Jazz Quartet.

The person who was asking the questions of the author was Ms. Dee Perry of Ideastream and the author was Mr. Quincy Troupe who is quite reknowned for his ten books of poetry, three children's books and six non-fiction works. The two books that he wrote about Miles Davis are "Miles: The Autobiography" that he wrote with his friend, Miles Davis and "Miles and Me: A Memoir".

Mr. Troupe was refreshingly candid about Miles Davis. Among the things that he said was that Miles Davis was "a very shy and beautiful guy. If he liked you, he was in your corner." But watch out because Miles Davis was "a mercurial personality." He also said that Miles Davis never took the time to listen to his own music, instead "he was always trying to move forward...he was like a sponge who soaked up everything." One thing that did bother Mr. Troupe about Miles Davis was the way that he treated women.

After the Q and A, we were treated to some swell Miles Davis music played by Mr. Kenny Davis playing the trumpet and his quartet consisting of Ms. Jackie Warren (keyboards), Kurt Fegelmaker (bass) and Ron Godale (drums). The entire program (Q and A and music) was three hours but it only felt like two.

Both Ms. Perry and Ms. Sheba Marcus-Bey, Executive Director of the East Cleveland Public Library, were glad that we were able to attend and Ms. Marcus-Bey told us that she felt that Ms. Wong does "great work in the community." and would like her to come and speak at the library sometime soon. We were happy for her when she received a portrait of herself that was presented to her during intermission as a tribute.

As for Mr. Kenny Davis, he seemed like a very humble man when we met him and when we told him that we were from a law firm called Margaret W. Wong and Associates, he took our contact information, smiled and said that he didn't need a lawyer now but he might shortly. We all laughed.

After we got home we looked up the definition of "kuumba" and found out that Kuumba means "creativity, to do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it."

That's certainly what Miles Davis did. Another thing that Mr. Troupe said about him was that "no one sees something as special as Miles for a long time. He gave us a gift of music that will be around forever."

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