A documentary on graffiti sprayed throughout the Warner & Swasey Building will debut at Cleveland Walls! mural festival

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Is graffiti a legitimate art form or a type of vandalism that should be erased?

Scholars have debated this question for centuries, ever since they discovered the cave paintings of Lascaux in France, the pictographs in Native American cave dwellings in the southwest, or the scorching messages scrawled on the walls of ancient Pompeii and Herculaneum. .

“There seems to be something innate to our species that compels people to write graffiti,” says narrator in new documentary film that examines the lavishly spray-painted interior of Cleveland’s long-vacant Warner and Swasey Building .

The film premieres Friday as the centerpiece of a week of programming organized around a Midtown Monday-Saturday mural festival hosted by MidTown Cleveland Inc.

Entitled Cleveland Walls !, the festival is one of the outcomes of a new community plan developed over the past year by the nonprofit community development corporation that aims to transform Midtown from a gray, disconnected patchwork into a complete and healthy neighborhood.

Midtown was once home to the mansions of Millionaire’s Row, but it’s now an 85-block business and shopping district. Located between downtown and the Cleveland Clinic-University Circle area, with Asiatown and Hough to the north, and Central and Fairfax to the south, it has 650 businesses and a daytime population of 18,000.

Photos of the Warner and Swasey Building in Cleveland show what fascinated the directors of a documentary film that premiered Friday, August 27, 2021 as part of the Cleveland Walls! mural festival organized by MidTown Cleveland Inc.Courtesy of Ron Sims, Andy Tran, MidTown Cleveland Inc.

And yet, despite its hard-working businesses and recent investments of $ 300 million that have brought new energy to the area, much of Midtown is still characterized by parking lots, treeless streets, and buildings with numerous blank walls.

Hence the need for murals to add visual vitality.

The walls of Cleveland! will focus the artistic firepower of 23 local and national artists on the neighborhood throughout the week, turning it into an outdoor art gallery.

The project is the result of a collaboration between MidTown Cleveland Inc., Cleveland-based LAND Studio and the Pow! Wow! Global International Mural Art Festival, founded by artist Jasper Wong in Honolulu in 2009.

Ugh! Wow! organized 17 mural festivals around the world, including in Washington, DC; Rotterdam, the Netherlands; and Seoul, Korea.

The Cleveland event was funded by the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Foundation and Dealer Tire of Midtown, as well as the Cleveland City Council, the George Gund Foundation, the Louise H. and David S. Ingalls Foundation, PNC Bank , Shurtape Technologies, Frogtape, Hot Cards, Monster Energy and Montana Cans.

Art lovers are invited to watch the artists at work throughout the week.

Wong will speak at 6 p.m. Monday at a panel on artistic entrepreneurship, “Becoming a Patron of Art,” which will be one of the festival’s programs.

This program and others scheduled throughout the week will be held at the Mural Festival Headquarters, an industrial building located at 7113 Euclid Ave. Details are available on the Midtown website at midtowncleveland.org/clevelandwalls/.

Other presentations will include artist talks, a contemporary art collection forum, a community barbecue at the Dunham Tavern Museum, a pop-up exhibit by the non-profit group Shooting Without Bullets and a block party at 7113 Euclid Avenue.

Warner & Swasey Building graffiti explored in new documentary

Photos of the Warner and Swasey Building in Cleveland show what fascinated the directors of a documentary film that premiered Friday, August 27, 2021 as part of the Cleveland Walls! mural festival organized by MidTown Cleveland Inc.Courtesy of Ron Sims, Andy Tran, MidTown Cleveland Inc.

The graffiti film, produced for MidTown Cleveland Inc. by Cleveland documentary filmmakers Ron Sims and Andy Tran, premieres Friday at 7113 Euclid Ave., and premieres again Saturday.

The film was born out of a desire to document the graffiti that covers many interior walls and part of the exterior of the Warner and Swasey Building, an architecturally distinguished factory building built in 1904-10 at 5701 Carnegie Ave . The workers specialized in the production of telescopes and machine towers.

MidTown Cleveland Inc. is working on converting the building into “workforce” or affordable senior housing, said Samira Malone, neighborhood planning project coordinator for the community development corporation.

The association is helping secure funding for the $ 54.1 million redevelopment project, led by Philadelphia-based developer Pennrose.

The redevelopment has raised the question of whether the graffiti painted throughout the Warner and Swasey Building should be preserved. Whatever happens in the future, said Malone, MidTown Cleveland Inc. wants to document the structure as it is today.

“If we can’t preserve the actual physical location, it’s extremely important to keep a record of what’s there,” Malone said.

In the film, Tran and Sims interviewed four artists involved in painting graffiti throughout the building, including the artist known as Milk, who painted the roofs of buildings in the early 2000s, and the artist. known as Nerve, who also worked indoors at the same time.

“Most of the structure was still intact, so you could walk up and down the floors and find the perfect spot,” Nerve explains in the film.

Two other artists speak anonymously in the film.

The purpose of the film is not to condemn graffiti or to claim that it should be preserved like art in museums.

He intends to appreciate graffiti as a universal phenomenon that has crossed the history of mankind.

“You won’t see a progressive metropolitan city that doesn’t have this art form,” said Malone. “The intention of this documentary is to highlight and elevate the importance of graffiti, and to change the narrative that it is considered a bane.”

As the voice of the film’s narrator sings: “From the caves of Lascaux to the catacombs of antiquity, people have used cavernous spaces as transtemporal billboards.

“People leave their names behind with everything they have at their disposal, from markers and stickers to house paint, of course the ubiquitous and archetypal spray paint.”


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