Documenting a Diverse City

Exhibit Images

Photo: Da’Shaunae Marisa Jackson

Cleveland, get ready for your close-up. This year, thanks to the Library’s special partnerships with the Cleveland Print Room and ideastream, the lives and times of our city will be documented, shared, and celebrated like never before. These two ongoing, community-based projects—one focusing on photography, the other on storytelling—will also help honor Cleveland Public Library’s 150th anniversary year.

“What better way to celebrate the past of our city than through projects honoring our present and considering our future?” asks Aaron Mason, Cleveland Public Library Director of Outreach and Programming Services. “We are honored to work with ideastream to gather oral histories from our residents and the Cleveland Print Room to solicit and share images of the city and its people from a diverse range of photographers. Both of these projects are our way of giving back to the residents Cleveland, who have for so long supported the Library’s place in their community.”

First, Cleveland 20/20: A Photographic Exploration of Cleveland, a citywide photography program spearheaded by the Cleveland Print Room, aims to capture and preserve Cleveland’s people and places through photography. The multi-faceted program enlists a dozen local photographers along with additional teen photographers to capture images throughout the city.

“We hope to focus on the city through the lens of the neighborhoods, the community, and the residents,” says Shari Wilkins, Executive Director of the Cleveland Print Room.

“Our city has iconic buildings like the Rock Hall and the West Side Market, but this project will be more entrenched in the community. That’s why it was important to have a wide range of experiences and ages for our photographers—we’ll have a diverse group of people documenting a diverse city.”

Cleveland 20/20 also features community engagement opportunities with nationally renowned photographer Ruddy Roye; public outreach and portrait sessions at community events; photography slams; and special photography displays in neighborhoods. Finally, this project will help bolster the Library’s Photograph Collection.

“Our Photograph Collection currently has 1.3 million photos, which range from mid- to late-1800s through the 1990s,” says Olivia Hoge, Subject Department Manager for the Center for Local and Global History. “But we have a gap from the ’90s to present day. We hope this project will help us move forward with making the collection more contemporary.”

Picture Perfect

For Cleveland 20/20 photographer a, the project has the ability to showcase different points of view and to present the city in a more diverse, inclusive light. Jackson intends to set part of her work in the Buckeye-Shaker area, and she also plans to showcase the city from the perspective of its public transportation system by capturing images along RTA bus and train lines. She adds that her youth—at 22, she is one of the project’s youngest adult photographers—and her gender may both prove to be assets as she attempts to connect with her photographic subjects.

“I plan to capture as many people as I can to show Cleveland off in the best way,” she says. “I hope this project will have a large impact on Cleveland. I think it’s important to show how the city has changed and to give hope for where it’s going.”

While it’s true that a lot has changed in 150 years, one Cleveland 20/20 photographer will bring a piece of the past into the present. Back when Cleveland Public Library opened in 1869, the emerging field of photography was dominated by the wet-plate collodion process, which entails coating a piece of glass or metal with collodion to make it light sensitive before shooting and developing it on the spot. Photographer Greg Martin uses that same process today, which he’ll employ in his work with Cleveland 20/20.

“This is one of the oldest of photography methods; it was widely popular in the 1860s,” Martin explains. “It’s great for community engagement. People are fascinated by it. And there’s something about the medium and the industrial history of the city that work well together—the chemistry and the glass and metal all very much ties into the history of Cleveland.”

Stephen Bivens, meanwhile, intends to create a photographic timeline of today’s Cleveland. Bivens, a Cleveland Arts Prize winner, says he’ll particularly focus on the Collinwood and Glenville neighborhoods.

“My expectations are to get a time capsule of everything that’s going on in Cleveland right now, so 50 or 100 years from now, we’ll see what was going on in these neighborhoods,” he says. “I think this project can bring a lot of pride to the city.”

Cleveland 20/20 will culminate in an exhibition of the project’s photographs, which will be on display in Brett Hall in Main Library in 2020. The Cleveland Print Room will curate the exhibit.

Cleveland Stories

The Library will also capture oral histories of the city’s residents this year through the Stories from Cleveland project, which will record the stories of Cleveland residents in their own voices.

“We want to document and create a snapshot of where Cleveland is in 2019 for the Library’s 150th anniversary,” says Justin Glanville, the ideastream reporter/producer who is leading the project. “Hearing someone speak in their own voice about a story that is important to them is such a powerful way to build connection, understanding, and compassion. My hope is that this project draws us closer together as a city and as a region.”

Like Cleveland 20/20, the Stories from Cleveland project aims to document the lives of today’s Clevelanders and to portray a comprehensive, diverse portrait of our city. Select librarians will be trained to interview patrons who wish to record their stories. These brief interviews may focus on family history, immigration to Cleveland, military service, education, the life and culture of particular neighborhoods, and more, all to create a snapshot of Cleveland in 2019 in residents’ own words. From these initial interviews, Glanville will produce six stories throughout the year, which will air on 90.3 WCPN ideastream during peak hours and also appear online.

“I’ll be looking for stories that I feel compelled by, that put me on the edge of my seat—whether it’s because the person is a really great storyteller, or it’s just subject matter that’s interesting, unusual, or speaks to where Cleveland is right now,” he says.

“Cleveland has such a rich history, and this storytelling project could be a jumping-off point for getting people’s everyday stories surrounding their lives in this city,” adds Shayna Muckerheide in the Library’s Outreach and Programming Services. “This is a way to capture stories for generations, to learn about people’s lives in different communities. And people trust the Library, so we hope they’ll share their stories with us.”

All stories gathered by Library staff will be archived online in its Digital Gallery. The Library also has the capability to record interviews in a patron’s native language, including Spanish, French, Mandarin, Russian, Romanian, Italian, Arabic, or Hungarian. Patrons interested in participating should contact Muckerheide at 216-623- 2921 to find the closest available location to record a story.

Don’t Be Shy

Both the CPL150 Storytelling Project and Cleveland 20/20 will culminate at the Library’s special Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Ceremony, which will take place on January 20, 2020. Until then, both projects will be represented throughout the community, including at the Library’s CPL150 Street Festival on July 27, 2019. All residents are encouraged to participate—whether by sharing their stories or having their photos taken.

“You’ll be a part of this history of Cleveland,” says Bivens, “so don’t be shy.”