When Robin Robinson visited Cleveland in 2011, she no longer recognized the downtrodden East-Side neighborhoods. It was a complete 180-degree turn from the vibrant East 105th Street she explored with her family during childhood visits to her grandparents’ home in Cleveland’s Glenville neighborhood.
The physical and economic devastation motivated her to use community-driven public art as a healing tool and a vehicle for making fine art less restrictive and more accessible to urban areas.
Robinson curated Crossroads: Still We Rise, an art exhibit featuring 12 Black artists using augmented reality to highlight Cleveland’s historically underserved neighborhoods.
A smartphone app showcases the artists’ pieces at various notable sites, including a former hotel for Black travelers, a stone footbridge connecting neighborhoods, a high school that hosted Martin Luther King Jr., and a Black-owned church that was once the country’s largest.
As a companion piece, the new Cozad-Bates Interpretive Center in Cleveland’s University Circle neighborhood will use indoor exhibits and outdoor installations to draw attention to this area’s history as a center of anti-slavery activism.
Travel Noire spoke to Robinson about the innovative and powerful exhibit.
Travel Noire: Why were these particular artists selected to contribute to the art exhibit?
Robin Robinson: I selected these 12 Cleveland-based Black artists for not only their talent, but because each of them has a heart for community engagement and a passion for the systemic erosion of the culture and fortitude of these neighborhoods. The artists were professional and open to collaboration despite the pandemic, and this experience enriched everyone involved. It was important that the community felt heard in this process. Each artist had the opportunity to speak with the community, research it and meet with the residents.
Many had never been in that community before, but developed relationships and admiration for the resilience and self-sufficiency of the residents and community organizations that exist there.
TN: Why was augmented reality the medium used for this collection?
RR: The city of Cleveland and the Metropolitan areas it anchors have a long history of racial exclusion and segregation. To this day, Cleveland remains racially segregated, with most Black populations clustered on the eastern side. While redlining was banned more than 50 years ago, the effects are still felt today. Many people have been systematically left behind in neighborhoods because of this policy.
I wanted to use augmented reality as a tool to force people to engage with the 12 sites and find the hidden treasures that were planted there. These 12 sites were chosen for their forgotten assets and have been labeled “disposable” in many cases.
I also like to say that augmented reality, which digitally superimposes objects on a real-world experience, is both “there and not there.” This mirrors the history of the neighborhoods and the buildings that have been demolished, as well as the stories that have been told/not told, and the conversations that have happened/need to happen.
TN: How long has this collection been in the works?
RR: On Juneteenth 2020, I organized an “Artists Against Injustice Rally” at the steps of the Cuyahoga County Courthouse. During which, Grace Chin (executive director of The Sculpture Center) and I utilized what we both felt was a cool new tool by projecting my “Our Lives Matter” mural onto the face of the courthouse in augmented reality.
We worked with artist and activist Nancy Baker Cahill. Shortly after that, Grace asked me if I was interested in developing an exhibition with the Sculpture Center that would be hosted by Ms. Cahill’s 4th Wall app. I was excited and all in. This project with all of its moving parts has been a labor of love and dedication for over a year.
TN: What is the biggest thing you want visitors to take away after viewing?
RR: I want viewers to first understand that there are two complementary AR shows. The Sculpture Center’s exhibition shows the artist’s physical piece that they created, with the augmented reality experience that expands their personal journey and inspirations. Then there is the outdoor exhibition that will take the visitor into the community to view the work transformed in augmented reality at each site and experience the surrounding neighborhood.
The biggest thing that I want viewers to take away from this experience is an open mind. It is very easy to have a negative impression about something that you have never experienced. We all have much more in common than not. Once exposed to those commonalities, it is almost impossible to ignore them.
The Crossroads: Still We Rise art exhibit is on display at The Sculpture Center and via the 4th Wall App through September 25th, 2021. A Trolley Tour and Bike Tour on September 18th offer an opportunity to see all 12 sites.