Cleveland is now ahead of cities like Miami and San Francisco when it comes to public funding for the arts according to a recent study by the University of Chicago. This is a refreshing turn of events for Cleveland to be towards the top of a national list for something positive.
Because of a financial boost for the arts in the form of a 10-year sin tax passed by voters in 2006, perception towards the creativity of our area, internally and externally, has shifted. Zygote Press, located on 1410 E. 30th St. in Cleveland, took a small sip of that funding pool and is now watering a fledgling global creative cooperative. Zygote preserves the art of printmaking while at the same time educating and opening their studios to children, aspiring creatives, and established artists from Cleveland or around the world.
Talking to Liz Maugans, co-founder and executive director of Zygote Press, gives you the impression that we all can to do more. The list of showings, workshops, co-ops, community outreaches, and residencies Zygote Press is involved in is can seem overwhelming. There are 19 events planned from January to March for 2017 alone, which is not counting two gallery exhibitions within the same time period and multiple resident artists who use the studio space to hone their craft.
Zygote also has a mobile printing press which travels to local festivals and schools. Then there is Zygote Press Artist Share Space (ZPASS), a 1,500-square-foot apartment above Zygote Press and Terra Vista Studios (a co-op ceramics studio) for artists/residents. There’s also the Ink House, Zygote’s newest satellite location, which is a former vacant house developed in the Waterloo Arts District via the arts-and-culture reinvestment. Even the garage behind the Ink House is open to the community for printing. Oh, and I almost forgot about their blog and newsletter. Some have even heard rumors of a pear tree with a partridge perched in it. The pure production is a marvel.
Take Sharon Sevenzo from Zimbabwe for example. Sevenzo helps supplement creative youth education from pre-K through twelfth grade. Part of her internship at Zygote revolves around a very unique school in Cleveland, one where the children of immigrants go to learn when first moving to the area. Zygote helps facilitate art education for this school and creates a welcome harbor to families through the arts that would normally be ignored. International exchange programs are common now to Zygote Press, which currently has ties to Germany and possibly Ghana in the near future.
Because of the long reaches of Zygote and the greater art community of Cleveland, Maugans realizes an electric moment. “A lot of eyes are on us,” she says, as this era in our local culture is primed for Zygote. Print can be powerful, but also an undervalued connective cable, because of its primal reproductive nature. Maugans explains:
“From early man, early woman, who basically put their hands in a bunch of berries and put them on a cave wall—that’s current. And so they were saying, ‘I exist. I am here.’ Your thumbprint, your dollar bill, your commerce, your stamps—how government and society and all of these different types of sectors intersect because of printmaking—are really fascinating to me. It can be subversive and used as a weapon, and you can also use it as a vehicle. Everybody has a piece of wood—you can fabricate a tool and carve it, put some ink on it, and make a print.”
The problem for print is there is so much more than just wood and berries at our disposal now. The pure bounty of different mediums at our fingertips confounds even the best of experts. Mark Twain defined the Gilded Age and saw the birth of cross populous electricity, but he never could have dreamed of modern electricity and the dependency we have for it now is. The same can be said about Guttenberg or Zuckerberg for that matter. No one has a crystal ball. Because of its lightning quick evolution, the digital age may never really be defined in our lifetime, but Zygote Press is not anti-digital. It just wants show the importance that functional art and communication has on a society.
Innovation in all its forms is really about reproduction for the masses. Zygote Press incubates reproduction and the primordial essence of art. Pressing, and pumping ink-blood. Which sustains a heartbeat that keeps our collective imaginations alive. For better or worse, it must beat and thrust to the forefront, even when we neglect its relevance.
We now have the ability to communicate in so many ways, and how rapidly we can produce a message is becoming a social vanity. We all may need to consider the literal feel of things. The “hands evidence” of our collective works, as Maugans puts it. The constant gardeners could be an accurate description for all the great and creative people that contribute to Zygote Press. They tend to the roots of how we say hello, goodbye, I love you, I hate you, or I am here. That is what printing is all about.
There is always more. Developing themes, some that are functional and some that are hidden, is an expression that is being perfected because of our arts boom in Cleveland. So, if the shit ever hits the fan, and the laptop I am writing this on is useless, I will walk over the fallout of a shattered glass civilization to East 30th Street so that I can still distribute a message. Thank you, Zygote Press.