Photography Perksoski Photography
When Pittsburgh native Jordan Wong moved to Cleveland in 2015 for a full-time graphic design job, only to get laid off six months later, he found himself with a decision to make – should I stay or should I go?
“I was at this crossroads,” Wong explains. “Do I go back to Pittsburgh or stay here in Cleveland? Do I try to find another job with an agency or do I start working for myself? It was then I decided to take the leap and start building something for myself here.”
Four years later he’s the latest local artist to feature his work on the cafe art wall located on the back of Rebol in Cleveland’s Public Square. Wong’s piece is titled Triumph of Heaven, Earth, and the Cosmos. He draws on his Chinese heritage with the character for “you” displayed prominently in the center to remind the viewer of “the brilliance of their existence.” The public art installation, which is managed by LAND Studio, rotates murals from local artists quarterly. It gives many of them, like Wong, the opportunity to create and display their first piece of public art.
LAND (Landscape | Architecture | Neighborhoods | Development) Studio is a Cleveland-based non-profit. It came into existence in 2011 when ParkWorks and Cleveland Public Art merged to bring a greater emphasis on public spaces and art in the city.
The concept of public placemaking involves rethinking how public spaces are used to bring greater value to a community with a marriage between art, design, and function. LAND Studio takes that approach to work with the city, its neighborhoods, and various organizations. It provides services in planning and design, obtaining funding, management, and execution of public development projects. One example is the initiative to revamp Irishtown Bend.
“They have to redo the hillside anyway, so we brought money and our expertise to that project,” explains Erin Guido, a LAND Studio project manager. “Let’s not do an average park. Let’s do an amazing park and get an incredible landscape architecture person on board and incorporate artists in creative ways so it’s not just about adding it after but infusing the whole process with a higher level of art and design.”
That project also involves various partners such as Cleveland Metroparks, City of Cleveland, and Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority, among others.
The cafe art wall is a component of a larger LAND Studio initiative called Landform, which is privately funded by the The Char and Chuck Fowler Family Foundation. It seeks to have varied, temporary art installations around Public Square and Mall in downtown Cleveland.
Wong prides himself on building trusted relationships. He’s currently a designer at SPACES Gallery and also the community outreach director for the Cleveland chapter of AIGA (American Institute for Graphic Arts). These roles, along with his speaking engagements, help him stay involved and meet others in the arts and creative community.
To try to escape the distractions of working from home, Wong sought refuge in local coffee shops like Loop in Tremont where he noticed the pieces of art displayed on the walls.
“That was one of the first spots that I kind of discovered when I moved to Cleveland so I was always there,” he explains. “It wasn’t too difficult for me to reach out to Corey, who was the guy who manages all of the artists that come through, and say ‘Hey, I’d love to do a show here.’”
Wong got the opportunity to do just that and created a new piece called the Pantheon Series, which was put up on display in November of 2018.
Wong’s knack for networking paid off. Soon after, a contact he made at a speaking engagement put him in touch with LAND Studio which led to coffee at Loop with project managers Erin Guido and Vince Reddy. Once they saw his work there, they were excited to work with him. They liked it so much in fact, that the same artwork is currently displayed inside LAND Studio offices on West 25th Street.
While LAND Studio directly selects the artists for the mural wall, the group also holds calls for artists or makes suggestions for the various other projects it manages. Those recommendations then go through formal selection processes, different people, and/or committees based on their location or funding. Guido is quick to note that LAND Studio is a community organization, not an artists’ one. At the same time, it values artists and makes sure they get paid for the work they do in providing proposals or finished pieces.
Since the 2011 merger, LAND Studio has found a singular identity and worked out the kinks that come with combining two separate entities. With the lessons learned from managing projects like the Public Square rejuvenation in 2016, it’s currently in the process of creating a new three-year strategic plan.
As for what the future holds for Wong, he’s dreaming big. He found he enjoys creating larger-scale art after his experience with the mural piece. He confesses that while it might sound outlandish, his goal is to create artwork on the spot where the gigantic Lebron mural once stood downtown.
“That’s a really absurd one of mine – there’s no harm in imagining these things,” he states.
Now that Wong has landed and established himself in Cleveland, it seems like he and his art are here to stay.
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Tesh Ekman was born in India, moved to the U.K. when he was 4, and came to Cleveland, OH, USofA in 1992 at the age of 14. An Ohioan since, he absolutely hates the question “Where Are You From?” Tesh is both a U.K. and U.S. citizen - however, India no longer wants to claim him as one. While difficult to be shunned by one’s own birth nation, it also means he’s used to rejection, which has served him well as a writer and person in general. Tesh is mostly a homebody, but if he does venture out, he can usually be found at various local establishments, drunkenly rueing his life choices and/or supporting Liverpool FC in a sudden-onset English accent.