Watch Our New Jury Honor Our Class of 2024 In This Announcement Video

Look closely at the multicolored mural in the old Irishtown Bend in Cleveland and you’ll spot a small teal “JW” in the lower interior of an archway.
Author Jesmyn Ward initialed the mural inspired by her Anisfield-Wolf award-winning book, Sing Unburied Sing, during her second trip to Cleveland this year, thanks to a suggestion from the Cleveland Foundation’s Alan Ashby. She got an intimate tour by the artists themselves, Danielle Rini Uva and Katie Parland from Agnes Studio, who completed the mural one month prior for Phase II of the Inter|Urban public art project.
“We were basically tasked with doing four murals – two pillars split by a road,” Uva said. “We liked the idea of having two pillars in conversation with each other, but they would never touch. There’s a lot [in Sing, Unburied, Sing] about ghosts and remembering the past. About parallel lives that never can connect in real ways.”
The trio journeyed to the installation a few hours before Ward took the stage at Case Western Reserve University to participate in its Writers Center Stage series. From first glance, Uva said, Ward was eager to soak it in.

“When we met with Jesmyn, she said so many people interpreted [Sing] in different ways and she never really got the same questions when asked about it,” Parland said. “The way we interpreted it was fresh and surprising for her.”
While Uva and Parland typically work on digital and print graphic design concepts, the task of creating an expansive mural, covering two full pillars under the RTA Red Line, was a new challenge.
“It wasn’t a basic mural – just a rectangle on the side of a building,” Uva said. “The physical feat of doing it pushed us in a way that we ultimately are pleased with.”
Their design came together over a few months — they decided to select six different colors for each of the six different arches, each representing one of the main living characters of Sing. The black interior archways mimic the spirit world, giving a home to the two ghosts that appear in the book.
“We’re hoping people will experience it multiple ways,” Uva said. “There are people who just will drive by and say, ‘This is colorful,’ and then there will be people who will walk or bike through the arches and experience it on a more intimate level. There are some surprises and discoveries throughout the whole piece.”
Photo © Bob Perkoski
Ward pronounced herself pleased by one of those surprises – a sentence Agnes Studio plucked from the book and memorialized in the mural. Pay a visit to read it there yourself.


One idea to make the morning commute more bearable for Clevelanders? Add a bit of poetry.

That theory was tested this past September as local poets from Twelve Literary and Performative Arts set up shop on RTA platforms across the city to perform samples from Anisfield Wolf authors for the duration of Cleveland Book Week.

Riders heard snippets from Jericho Brown‘s “The New Testament” and Marilyn Chin‘s “Hard Love Province,” along with five other authors and original works from the local poets. These informal poetry readings were an expansion of the Inter|Urban public art project, a 19-mile stretch of vibrant literary-inspired murals and photo installations along the RTA’s Red Line. Recently, the project expanded into University Circle with a mural inspired by Tyehimba Jess’ “Olio.”

“There’s such a difference between reading a text and hearing it performed—we wanted to capture the emotion within the literature in a way that made it accessible and real,” said Tiffany Graham, project director for LAND Studio.

Take a peek at this four-minute video, produced by LAND Studio, that is guaranteed to put you on the ground, in the poetry, and in the mood for more:


Land – Poetry from New Departure Films on Vimeo.

Tyehimba Jess is a strikingly architectural poet.

It makes sense that his 14-line poem, “Blind Tom Plays for Confederate Troops, 1863” inspired the new Anisfield-Wolf InterIUrban mural from the artist Mike Perry.

The new work braids along the right angle of two walls at Ford Drive and Hessler Road in Cleveland, Perry’s first project in this city. He created the 2015 wraparound mural at the Facebook offices in New York City and is probably best known for his colorful animation on “Broad City,” the Comedy Central series.

While navigating a week of Midwestern October weather, Perry dropped in on the Cleveland School of the Arts, where he spoke to a morning class on street art. Wearing a bright blue sweatshirt with his motto “Don’t Give Up,” Perry brought a relaxed, coffee-sipping presence. He is partial to creating flowers with a surrealistic bent.

“I kind of call B.S. on this notion that you have to choose to be an artist,” the 36-year-old said. “Some people can’t help but be weirdo creatives.” He encouraged students to sketch while he chatted about his own path from Kansas to Minnesota to the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., the same borough that, incidentally, is home to Tyehimba Jess.

Kelly likened his complicated art to meditation: “I can’t not do this.”

Jon Sedor, a second-year teacher at the School of the Arts, observed that “street art is a way to reach a lot of people without being too in-your-face.”

Kelly, his jeans splotched with paint, delivered this advice: “Make the work, put it out there, let people see it. Murals are a public forum for people to accidentally discover what you do – like the internet.”

The artist/animator read a brief from LAND Studio about Jess and soaked in several poems. “I felt inspired and tried a couple of drawings,” he said. “I don’t know what this mural is about yet; I haven’t finished it.”

Now it commands one of the most heavily-trafficked pedestrian corners of Cleveland. One source, “Blind Tom,” was the nickname for Thomas Wiggins. He was a musical prodigy, a slave, and one of the best known touring pianists of the 19th century. Kelly’s mural features a snaking keyboard.

Here is “Blind Tom Plays for The Confederate Troops, 1863”:

The slave’s hands dance free, unfettered, flying
across ivory, feet stomping toward
a crescendo that fills the forest pine,
reminding the Rebs what they’re fighting for –
black, captive labor. Tom, slick with sweat, shows
a new trick: Back turned to his piano,
he leans like a runner about to throw
himself to freedom through forest bramble –
until he spreads his hands behind him. He
hitches fingertips to keys, hauls Dixie
slowly out of the battered upright’s teeth
like a worksong dragged across cotton fields,
like a plow, weighted and dirty, ringing
with a slaver’s song at master’s bidding.