Reflecting: Cleveland Artists Muse on Issues of Identity and Human Experience

CLEVELAND (December 2016) – Today, the Community Partnership for Arts and Culture releases a fifth wave of Creative Workforce Fellows’ artist profile videos. Through their work, local artists endeavor to create safe spaces, challenge perspectives and break down the barriers that exist between race, age, culture and personal identity. These seven 2016 Creative Workforce Fellows embrace and encourage an understanding of what it means to be human through literature, poetry, painting, theatre and comics. The Fellowships are generously supported by Cuyahoga County residents through a public grant from Cuyahoga Arts & Culture, and these artists work to ensure that many of those residents can see themselves and find solace in the work they create.

Amy Breau, Ray Caspio, Darlene Montanaro, Imad Rahman, Mary Robles, Darius Steward and Nathan Ward share their experiences in interviews about their work. View the videos below or at

Visual artist, Darius Steward investigates multi-dimensional themes in his work. Speaking to issues of race and progress in his striking figurative paintings and prints, Steward maintains a simplicity in his imagery that he hopes leaves the door open for conversation and interpretation. “I’ve always been attracted to not making work that is so dense, but also not making one-liners,” Steward says. In his exhibition Pressure, on view earlier this year, he quietly unpacks some of the day-to-day pressures on black lives.

Like Darius, performance and teaching artist, Ray Caspio explores identity as he expands the performer-audience relationship through powerful and honest devised theatre. In Tingle Tangle, Caspio talks candidly about his experiences living as a married gay man. He has worked this year honing his own craft and arming others with the tools to take control of their own narratives. “I hope that what I’m doing is changing minds or causing somebody to connect with something in a new way, even if it makes them uncomfortable. I’m really driven to connect with people,” says Caspio.

Poet Darlene Montonaro and Non-fiction writer Amy Breau invite readers and aspiring writers to discover the healing power of writing. Breau, also a registered nurse, strives to build a new genre of writing about caregiving and what that role means in contemporary society. Her writers’ workshops touch on important technical aspects of writing as well as empowering those who provide care to others, whether it be young children, an aging parent or medical patients. As Montonaro enters the “encore” period of her own life, she crafts poetry and helps others write about the aging process and life transitions. Her many local writers’ workshops at Orange Senior Center and through Literary Cleveland are designed to help others uncover the stories within their lives.

Fiction writer, Imad Rahman and Poet, Mary Robles approach the concept of identity from what they both describe as outsider perspectives. Both of rich cultural backgrounds—Robles, Mexican-Puerto Rican and Chzechoslovakian and Rahman, Pakistani—these writers open doors to conversations related to diversity, immigration and isolation through their work. Using stark imagery and dark humor, both artists begin to demystify the life of an outsider in both a person’s homelife and in the broader world.

Comic artist, Nathan Ward’s colorful and dense comics tell adolescent coming-of-age stories. His unique comic style addresses themes of alienation, which he says “are so prevalent in the process of growing up.” In 2016 he made Ward Comix #1 readily available at a pop-up show at local venues Now That’s Class and Loop in Tremont.

CPAC will continue to release video interviews and collectible trading cards with all 40 Creative Workforce Fellows through December. Collect all 40 trading cards featuring your artists by attending their events and connecting with the artists. Learn more by following CPAC and CAC on Facebook and Twitter, or visiting the website,


About the Creative Workforce Fellowship

The Creative Workforce Fellowship invests directly in Cuyahoga County artists. Funded disciplines include crafts, dance, design, literature, media, music, theatre and visual arts. Since 2009, 161 Cuyahoga County artists have received funding through the program. The Creative Workforce Fellowship is managed by CPAC and is made possible by the residents of Cuyahoga County through a grant from Cuyahoga Arts & Culture.

During the first half of the 2016 Fellowship year, Cuyahoga County residents experienced the 40 funded artists’ work 131,821 times1 in person. Artists participated in or created 146 projects in Cuyahoga County that involved youth. 102 works2 were researched, produced or distributed that inspired interaction or collaboration among communities that otherwise would not connect, 134 focused on neighborhood/local relevance or current events, and 83 that celebrated identity or community pride. Artists cultivated or curated work from communities that otherwise have limited exposure, access or knowledge of the arts 53 times. Examples included children in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District and residents of East Cleveland, Slavic Village and Glenville neighborhoods.

About Community Partnership for Arts and Culture (CPAC)

Community Partnership for Arts and Culture is a nonprofit organization in Cleveland, Ohio. CPAC serves and supports arts and culture professionals and community leaders who are working to create a brighter future for greater Cleveland. Through counsel, relationship building, research, programs and advocacy, CPAC works to strengthen, unify and connect greater Cleveland’s arts and culture sector. CPAC envisions greater Cleveland’s diverse arts and culture sector as a leading partner in contributing to our community’s vitality and enlivening the human experience. For more information, visit

About Cuyahoga Arts & Culture (CAC)

Cuyahoga Arts & Culture (CAC) is one of the largest public funders for arts and culture in the nation, helping hundreds of organizations in Cuyahoga County connect millions of people to cultural experiences each year. Since 2007, CAC has invested $155 million in more than 300 organizations both large and small, making our community a more vibrant place to live, work and play. For more information, visit

1 Artists were asked how many people experienced their work in person. Due to some attendees participating in multiple activities of Fellowship recipients, the numbers presented reflect the total number of encounters people had with artists.

2 A single work of art may show up in multiple categories.