Last night I attended the Cleveland Arts Prize awards ceremony and teared up 10 different times: the El Sistema kids playing Pachabel’s Canon, Garie Watlzer standing on stage beautiful and moved, Jonathan Kurtz’ embarrassment at the long (and great) video that preceded his entrance on stage, the Inlet Dance group’s sexy display of male strength. The calm assurance all the presenters and award-winners expressed. Not for them that somehow lessening tic, that “can you believe it here in Cleveland good stuff?” trumpeting we all hear too much of. Those knee-jerk assertions serve only to deflate the city, lessen its narrative. They are apologies in the guise of boosterism. That’s the opening we all can go ahead and delete, the event said, save one “Cleveland Rocks” comment. Just start with the story itself, that this town is a sophisticated and fertile one. Enough with the throat clearing already.
And I am, still, today, watching what I’ve missed on the Cleveland Arts Prize channel on vimeo. There are videos about previous year’s winners. It’s a double whammy watching these artists on display, shot so smartly by director and editor Ted Sikora. Sikora somehow avoids the talking head PBS style of documentary that has become so expected and formulaic. I can’t talk about film very well, so bear with me, but it’s something in his angles, his long shots of people working, his ability to get artists to speak intellectually yet personably about their work. Sikora exhibits a rare ability to resist sentimentality. And resisting sentimentality is integral to what we’re trying to do here, and what I admired about the Arts Prize event. These are not homages, these videos: they are arts criticism, art works themselves. Now look: I’m tearing up again.
Watch to see what I mean.