Liz Maugans, as usual, beams. Wearing her signature fingerless gloves, she points to friends adorning the walls of the new Worthington Yards apartment complex, each new turn through the hallways revealing the work of a wonderful local artist.
They are a diverse group — some fresh arrivals, others lions of the local scene: Douglas Max Utter, Amber Ford, Darius Steward, Michael Loderstedt, Anna Tararova, Jerry Birchfield and Barry Underwood. Maugans entwines them all in a powerful statement of locality, from Loderstedt's six-panel tapestry installation portraying invasive species and the mouth of the Cuyahoga River to Ford's silk screens of a black boy, printed on newsprint that slowly tears and curls until it is eventually destroyed by the wind of each passer-by.
Last August, when Cleveland Magazine profiled Maugans, she was leaving her longtime job at Zygote Press to fight on behalf of the artists now on Worthington Yards' walls. Since, Maugans has won those artists a space. As a consultant for developer and art collector Neil Viny's Dalad Group, Maugans helped launch the 98-unit Warehouse District apartment complex that doubles as a gallery with a permanent collection and four shows per year in an exhibition space.
But the finishing touch is signature Maugans: monthly events where artists, residents and anyone interested can mix it up. In the coming year, she plans Art Bar events, where artists and supporters alike will tipple together in the building’s hangout area, and Art Ventures events, which thrusts residents out to artist presentations and studio visits. About 400 people showed for the first one in January, an opening for the inaugural show.
That exhibition, Open Yards, features one piece from each of the 27 artists in the collection and runs through March 17. (See it by appointment.) After the tour, we sat down with Maugans and asked three burning questions.
Q: When we wrote about you last year, you were really pushing and advocating on behalf of artists. Is this project a part of that effort?
A: Yes, directly. I think the most exciting components here are people actually meeting the artists, people who are engaging with them beyond a jpeg. I see that when you do get that direct connection, you will follow that artist, you’ll be more invested in them, even just knowing about them and seeing where they go. You start recognizing them and start seeing the potential of their work. Even the residents here, they all potentially work somewhere. They might be interested in having art in their hallways or in their firms or doctor's offices. For me, how can I help be that matchmaker?
Q: What were you looking for in building this mix of artists?
A: It was informed by a lot of the more recent dialogues I’ve been having in Cleveland about equity, about having a pipeline for artists, about respecting artists for what they do in their studios, and how that can be a part of community building in its own right. I feel like a lot of the pieces in the collection have a certain kind of inquisitive, light-bulb moment that happens with them. A lot of them are about construction and building, and the development process, versus a level of finish. They’re point and shoot from your cellphone. There’s a lot of spontaneity in them, a lot of curiousness to the artists that are in the collection. Their curiousness comes out in their work.
Q: Why was it important for you to do this?
A: It was weird. It was a weird idea. It was open. I really liked Neil and his family, and [his wife] Amy Viny. He was really wonderful to work with in the building of the collection. I loved the idea of artists feeling relevant and valued, and being in something that they’re proud of.