Story and photography by Amanda Koehn
Cleveland’s arts community came together Oct. 26 at the Cleveland Museum of Art to honor a diverse, skilled and talented group of honorees being awarded 2023 Cleveland Arts Prizes.
The Cleveland Arts Prize recognizes artists in a variety of disciplines annually. Founded in 1960, it has honored more than 400 artists across disciplines.
Joseph P. and Nancy F. Keithley were awarded the Barbara S. Robinson Prize for the Advancement of the Arts. In 2020, the couple gifted the Cleveland Museum of Art with 114 artworks, worth a total of $100 million and the largest single gift to the museum in more than 60 years. Presented the award by William M. Griswold, director and president of CMA, he told around 400 audience members that their impact will benefit “generations” of Clevelanders.
“Joe and I have spent two decades forming a collection – we enjoyed it, we did it together, we lived with it – and in 2020, we decided it was time for us to share it with all of you, with our community,” Nancy Keithley said, adding the award’s namesake, Robinson, was known for her belief that the arts belong to everyone and that all are enriched by them, and reiterated that belief.
Joseph Keithley said supporting local arts institutions for more than 40 years has “been personally rewarding,” and as each institution is world class, “it’s easy to do.”
“Doing so has given us an opportunity to encourage those institutions to collaborate among and between them at a program or project level,” he said, adding those types of collaborations make Cleveland a special place.
Susan Braham Koletsky, who has been museum director at the Temple Museum of Jewish Art, Religion, and Culture at The Temple-Tifereth Israel in Beachwood for 25 years, received the Robert P. Bergman Prize. In presenting her the award, August “Augie” Napoli, executive director of The Temple, discussed Koletsky’s efforts to build and preserve the collection, which boasts more than 2,000 ritual objects and fine art from both the local Jewish community and around the world. She’s also created programming involving the art collection for both Jewish and non-Jewish audiences.
“The importance of the collection places it among the top two synagogue collections in the world, alongside the collection of the Temple Emanu-El in New York,” Napoli said. “Even including the major Jewish museums and private collectors, our museum collection ranks among the eight most important collections in all of North America, and is right here in Cleveland, Ohio.”
In accepting her award, Koletsky said it has been an honor to oversee The Temple’s collection, and invited all to learn more about the Jewish experience through its exhibitions, programs and discussions “about Jewish art, culture, history, religion, antisemitism and social justice.”
She also said that while she was overjoyed to receive the award, she was also devastated in light of the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks in Israel and the events in the Middle East since.
“There’s a lot of work to be done in the world around understanding religions and cultures, and museums are places where stimulating, robust and hard conversations, and important learning, can and should and does take place,” she said.
Janet Macoska was presented the Lifetime Achievement Award in Visual Art. Macoska has been capturing rock stars on film and digitally for decades. Her work has appeared in Rolling Stone, Jazz Times, People, Vogue, American Photo, Classic Rock, 16, Sports Illustrated, The New York Times, London Times and the Plain Dealer.
Macoska was presented the award by Fran and Jules Belkin. Jules, along with his late brother, Mike, co-founded Belkin Productions, which booked, promoted and managed musical artists and put Cleveland on the map as a center of rock ‘n’ roll. It was later sold to the company that became Live Nation. Fran authored “Rock This Town!” which told the story of Belkin Productions and featured photos by Macoska.
“I feel very glad to still be here, and to see that rock ‘n’ roll is finally considered an art,” Jules Belkin said, relaying when he met Macoska and how her work rose to become nationally and internationally known. “… I remember Janet lurking in the dressing room backstage, or crawling on all fours in front of the stage to capture those great shots. He work has been recognized and celebrated throughout the world.”
In accepting her award, Macoska said Cleveland has been “ground zero for the careers of so many artists and bands.”
Ahead of the ceremony, she told Canvas she was “stunned” to receive a Lifetime Achievement prize. Some of her favorite photos she’s taken were one of Paul McCartney that now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in London, one of David Bowie from 1983 and one of Bruce Springsteen from 1984. Often traveling the country and world to capture rock icons, she says she was always happy to return to Cleveland.
“I’m a Clevelander through and through, I always will be and I’m very happy here,” she told Canvas.
The ceremony, which was preceded by a VIP cocktail hour, was hosted by Fox 8 New’s Kenny Crumpton. Several performances by local performance artists kept the audience entertained throughout the evening between award presentations.
Additionally, Richard S. Rogers – an Akron curator who created Curated Storefront, a nonprofit that aims to build a more vibrant city through the downtown arts scene – was awarded the Martha Joseph Prize for Distinguished Service to the Arts. He accepted the award from Fred Bidwell, a local philanthropist, art collector and founder of the FRONT International triennial.
“By engaging artists from both near and far, Curated Storefront set out to reveal all that Akron has to offer, and simultaneously transform the downtown into a site of cultural and economic potential,” Rogers said.
Dana Jessen and Jacinda N. Walker were honored in the mid-career artists category.
Jessen is a bassoonist who also works as an associate professor of contemporary music and improvisation at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. In her remarks, she lauded the CAP for recognizing a musician like herself – “a multi-hyphenate artist whose practice doesn’t fit neatly into predefined boxes or genres,” she said.
Walker is a graphic designer who founded designExplorr, an organization that addresses the diversity gap within the design industry. It provides design education to Black and Latino children and raises awareness for corporate organizations. She is the first Black woman to win the CAP prize for design.
“While I knew design was for everyone, people who looked like me were suspiciously absent from the design profession, so I set out to change the face of design,” Walker said.
And in the emerging artists category, Atefeh Farajolahzadeh was honored for visual art and Stephanie Ginese was honored for literature.
Farajolahzadeh was born in Iran and uses photography, video and coding-involved installations in her work. She said when she first arrived in Northeast Ohio, new horizons opened in her artistic practice. “I found new space for experimenting here, expanding my art practice and exploring new forms to express the multifaceted vision of migration,” she said.
Ginese is an author, instructor and stand-up comedian from Lorain. In her speech, she said “Cleveland is home to some of the most skilled and enduring artists in the world, and if the city wants to keep these artists here, those in position of power need to extend that power to us artists.
“… We all need to make this a sustainable place for artists to live, create and be able to move beyond survival,” Ginese said. “We need artists to thrive because art is sacred, it is one of the last tethers to our humanity we have left.”