Misfits & Makers: A Year of Tales from Cleveland

Written by Nicole Delamotte.

A year of tales from Cleveland by Nikki Delamotte


Over the past year, I’ve had the incredible opportunity to help tell the stories of a number of equally incredible people through Cellar Door Cleveland, Ingenuity Cleveland, Weapons of Mass Creation conference, Brite Winter and the GRAMMYs.

To say the Midwest has a nation trying to tell our story for us is an understatement. This is a small selection of Clevelanders rewriting those narratives and redefining what it means to be from our city. Like all interviews, these started as local artists explaining their work but ended up teaching me about technology, race, feminism, comic books, punk rock landmarks, Cleveland counterculture, and the past, present, and future of where we live.


short form q&a posts for WMC Fest 2012 can be found here.

(Endless gratitude for letting me be a part – Justin and Allie at Cellar Door, James and Jamie at Ingenuity, Jeff and Jesse at WMC Fest, Tom at Brite.) All Cellar Door graphics by Justin Markert, all others by me.


AllGoSigns: How the Underground Art Event is Redefining Public Space at Arts in August

// cellar door cleveland

Underground Art

Now approaching ten years of operating primarily below the radar, the experimental art warehouse in Near West Cleveland has spent the last decade producing some of the city’s most visually astounding projects. “When I first started, I was just trying to do that memorable event,” Karnak explains, “and the first people that I found that supported what I was doing was the DIY artist community. I wanted something that was positive and social, and the artists just came to me because I think they recognized that I was going to respect what they did.”

TurnStyle Films

// cellar door cleveland

“I love Dag House because it’s so tucked away,” explains Nix on both filming and countless times bringing friends to the Cleveland landmark. “You get down this hill and it’s magical. Like Narnia.”

“The Narnia of punk rock,” Andrego cuts in.


Rob Sherwood

Rob Sherwood

// ingenuity cleveland

“That was every club I did; people came to look at freaky but not to pick on it, or make fun of it, or cause trouble.”

If the Kokoon Arts Club that Bal Ingenieux is inspired by marked a turn-of-the-century bohemian art community, Sherwood may have been their reincarnated hero of the new wave underground. “But the people who came to support me on a funky Tuesday night were ten times as cool as the people who came to the Saturday night party that was the big thing.”


Red, White, and Blueprints: A Rust Belt Documentary

// cellar door cleveland

“I think having these people in a room shifts how we talk. The vocabulary we use is designed to alienate people that actually live in a city — acronyms, giant weird words, you can’t just call something a street. That’s an incredible misstep because we’re not simplifying this,” says Storey. “And how can you anticipate solving an actual problem that includes people without bringing people to the table? We can complain all day long that they’re not there, but we’re having meetings about meetings about meetings about meetings using code names and we’re so secretive about what we’re doing. It’s really problematic.”



Melissa OlsonMelissa Olson

// brite winter

Sitting in a busy coffee shop nestled below Coventry Village in Cleveland Heights, Melissa Olson is tall and bright-eyed with blonde hair that falls past her shoulders. Meaning even three months after returning to Ohio, she is in essence everything the Beach Boys meant when they said they wish they all could be California girls. Because that’s how we perceive the sun-streaked coastlines personified. And we’ve become so accustomed to the American tales of our own coordinates on the map that sometimes we have to leave first to learn how to truly tell them.

“On the west coast, our DIY culture and music scene is something they admire beyond anything. There aren’t any basements,” she says, “There are way more house shows in Kent and Akron than there ever will be in Fresno. And they get so jealous of the Midwest for that.”

Theater Ninjas: Nick&Jeremy

// cellar door cleveland

“Jeremy asked me, ‘How do we get people who come to see your band play at the Happy Dog to come see weird theater?’ and I thought, ‘That’s awesome, how do we get people who like weird theater to come see my band at the Happy Dog?’ And honestly it works,” Riley explains. “This show is what it is and has a purpose, but an overall bigger picture element is recognizing there are really awesome, creative people doing awesome things who yearn for the type of expression that isn’t stifled by conventionality. Which is what I love about the music community I’m in.”

Unsung Heroes: The Art of Life and Death in Black and White

// cellar door cleveland

Unsong Heroes

“I invited my high school art teacher to the show. I got Ds and Fs in class and almost didn’t graduate because of it ‘Do a still life of a table.’ I’d say ‘Nah, I’ll just draw this skull instead.’ Ah, I’ll take the F. It drove her nuts. 20 odd years later, I figure I’ll send her a postcard saying look, here’s a gallery show. And it’s of everyone drawing skulls.”

James Bulloch has a slight handlebar mustache that rises when he smirks. This is one of those moments.

//benitez_vogl: The Open Source Art Revolution

// cellar door cleveland

If there was any doubt about the power of the bourgeoning open source movement, it’s safe to say it was silenced last year when an official from a renowned technology institute sent Margarita Benitez a quick, unexpected message regarding her OS-powered weaving loom — and colonizing Mars. Let us know when it’s finished, it read, and went on to suggest if the loom was modular it could be used to weave textiles in the new frontier.

“They call it ‘copyleft’ for a reason, copyright is always very closed. The way we see it, I think we’re going to have a sort of a shift where we’re going to see closed sourced versus open source. At the end of the day, our world as a closed source world won’t be able to sustain forever. We can’t just make one percent richer every day and 99 percent poorer every day,” says Vogl. “What we’re hoping is open source, in a very optimistic, somewhat socialistic kind of way, can contribute to the fact that we have better learning opportunities, better worldwide education. Quite idealistic, indeed, but one can dream.


Matt Hectorne & the Family TreeMatt Hectorne & the Family Tree

// brite winter

Hanging around the green room below the Beachland Ballroom, Matt Hectorne seems at his most content talking church music and his Mississippi upbringings when the conversation comes to a halt and a smile breaks behind a grizzly beard. “‘I’ll Fly Away,’” he points upstairs in approval to the Womack Family Band’s psychedelic rendition of the spiritual standard taking place on stage that’s echoing through the floor. In 20 minutes he’ll take the stage himself for the last time with Humble Home. In five months he’ll move to Nashville.

“I never set out to make the simplest video or the simplest sounding recording. To me it’s just being honest and almost a necessity. I’m not necessarily a prolific musician; I learned my instrument to write songs and it’s all I know,” says Hectorne. “But when you strip songs down, the only thing that stands up or holds anything together is the lyrics. You have no room for any other pretense. You have the song or you have nothing. “


Thaddeus Anna Greene

// brite winter

“Children are dying, schools are getting shot up; there’s so much going on in the world now, I don’t see how your music can’t be dark in a sense,” he says on writing new material. “I just have this idea of acceptance, exceeding expectations, and changing people’s perspectives on what it means to young in America. And furthermore, what it means to be young and black in America. And not black enough for black people and not white enough for white people. Being in that middle, where no one understands.”

Meet Your Monsters: The Rust Belt Monster Collective

// cellar door cleveland

Rust Belt Monster

Tim Switalski likes to tell people the Rust Belt Monster Collective came together to defend Earth from forces of evil. His cohorts may just say it was a matter of chemistry, six artists who got to know each other the old-fashioned way: meeting in the backs of bars and the Beachland Ballroom to reconstruct elaborately costumed, traveling burlesque pin-up models onto paper at monthly Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School gatherings.

“I hope this is a small part to building the community,” says Randolph Crider. “We’re such a comic book town and that needs to be celebrated.”

Molly Pamela: HEAVY PETALS

// cellar door cleveland

With walls splashed sea foam green and cotton candy pink, her studio is organized but chaotic, not unlike the music of art-rock duo Cereal Banter that Pamela is one-half of with boyfriend Joseph Rafidi. On stage, Molly Pamela sounds more like a synth-worshipping Marnie Stern with dip-dyed purple and pink wild-haired stage presence against the bright lights. Sitting in her home with her legs curled under, she’s all whip-smart and wise cracks, and you can’t help but think she’s the kind of girl you wanted to be friends with in high school and the kind of woman you want your little sister to grow up to be.

"If you feel some way, just come forth and say, 'This is what I'm saying, I'm being open, I'm not taking anything back.' When people say 'I'm not a feminist,' but you do things that stand up for yourself, why not just say you are one? Men, I think, can definitely be part of that group too," in part referring to the four men who own BUCKBUCK, "as long as you stand for something that will improve the lives of others instead of putting people down."


Lyz Bly & Rafeez Washington Keep Independent Book Stores and Zines Alive with Guide to Kulchur

// cellar door cleveland

“What was really compelling to me was seeing how you could pull out a zine from Columbus and then you would pull out one from Tempe, Arizona and the same themes were showing up over and over across the country. When you start seeing these personal reactions over and over you can start thinking, what’s happening politically on a larger scale?” says Bly. “And that’s always been what’s most interesting to me. To not only look at them but use them as these documents to show social change and social activism in a very personal, tactile way.”


Curating the Pop Soundscape: EMP Conference Examines the Role of Music in Cleveland

// the GRAMMYs

Within the walls of the Rock Hall's recently established Library & Archives where the conference began with a tour, boxes of documents from the files of eminent punk label Kill Rock Stars share shelf space with those of Elvis Presley and indie 'zines sit snugly near vintage issues of Rolling Stone.

"The garage where people play music — the fan 'zine, the club, the street corner — those spaces of subculture have always existed in relationship to official institutions," said Northwestern University faculty member Michael J. Kramer, "and I think we can continue in our teaching to help our students think about those relationships without posing them against each other."