Art Responds to the Great Recession at Clifton Cultural Arts Center

Erin Deters picked a bad time to get her undergraduate DAAP degree in fashion design and seek to start a career in New York City. She ran smack into the hurricane-force arrival of the great recession. Now she's back in Cincinnati and has curated 'Short S

Erin Deters picked a bad time to get her undergraduate DAAP degree in fashion design and seek to start a career in New York City. She ran smack into the hurricane-force arrival of the great recession.

“Being there in the Fall of 2008 was nightmarish,” she says. “Nobody was hiring, banks were failing, the stock market was down. Everywhere I looked for jobs, they were laying people off.”

In early 2009, she gave up and returned to Cincinnati, where her father Don is a dealer in mid-century and contemporary furniture. And she looked for work. Fortunately, she found a non-profit program — Public Allies, which was established in 1992 and has an active Cincinnati presence — that seeks to train the young leaders of tomorrow in civic participation by giving them experience with non-profits today.

She was assigned to an arts non-profit, Clifton Cultural Arts Center, which shares the cost of her $1,000 monthly stipend (for 10 months) with Public Allies (, which receives money from the federal Americorps program. And CCAC Executive Director Ruth Dickey gave Deters a rare and wonderful opportunity in leadership: curating an art show.

Deters decided to base it on what she knew: the frustrations of the recession for artists.

“I felt it was in the air,” says Deters, 25. “It was in my struggle, my friends’ and fellow graduates’. It was on the news and everywhere I turned. I thought this would be a good outlet for people.”

She put out a call for artists and evaluated the submissions, selecting about a dozen and focusing on locals but also including some from outside Cincinnati. The result, Short Straw, opened last Saturday and is up through April 30 at CCAC on Clifton Avenue. (For further information, visit

It is touching to see how much heart, soul and intelligence — and talent — the artists have put into this task. It’s also a reminder how hard the last few years have been on up-and-coming artists. Some have approached it with dark humor, others with cool conceptual analysis. Some manage to combine both: Justin Kemp, who received an MFA from University of Massachusetts, has his actual diploma suspended by wire from the ceiling. it’s folded into a paper airplane.

Stacy Searcy, a Cincinnatian who graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago — and has been without a full-time job since January of last year — has taken the photographs she made of the sky, cut them up and then sewn them back together. Besides their newfound beauty, they form a statement about her resolve to stay creative despite hardships.

Leif Fairfield of Cincinnati revived an old idea — grow your own — to get through this recession. The artist’s “war garden” pieces include his elaborately written and designed gardening plans on Chinese calligraphy paper and found paper. And Olivia Hamilton, in “Depression/recession,” pays tribute to her recently deceased grandmother’s frugality during the Great Depression by combining some of her old, well-worn kitchen implements with photographs of her.

“Blood, Debt and Fears” consists of the evocatively monochromatic sketches of life in a plasma center by Nathan Turner, who studied sculpture at the Art Academy. He goes there weekly to sell blood … and draw.

“People there said, ‘These are beautiful sketches, he should do it for a living,’ ” Deters says. “(Turner) said, ‘I’m trying to do it for a living.’ ”

CONTACT STEVEN ROSEN: [email protected]

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