Category Archives: Art

The Oh-So-Clevelandish Life of Harvey Pekar

I’m a fan of Harvey Pekar, I really am. I’ve read at least a half dozen of his books. I love American Splendor, really anything with Paul Giamatti in it, for that matter.

Harvey Pekar is kind of a legend in Cleveland, especially in literary circles. I don’t know exactly how many people have actually read his graphic novels. The library recently honored his life by releasing a special Harvey Pekar library card. I know some people who turned theirs in so they could get a Harvey Pekar one.

I don’t think Harvey had too much influence outside of Cleveland and outside of comic circles. Not until American Splendor came out a few years before he died did he really gain a lot of national recognition and I think that was mostly of the cultish variety. He died before I moved here, but my friends used to see him out and about.

I think about him a lot because Harvey Pekar is one of the few artists to achieve greatness and national recognition over the last few decades while actually living in Cleveland. Part of the fascination with him, clearly, is that most people that live in places like Cleveland, eeking out kind of a normal existence, their stories are never really recorded, and certainly not examined. He was an exception in that respect. Someone from a very normal place who was able to rise above his circumstances more or less through creative expression. I think he was a creative success that really deserved it too, which is refreshing.

That’s not what I want to discuss though, what a genius he was. Rather, in a lot of ways, Harvey Pekar was really a product of Cleveland, that sounds trite, I know, but it’s not what you think.

One thing that’s funny about Harvey Pekar, he worked as a file clerk at the VA his whole career. In one of his books — one of the American Splendors — he explains that one of his wives left him because he wouldn’t leave Cleveland. His wife had a Ph.D and she needed to leave the area to find a job. But Harvey refused to go. He says right in the book, very matter of factly, that his VA job as a file clerk — a job he always calls a “good civil service job” — was too good to give up.

Ha! That cracks me up. Here is this creative genius and intellectual and he won’t follow his doctor wife out of the region because he has a civil service job — a steady, reliable government job. That is the most Cleveland, the most rust belt, move ever. In a scary economy, get that government job and cling to it for dear life. That is the Cleveland way. The dream. It’s a pretty freaking sad one, if you ask me, but one that still holds a powerful appeal in this region, especially for older people. And I guess if you have a mortgage and a family and you’re watching your regional economy unravel, it makes a lot of sense.

Then there’s the fact that he actually does stay a file clerk until he finally retires, which is portrayed in a heartwarming scene in American Splendor. The thing that amazes me about this — and again this is just so Clevelandish — is that all those years no one offered him a better job.

The most important artist to come out of Cleveland in a generation arguably, an avant garde intellectual publishing these books that really helped start a new genre, building a following. Case Western never stepped up and offered him position. Nor the library. Of all the schmucks they probably employed over the years, the most brilliant artist of a generation maybe to come out of Cleveland spent 30 full years working as a file clerk at the VA.

It blows my mind. But that was the culture here as well, I think and he was a part of it for better or worse. He was clinging to his VA job, and those Case Western professors were doing the same. Extraordinary creative talent wasn’t really a important factor, or even a consideration that would have entered into the equation. There was no mechanism for recognizing it and exploiting it in Cleveland the way there is in New York.

Perhaps his work wouldn’t have been the same without its trappings of ordinariness. It certainly wouldn’t have been as special. Then again, perhaps he could have achieved much more if he wouldn’t have spent decades of his life filling millions of patient files. It’s hard to say.

What a treasure he was though, how hard he struggled to overcome the circumstances that sort of served to confine his giant spirit. There’s something so relatable and heroic about that.


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The Epicenter of Craft Beer Brewing


In 2012, Grand Rapids, Michigan and Asheville, North Carolina tied in a nationwide vote as Beer City, USA. The Grand Rapids consolidated metropolitan area has no less than 19 craft breweries dotting its scenic West Michigan landscape and at least one more set to open soon.  According to these include:

·         B.O.B.’s Brewery

·         Brewery Vivant

·         Founders Brewing Co.

·         Harmony Brewing Co.

·         The Hideout Brewing Co.

·         HopCat

·         Grand  Rapids Brewing Co.

·         Jaden James Brewery

·         Michigan Beer Cellar (Sparta)

·         The Mitten Brewing Co.

·         New Holland Brewing Co. (Holland)

·         Old Boys’ Brewhouse (Spring Lake)

·         Perrin Brewing Co.

·         Pike 51 Brewing Co. (Hudsonville)

·         Rockford Brewing Co. (Rockford)

·         Saugatuck Brewing Co. (Douglas)

·         Schmohz Brewing, Co.

·         Waldorf Brew Pub (Hastings)

·         White Flame Brewing Co.  (Hudsonville)

As a result. Grand Rapids has been catapulted into the forefront of craft beer brewing on a worldwide scale and received the following additional accolades in 2012:

·         World’s 2nd best brewer (Founders) – per

·         World’s 3rd best beer bar (Hop Cat) – per Beer Advocate

·         Top 10 vacation city for beer lovers (with Kalamazoo) – per The Street

·         Top 25 world beer city – per

·         The National Homebrewers Conference will be held in Grand Rapids in June, 2014.

You only need visit Grand Rapids one time to feel the cultural and economic vibrancy that is taking place around its craft breweries and how that same vibe is literally foaming over into the community at large. This past Saturday, both Founders Brewing’s Tap Room and Harmony Brewing Company were absolutely packed. The region’s brewpubs, beer bars, and breweries are hopping (bad pun) every day of the week with or without  live entertainment, as they have become a significant economic engine in the community.

Founders Brewing - Source:

It is quite a sight to behold as historic structures are lovingly restored and inner city neighborhoods teem with street life, commerce, traffic, and residents. Combined with the immense success of ArtPrize, private-sector philanthropic and foundation investments, cooperative regional planning efforts, and Michigan’s economic revival, the 1.3 million resident Grand Rapids region has become the place to be in Michigan and certainly the epicenter of the craft beer industry in the Rust Belt and the entire nation. There is a perceptible “can-do spirit” in Grand Rapids that you do not feel in all cities. The region doesn’t wait around for handouts or bailouts. Instead, it has picked itself up by its own bootstraps and charted a successful course towards economic prosperity. Is everything perfect? Of course not, but there is definitely visible and identifiable progress taking place.

New Holland Brewing - Source:

Indianapolis, Columbus, and Minneapolis-St. Paul may get most national attention as vibrant Rust Belt cities, but Grand Rapids deserves to be included in this illustrious list.   Kudos to the city, the region, local leaders, and especially its citizens for showing us all how to get “hopping.”

Rick Brown



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Photo Essay: Minneapolis' Lowlights

My pictures are not kind to Minneapolis. But they’re worth comparing to what they replaced over the last half-century. Streetcars and Richardsonian romanesque castles were replaced by freeways and Kmarts. Once welcoming places grew alien and forbidding.

I moved to Minneapolis from a college town in Iowa two and a half years ago. I was surprised to find that it was a lot like where I used to live, only there was more of it: more roads, more cars, more buildings. The more I found out about the history of the places I traversed on a regular basis, the greater became my dissatisfaction with how they had changed.

I may not be old enough to remember a time when Minneapolis was any different, but I still feel a visceral sense of regret when I take stock of the city today. I found that the most cathartic way to deal with my resentment of the recent past was to turn a withering photographic eye on the landscapes that came out of it.

The theme of vision figures prominently in this project. There are cartoon dog eyes, cartoon sponge eyes, washing machine eyes–but human eyes are scratched over, shaded, or blindfolded. To me, this represents our willful blindness to the current condition of our city: desolate and inhumane.

There are many

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ways to picture a city. The diverse faces that beam from under bicycle helmets in city brochures tell one story. My images are different. They are incidental, in that I would find myself in these places whether I were photographing them or not.

This is the mundane fabric of everyday life here, and it’s not pretty.

— by Joe Scott

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Seagulls Over a Wintery Lake Erie

I love this peaceful video of the Lake Erie shoreline in winter by Matthew Hashiguchi.


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Pittsburgh's Evolving Identity

The European cultural channel ARTE recently zoomed in on the city of Pittsburgh as part of a look at a sort of everyman’s America in the days leading up to the 2012 presidential election. You should check out the whole project here. It was inspired

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by the work of photojournalist W.E. Smith. In the series, modern Pittsburgh is contrasted with Smith’s iconic photos from Pittsburgh’s heyday as a steel boom town.

This is just one video that shows how the city has transformed, examining the city’s northside Mexican War Streets neighborhood through the eyes of a resident and local teacher. The city, he says, has been transformed from a working class city into kind of an intellectual place, and that has raised the question of identity.

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Cleveland's Dia de los Muertos Parade

One of canada pharmacy online my favorite events cheap cialis in Cleveland viagra samples every year is the Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead, parade in the is canadian pharmacy online legitimate Detroit Shoreway Neighborhood (my neighborhood). This event is hosted by Cleveland Public Theater. Every year, city residents march down viagra alternative Detroit Avenue in Mexican-style macabre costumes.

I caught the tail end of the parade this year and wanted to share.

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2012 Economic Study has Good News for Rust Belt Metros

According to the report “100 Leading Locations for 2012” by Area Development Online, 34 metropolitan areas of the Rust Belt made the Top 100, including the pre-eminent architectural showplace of Columbus, Indiana which was ranked number one.

Below is a list of those Rust Belt metropolitan areas that made the Top 100 in 2012. Congratulations to each of them, especially Columbus, Indiana.


1. Columbus, Indiana

9. Morgantown, West Virginia

12. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

16. Dubuque, Iowa

17. State College, Pennsylvania

20. Trenton-Ewing, New Jersey

24. Holland-Grand Haven, Michigan

29. Waterloo-Cedar Falls, Iowa

30. Ames, Iowa

33. Baltimore, Maryland

34. Williamsport, Pennsylvania

37. Sandusky, Ohio

38. Ann Arbor, Michigan

48. Columbus, Ohio

49. Buffalo-Niagara Falls, New York

51. Fort Wayne, Indiana

53. Albany-Schenectady-Troy, New York

57. Grand Rapids-Wyoming, Michigan

59. Oshkosh-Neenah, Wisconsin

61. Eau Claire, Wisconsin

63. Des Moines, Iowa

66. Rochester, Minnesota

70. Toledo, Ohio

77. Duluth-Superior, Minnesota-Wisconsin

78. Peoria, Illinois

83. Cumberland, Maryland-West Virginia

84. Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton, Pennsylvania-New Jersey

85. Twin Cities, Minnesota-Wisconsin

88. Appleton, Wisconsin

90. Iowa City, Iowa

91. Lafayette-West Lafayette, Indiana

95. La Crosse, Wisconsin-Minnesota

96. Greater Lansing, Michigan

98. Bay City, Michigan

– Rick Brown

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