Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Proper Noun of the Week #17: Shannon Okey

How long did it take you to learn that Cleveland is a small world after all? It probably took me about a year, but it seems like that original lesson gets reinforced every single day. Take, for example, my initial email conversation with today's Proper Noun, Shannon Okey.

I sent Shannon an email to see if she'd like to participate in this series since she's the central organizer for the immensely popular annual event, Bazaar Bizarre. She replied that she would indeed be interested, and that she was already familiar with the series because her studiomate, Arabella Proffer, had already been featured.

Cleveland small world moment? Check.

In that studio, Okey busies herself with producing some of the most charming and clever fiber art you'll see around the city. She maintains a blog, knitgrrl, where she keeps the focus (generally) on the subject, but in a hip way that just about anyone interested in anything interesting would find intriguing.

Below you'll find the answers Shannon provided to the usual Cleveland-centric survey I send out. A true-blue (or would that be brown and orange?) Clevelander through and through, she's got as many good ideas in the tank as she's already putting in to action. So check her out - one of the good guys (er, gals) around town doing good work rather than just talking about it.

1) How long have you been in Cleveland? And if you didn't grow up in Cleveland, where'd you relocate here from?

I'm a lifelong Clevelander (with a few exceptions...I've lived in Boston, Prague and a few other places, but I always end up back here). Bazaar Bizarre, the indie craft show I organize, is an import from Boston! It's now in its 5th year in Cleveland.

2) What is your favorite Cleveland memory?

Going to the May Show and other shows at the Cleveland Museum of Art with my parents, who are also artists. That place is like a second home to me, particularly the older sections of the building. It's been a real adjustment learning the new floorplans...

3) How does (if at all) Cleveland influence your work and/or art?

I'm inspired, as are many of the Bazaar Bizarre vendors, by creative reuse. I use a lot of recycled fiber and materials in my own artwork, and so do they! Even my studio is a recycled space -- it was once a screw factory. (screwfactoryartists.com is the website of the Lake Erie Building at Templar Industrial Park, where dozens of artists, including me, have fantastic studio space in Lakewood). Cleveland has a vast industrial and artistic heritage we should be celebrating in our work...I have some plans for Cleveland architecture-inspired knits in my notebook right now.

4) What would be your ideal Cleveland day? Or, to put it another way, if it was your birthday and your nearest and dearest were all willing to do what you wanted, what would your day be like?

I guess coffee/knitting/watching Buffy DVDs is out? If I had to leave the house... I'd go shopping at the West Side market and Gallucci's, visit CMA, spend some time at my studio, have lunch at Phnom Penh or Melt and dinner at Lola, then go out on the jetty at Huntington to watch the sun set over the lake.

5) Say you had a friend coming in for 24 hours and had never been to Cleveland before. What would you make sure they saw and did?

This happens a lot, actually. We usually go to one of the amazing locally-owned restaurants, check out some of the independent shops and boutiques in Lakewood or Cleveland Heights, then have coffee at Civilization in Tremont (or dinner at Sokolowski's), and maybe check out a movie at the Cedar Lee.

6) What is something from another city you wish you could import to Cleveland?

Well, Bazaar Bizarre is a Boston-to-Cleveland import! But if I had to pick something else, I'd love to see a SXSW- or CMJ-style music conference really take hold here.

7) If you had the undivided attention of the mayor, city council, and county commissioners, what would be the one thing you'd ask for or tell them?

Stop destroying all the historically significant architecture and landmarks already! The Hulett ore unloaders (http://www.preservationnation.org/travel-and-sites/sites/midwest-region/hulett-ore-unloaders.html) have long been part of the skyline and are a hell of a lot more interesting than another bland 'lifestyle center' (I'm sorry...MALL!) or the like. Even if people don't appreciate our amazing buildings now, they'll be sorry when they're gone -- what's NYC's Soho without its iron facades, or Chicago's Printing House Row District? We've got equally lovely buildings and no one appreciates them. (Can you tell this is a hot button topic for me?)

Be sure to check out Shannon Okey's work this year at Bazaar Bizarre. You can visit the east-side iteration THIS FRIDAY or the sequel to last year's west side event at the 78th Street Studios. Click here for more information.

And if you found this post interesting, check out previous Proper Noun of the Week conversations about Cleveland and culture with the following interesting folks: Frank Revy, Bill Rupnik, Mina Hoyle, Brendan Walton, Leia Alligator, Arabella Proffer, Becca Riker, Greg Ruffing, Mallorie Freeman, Dave Desimone, J.R. Bennett, Jeff & Mike from CLE Clothing Co, Paulius Nasvytis, Lawrence Daniel Caswell, Curtis Thompson, and John Ewing.

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