Brite Winter 2015 Artist Spotlight: Hildebrandt Artist Collective

Interview by Emily Appelbaum

This year, Brite Winter is thrilled to be exploring sustainability in the arts through our continued partnership with the Great Lakes Brewing Company, and a new collaboration with the Hildebrandt Artist Collective. Started in 2013, the Hildebrandt Artist Collective consists of a dozen Cleveland artists who share a workshop, exhibition space and good times, playing host to gallery openings, fundraisers, and movie nights.  

Based in the historic Hildebrandt Co. building, the collective joins a number of other small creative enterprises in reviving what was once a family-owned meat processing firm, dating from the late 1800s to the 1970s, into a thriving hub for local artists and food entrepreneurs.

Katie Simmons, Community Outreach Ambassador and Director of Special Projects for Great Lakes Brewing Company, has been a driving force in bringing the Hildebrandt space alive. We met up with Katie and asked her about her work at the Brewery, in her studio, and around Cleveland.

What is your favorite thing about being an artist in Cleveland?

There is a strong sense of support and community in Cleveland.  Whenever I need materials, I reach out to individuals and companies and they are always will to help. I needed plastic bottles for a public art project at the Burning River Fest and it took one email for the staff at the Progressive Field to save them and allow me to pick them up.

What is a recent milestone you achieved in your work?

I graduated last month with my Masters from the University of Akron in Clothing, Textiles, and Interiors. I am currently enrolled in a Master Weaver and Master Spinner programs in Ontario, Canada. It is a six-year process and I am in the first year.

How has Cleveland – the weather, the city, the people – affected your outlook?

I have lived in Cleveland for a decade and have seen it evolve into the vibrant place it is today. The weather makes us appreciate nice days and this translates into how we live our lives.  When the sun is out, we are the first people to be sitting on a patio enjoying a beer no matter what the temperature. I love the diversity of Cleveland. No matter how far I travel I always miss Cleveland’s quirky cultural scene. The Hildebrandt Artist Collective started because I felt that collaborative spirit in Cleveland. We all have common goals and want to help others to make the world around us the best it can be.

You volunteer with textile artists from Bolivia. What have you learned from working with people whose practice and environment seem so different, and how has it influenced the work you do here?

In Bolivia, they process fiber from start to finish: they spin, weave, and use local natural dyes. Their lives consist of using the materials around them and living sustainably. I am lucky to work for a company that challenges me be similarly creative. One of the owners will hand me a cardboard tube and ask me what else it could be. I am able to reuse and re-create brewery waste into pieces of art and functional objects.

What’s your favorite thing about the cold?

It motivates me to want to spin and weave to stay warm!

Another Hildebrandt member, Andrea Howell, uses the space to create her fashion brand, Tidal Cool. She was happy to share her own take on what makes Cleveland such a vibrant arts community, and how winter plays a role.

What’s the best thing about being an artist in Cleveland?

The residents and visitors here do a tremendous job to support the artists and their work. There are some fantastic galleries, work spaces, and festivals for art in the greater Cleveland area. And the seasons play a role in my work as well.

Much of my work is done during the winter, and I spend most my summer selling what I produce during the winter months. It warms me up to make swim and resortwear when there’s snow on the ground!

Lastly, we caught up with Lisa Lorion Bridenbaker, who works out of Hildebrandt and also teaches children age 3-12 with the Greater Cleveland YMCA. For her, working as an artist in Cleveland is all about community.

What makes Cleveland different from other cities you’ve worked in as an artist?

It’s the motivation and encouragement you get from your peers. Cleveland artists are always willing to support and rally around each other when the industry gets tough.

You say Cleveland has changed the way you work. Tell us about that!

Cleveland is always reinventing itself as a city. Look at what’s happening in downtown and on the near west side! Working out of a repurposed building like Hildebrandt has given me great experiences with other creative artists that I couldn’t get while I was working on my own.

And your favorite thing about winter?

It has to be those calm nights after a heavy snow where you can have a giant snowball fight and not have windburn on your face.