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Occupied Warren 2.0 brings art to a new home

WARREN — With a theme of “Fairytale & Fantasy,” Occupied Warren 2.0 doesn’t have a chained live model to dramatize the dangers of sex trafficking or rows of pill bottles illustrating the scourge of opioid addiction.

This year’s art project has two spaces devoted to Alice in Wonderland, a flower-covered commode and a closet that looks like a “Sesame Street” character made of walls.

That doesn’t mean it’s all sweetness and light.

James Shuttic, director of the Fine Arts Council of Trumbull County, said, “I was happy that people took more artistic liberty with the concept of ‘Fairytale & Fantasy’ and deviated somewhat from what we traditionally visualize when we think of those themes. Some really played with it in modern terms, which was cool to see, and some stuck very traditional.”

The project, a joint venture between the Fine Arts Council of Trumbull County and the Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership, gives area artists the opportunity to create site-specific art in a house at 474 Parkman Road SW that is slated for demolition. Most of the work will be destroyed with the home.

This year’s participating artists are Josh Ford and Salsi Salama, both of Boardman; Josh Kronauer, Brookfield; Summer Zickefoose, Canfield; Dave Karr and Jessica Oswald, both of Cortland; Alex Bodie, Lydia Flowers, Rindi Hanna, Gianna Jones, Mikenna McClurg, Trisha Mullen, Jean Sebben, Julia Shuttic, Sydney Tenney, David Wheeler, all of Warren; and Bill Barron, Youngstown.

The first Occupied Warren drew large crowds, and many of the artists who participated last year signed up again this year.

“I love being able to go into old houses,” Rindi Hanna said. “Urbex (urban exploration) photography and exploring is my thing. When they said you can come in legally and do art here, I said, ‘Yeah!’ Breathing life back into these places before they come down. That’s kind of what it’s all about, showing the community that beauty is everywhere.”

Hanna is one of the artists who drew inspiration from Alice in Wonderland, creating an upside-down room with a table and chairs on the ceiling and dark red walls.

Gianna Jones, another returning artist, also included elements from Lewis Carroll’s young heroine.

“I basically wanted to do my own version of Alice in Wonderland, taking the original story and putting in my cartoony but still kind of edgy and violent perspective,” she said. ” You see Alice fighting the Jabberwocky. She’s still this cute cartoon character, but she’s fighting this giant dragon thing.”

Last year’s Occupied Warren exhibit opened in June, which meant the the artists had to work in a house without utilities or running water during an unseasonably cold spring. Moving this year’s event to September created a different set of challenges.

“There was no heat, no air conditioning,” James Shuttic said. “Many of the artists started work in the early morning. By noon, the temperature in the house would jump to the upper 80s. Some people who worked in the afternoon were just covered in sweat.”

In addition to creating art inside, Josh Ford used spray paint to create pieces on the roof.

“Those shingles hold in heat,” he said. “It might be 90 on the ground, but on the roof, it feels like 100, 105 (degrees). It was toasty, real toasty.”

For Salsi Salama, heat was less of an issue than the lack of water.

“It was hard,” she said. “Especially when you’re painting, water is something you definitely need.”

Salama is one of the artists who invented her character instead of drawing on familiar tales.

“My concept was, if the house is a being, how it would feel if the family that lived there left — ‘Where did they go? Why did they leave?'” she said.

Josh Kronauer devoted the stairwell to a character he created called Coffin Kid, whose father is the Grim Reaper and who wants his son to continue in the family business.

Shuttic led interested artists through the house this spring, and they were able to submit proposals for specific rooms. Trisha Mullen had no competition for the upstairs bathroom, which everyone agreed was the most disgusting room in the long-abandoned house.

“It was so easy to get this room because no one else wanted it,” she said. “It was crappy, disgusting, but I turned it into something that people would laugh at. The symbolism is, no matter what (stuff) you’re in, you can turn it into something beautiful. I happened to turn it into a porcelain flower throne.”

While the Occupied art will disappear with the house, the neighborhood is getting a permanent addition. Warren artist Doug Meyer created “Pinnacle of Reflection,” a mixed media sculpture installed on a vacant lot in the 500 block of Parkman Road SW made from reclaimed materials salvaged from demolished homes.

The project, dubbed “From Wrecking Ball to Art Install,” is a joint venture of TNP and the Trumbull Land Bank and was funded in part by the Ohio Arts Council.