Tag: canton arts district

There’s something fishy going on here…

Muskellunge Brewing Company Fish painting menuThe irony is not lost on me.

I am known most for my paintings of cats, so taking a turn and painting a series of fish paintings is a bit, well, ironic.

I suspect that my cats rather enjoy the paintings, however.

Why did I paint a series of fish paintings?

Cat drawing with Muskellunge BeerIt all started a couple of years ago when my friend Frank asked me to design a logo for him for a brewery that he was, at that time, in the early stages of developing.

I had made a drawing of his cat Musky, named after the Muskellunge fish, and he wanted the fish in that drawing to be part of the logo.




Here is the logo:

Muskellunge Brewing company logo

After designing the logo, Frank asked me to create an art sign with the logo on it:

Frank is a scientific sort of guy. He came to brewing beer through the science of it. Working in the pharmaceutical industry for years, he developed a keen awareness of scientific methods and chemistry, and he began brewing beers in his basement. He decided to extend his basement hobby into a professional endeavor. Fascinated by various species of freshwater fish, he named each of his beers after a different fish.

In keeping with his fish theme, Frank commissioned me to paint a sign for each of his beers and the corresponding fish to serve as a menu board in the taproom of his brewery.

I enjoyed the creative challenge of painting actual species of fish in my semi-abstract contemporary folk art style. It was a challenge, simulating the textures and colors of fish using my bright colored palette, and also doing the lettering in my layered technique. (You can see the in process photos for each painting on my Instagram, Facebook and Twitter feeds.)

The brewery and artwork were recently featured in this article in the Akron Beacon Journal, where I talked about the creative process:

“I have a technique of laying the paint and that makes an interesting texture and that’s what these are,” BZTAT said. 

BZTAT is known for creating colorful pet portraits in pop art and contemporary folk styles. Freshwater fish presented a particular challenge. Freshwater fish aren’t exactly known for their bright colors, which the artists uses. Silver gray anyone?

BZTAT describes freshwater fish as “drab.”

“I am constantly challenging myself to make not just a portrait and not just a pretty picture for somebody but also something that could stand on its own as a valid artwork,” BZTAT said. “And the fish are kind of a new challenge for me which I’ve been enjoying. I’ve never really painted fish before.”

Not to say she and fish are strangers. She grew up in a household with fish tanks and exotic fish, and loved watching them.

“They are just interesting visually,” BZTAT said.

Muskellunge Brewing Company‘s taproom opened this past week to rave reviews (Follow Muskelluunge Brewing Company on Facebook and Instagram). The beer, and the fish painting/signs were a big hit! If you are in the Canton area, I hope you will stop in, sample some of the finest craft beer in Ohio, and see the artwork. The brewery is located at 425 5th St. NW Canton, OH 44702.

I would not recommend that you bring your cat, though…

Life is an Adventure!




Kids Art Adventure! Art classes for young artists at Avenue Arts Theatre and Marketplace

Kids art adventure art class with artist bztat in Canton, OHHaving an art studio at Avenue Arts Theatre and Marketplace gives me access to a classroom, and I intend to put it to good use! In fact, I have already scheduled my first art classes. 

Do you have a 7-11 year old who is creative? I am offering a Kids Art Adventure! at Avenue Arts Marketplace and Theatre beginning July 22, 2017. The class is limited to 10 students, so sign your artist up today!

Here are the details:

Kids Art Adventure!

A creative art experience for kids ages 7-11

Participants will explore their creativity using a variety of art materials and media. Emphasis is on having fun with creativity!

Children's Art classes Canton Ohio

Saturday Mornings 10-11 AM 

4- 1-Hour Sessions for $60 (Dates: 7/22/17; 7/29/17; 8/12/17; 8/19/17)

Location: Avenue Arts Marketplace and Theatre, 342 Cleveland Ave. NW, Canton, OH, 44702

Art supplies are provided.


I look forward to creating great art adventures with your young artist! Click on the button below to register them for this fun end of summer art activity!

register now for Kids Art Adventure with Artist BZTAT

Visit me in my new art studio in the Canton Arts District!

BZTAT Studios new studio-gallery at Avenue Arts Theatre and Marketplace in the Canton Ohio Arts District
BZTAT Studios new studio-gallery at Avenue Arts Theatre and Marketplace 

Over the years, I have occupied a number of studio spaces in the Canton Arts District. I have been working out of my home of late, though, and I have been yearning to have a more public space to work and share my art. The perfect opportunity opened up for me, and I am again returning to the Canton Arts District! I welcome you to come an visit me in my new art studio/gallery at Avenue Arts Theatre and Marketplace in downtown Canton.

I am having a Grand Opening during Canton’s First Friday this week. I hope that you can stop by and visit and maybe add to your art collection. This month’s First Friday is the 10th Anniversary for the event, so there will be lots of fun activities through the district. The first 50 visitors will get a free coloring page from “Artist BZTAT’s Color Me Cats” coloring book. I will have new artwork and some special offers to help you add to your art collection. 

BZTAT’s Grand Opening Return to the Canton Arts District!

July 7, 2017  6-10 PM

BZTAT Studios at Avenue Arts Theatre and Marketplace

324 Cleveland Ave. NW

Canton, OH 44702

Stop by on First Friday, or come by anytime. I will be in the studio working on new projects most days. I look forward to seeing you!

Life is an Adventure!



Canton Arts District – I’m BAAAACKKK…

Canton First Friday Arts Festival
Digital Art by BZTAT

I once was a regular at Canton First Fridays. In fact, I was one of the first art vendors at the very first First Friday back in 2007. I worked out of several different studios in the Canton Arts District over the years, and then I took a break.

It’s been a couple of years, and I think I am ready to come off of my hiatus.  My presence will be less obvious, perhaps, than it has been in the past, but I am making a comeback.

In exchange for keeping their office open throughout the week and helping out with various tasks, ArtsinStark has given me a small space in their arts district office to create and share some of my artwork. It won’t be a big space, but enough to be a part of things again. I am looking forward to getting back into the Canton art scene!

This coming First Friday I will have an outdoor booth on Court Ave. Stop by and visit if you plan on being downtown! I will have all of my new Mia Meow paintings on display, as well as other artworks. The weather is supposed to be spectacular – I hope I see you there!

After First Friday, stop in and see me at the Canton Arts District office at 308 4th St. NW during the week. I look forward to seeing you there as well!

Life is an Adventure!



Are arts districts good for artists?

Palace Theater Canton Arts District
Palace Theater Canton Arts District (Digital art by BZTAT)

Everywhere you turn these days there is an arts district. The word is out – if you have a declining downtown, develop an arts district to revive it.

Some cities have been strategic in this process, and some have done it in a half-hearted and haphazard way. Regardless of how it is happening, though, it is happening all over.

This should be a good thing for artists, right?

Yes and no.

It is a good thing because it brings attention and awareness to the arts and artists. Increased visibility is helpful in many regards, and the community awareness can energize artists in many creative ways. There is a fallacy, however, that more attention and awareness automatically leads to profitability and sustainability for artists.

It does not. In fact, in some ways, it can reduce profitability.

More people enjoying a community’s arts offerings does not necessarily increase patronage of the arts, where people are actively purchasing arts products on an ongoing basis. Donations towards arts organizations may increase, but that does not always translate to sustainable business for individual artists. In fact, the opposite can happen. There can be a plethora of arts offerings, but no significant financial reward for the artists, costing the community very little but the artists a lot. When there are numerous artists but few people who actually buy art or purchase tickets to performances in a community, the artists lose out.

Tom Wachunas, writer of ARTWACH and local arts critic in my home area of  Stark County, Ohio, sounded a warning call this week about the sustainability of the Canton Arts District, which by many standards, has been a very successful arts and business corridor partnership.

According to Tom, the Canton Arts District is in peril as a “a serious contender in the business of being a sustainable tourist destination through an enriching, relevant art gallery corridor” if the public’s awareness and investment in individual artists’ efforts is not increased.

I would agree with Tom – if that was the goal.

I am not certain that Canton and other cities truly expect their arts districts to become sustainable tourist destinations through enriching, relevant art gallery corridors. I suspect that the goal is more to bring interest and to increase activity to designated areas, and then transition the arts districts to entertainment districts, which are more easily sustained. Truthfully, that is already happening in Canton.

The reality is, arts districts are not necessarily about the arts. Arts districts are about bringing interest to blighted areas so that said areas can be redeveloped for economic benefit. That economic benefit is not necessarily for the artists who jazz the place up and make it interesting.

Arts districts are all about money, quite honestly, and that money does not necessarily fall into the hands of the artists who invest themselves in their communities.

Arts districts are developed as a step in the process of gentrification, a strategic plan of transitioning urban districts of declining property values towards wealthier residents and higher property values. It is a given in the gentrification process that artists who initially take advantage of low rents and “nowhere but up” standards will typically be forced out as property values increase.

That may seem like a cynical view, and I guess it is in some ways. It is a realistic view, in my opinion.

Having said that, I do not think that all is bleak for artists. Artists can position themselves to be taken advantage of, or they can position themselves to take advantage of the opportunities available to them from the process.

I prefer the latter.

The expectations created in artists through arts corridor developments can be wildly unrealistic. Still yet, if kept in perspective, artists can take advantage of opportunity while otherwise developing their careers for profitable sustainability.

I knew when I moved to downtown Canton in 2007, when the Canton Arts District was just being formed, that eventually I would leave. I knew that the opportunities that existed at that time were temporary, and I knew that the process of gentrification would eventually push me out. I had my idealism, and I fought the process. But I knew what was going on. (I did move out in 2013. I still maintain a presence with a small space in Second April Galerie, but my home is elsewhere.)

In those early days, I benefited from special project grants, public art commissions and early interest in purchasing art from the gallery district. I benefited from low rent from an exceptionally lenient landlord who gave me more chances than he probably should have done. Those opportunities are not as readily available now as they were when the district was new.

I am not going to lie – I do miss having those opportunities that used to be there.

Still yet, I never have relied solely on local gallery traffic to build my business as an artist. While I was involved in the development of the Canton Arts District, I was also building a global presence online, developing my brand and my stature as an artist in a much bigger community. I not only applied my creativity to my artistic works, I applied it to marketing and other aspects of building my business as well.

I am often amazed at how artists can be the vanguard of so many ideas and images, yet be so backward when it comes to monetizing their presence in the world of business. The world of business and the world of web technology is intimidating to many artists, and thus, they avoid it like the plague.

I tend to be curious about web technology, myself. But monetizing my creativity in a world of business? Yeah, that is tough for me. I recognize that it is is essential, though, and I am endeavoring to become more successful with it.

Artists cannot simply assume that others will create a demand for their artistic works and develop profitability for them. They must also recognize that the development of arts districts is not just for them.

Artists are generous people. We tend to care for our communities and we want to give in order to see our communities succeed. But we want to succeed ourselves, as well. In order to avoid the experience of being left behind and feeling taken advantage of, we need to evolve ourselves as the gentrification process takes hold. We need to recognize that we must put ourselves in the position of being relevant, and we need to develop our creativity around the ecology within which it exists. We need to accept that arts districts do not guarantee that people will purchase our creative works, so we must do more to ensure our survival as we contribute to our community’s culture.

How do we do that? Each artist needs to decide that for him or herself.

I am currently developing a plan for myself as I evolve and change with my local and global community. Stay tuned. I will be sharing more about that soon.

If you are an artist, how will you evolve? If you are not an artist, but want to see creative people thrive in your community, how can you help them evolve?

Are arts districts good for artists?

The answer is in the question.

Life is an Adventure!


Silver Linings in an Injured Rhinoceros

Rhinoceros Sculpture Canton  Arts District For several years now, the Canton, OH Arts District has been home to a rhinoceros. Not a live one, but a sculptural one made from recycled tires.

The Rhino was created by artist Patrick Buckhor and was placed in the Arts District early in the redevelopment of Canton’s downtown. Public art was one of the primary steps in developing the Arts District.

It took a few years for the Arts District to become popular with the general public. Artists and arts enthusiasts have celebrated it from the beginning, but only recently has it grown in popularity with people not actively involved in arts activities.

An incident that occurred this week, however, demonstrated that, not only has it become popular, people have grown to love it as their own.

Someone vandalized the Rhino.

Rhinoceros Sculpture Canton  Arts District damagedIt’s not clear if this was a deliberate act. It could have been a drunk driver crashing into it or skateboarders using it as a launch (I’ve seen them try). Whatever happened, someone knocked it over with reckless disregard and caused it considerable damage.

Other artworks have been vandalized with little notice in Canton. I have had to repair some of my own pieces. But the damage to the Rhino did not go unnoticed.

Instead, a public outcry on social media has risen in response. Some community members have volunteered to fix it. Not only were people upset that an artwork was maliciously harmed, they took it as a personal insult. Someone hurt THEIR RHINO.

For a community to take such ownership of their public art is the lofty goal of every artist and every arts leader. Although I deplore the act of violence against the sculpture, I celebrate the community’s outpouring of support for the artwork.

Luckily, the Rhino was not damaged beyond repair. Repairs are planned this week by ArtsinStark and it will be on display in its regular spot at 4th St. NW and Cleveland Ave. for First Friday this week.

Well done, Canton. Although one fool may have acted maliciously, so many more have shown us what community is all about. That is every artist’s dream.

Life is an Adventure!


Why does Canton keep getting put on the bad list?

Stark County Courthouse Angels Canton OH Art by BZTAT
“Courthouse Angels” Digital Art by BZTAT

Media companies like to put out lists – best and worst lists. My home city, Canton, OH, has a way of getting put on the “worst” lists quite often, for some reason. When it happens, many of my friends who are part of efforts to revitalize Canton get pretty worked up.

They, and I, are typically quick to defend our city. The methodologies and agendas behind these lists are always suspect, and they rarely take into account that there are many positive opportunities in their target cities that could change things on a dime.

One of these lists came out this week from a previously little known (to the general public) real estate blog. The story claimed that Canton was America’s second most dangerous small city. They came to this conclusion based on crime statistics compared with similarly sized cities.

Normally, I would be jumping out of my skin to defend Canton. But last week, I heard a series of gun shots in my neighborhood. Yesterday, I saw a news report about a drive-by shooting just feet away from where I have spent hours trapping a feral cat colony for TNR. I hear reports DAILY of violent crimes occurring in Canton’s neighborhoods that never get resolved.

Canton DOES have a crime problem. I don’t know how it truthfully ranks with other cities, and putting it on a “worst list” certainly does nothing to help the problem. But ignoring the realities does not do anything to help it either.

I want to assure people that, in most respects, Canton is a safe city. The downtown Canton Arts District, in which I have participated in redevelopment efforts, is one of the safest and most enjoyable downtowns you will find in America. Canton has world class parks and one of the most notable public festivals in America around the annual Football Hall of Fame inductions.

Yet there are also good and decent neighborhoods that have been challenged in recent years by crime and blight. Home foreclosure has hit us hard, and slumlords have put previously well-cared-for properties into careless hands. Booming stereos cruise the streets at all hours, ensuring that NO ONE can live with any sense of peace in their own home.

These neighborhoods are not ghettos, but they are fast becoming that. The problem is, the majority of people living in these areas are good, law abiding citizens. Our state government’s efforts to make “smaller government” has led to significant funding decreases to cities, which means that cities like Canton cannot afford sufficient law enforcement. A lack of vision at all levels of government have left citizens to fend for themselves.

I get it. We do not want to draw attention to the problems, lest it will turn people away from investing in community improvement. I do not want anyone thinking Canton is a bad place to be. I have to be honest, though. We cannot change Canton if we do not do something about it’s crime problem.

If you care about Canton, please, keep talking up the positives. Keep doing what you can to make things better. But please, do not shy away from the fact that we need to DEMAND better for Canton. Tell our local, state, and federal leaders that we need resources and vision to fix what is wrong. Tell them that they need to do more, so that what is good gets us put on the “BEST” lists in the future.

Life is an Adventure!




Following my passion? I might surprise you.

Urban Dilemmas - Digital Art by BZTAT
“Urban Dilemmas” Digital Art by BZTAT

Many creative people in mundane jobs dream of quitting and following their creative passion. You may think I was one of them. But really, it did not happen in the way that you would expect.

I never really dreamed of being a full-time artist. Well, OK, I might have done that back when I was in art school and the first 6 months of post academic reality. But truly, I had a stronger passion than being an artist. I had a passion for making a difference in my world in a way that was essential somehow.

My first 6 months of post academic reality showed me that I did not have the artistic or personal maturity to make a difference in a way that felt essential through my art. So I went back to school and became a counselor for children and families affected by serious emotional problems. I then spent 20 years making a difference by helping people improve their lives and by advocating for systemic changes on their behalf.

After 20 years, though, I felt myself slipping. I was losing battles to cultural changes that were out of my control. Suddenly behaviors that once were considered “disordered” were commonplace among all youth. Parents were resisting taking responsibility for parenting roles. And funding limitations were leading to bad policies and service cuts from agencies more concerned with their own survival than they were with helping people.

I no longer felt that I was helping in an essential way.

As this evolution was occurring, my creative passions were becoming more of a force in my life. I began to blog on some political websites and I became involved in political dialogs and movements. I protested the Iraqi War before it was cool to do so. I created artworks that were very political and somewhat harsh to express my inner dialog about changes going on in my world in a visual manner.

I eventually moved away from the general political discourse, and my artwork returned to more pleasant themes, but I continued with my passion for making change in the world. My move to the Canton Ohio Arts District was following my passion to create change in my community. I was inspired by Robb Hankins, new CEO of Arts in Stark, to create community change through the arts.

I quit my job as a counselor because a tension grew between the private nature of the counseling relationship and the very public nature of being an emerging artist helping to grow the local art scene. It was obvious to me that the artistic passion, and the passion for making a difference through my art was eclipsing my role as a counselor. It has been a very uneasy financial choice, but it was one I had to make.

And we did it! We built a FABULOUS arts district that has become the centerpiece of the city!

Except for one thing…The Albatross.

What seemed like a good idea at the time has turned into a real challenge to the sustainability of the arts district. A call center business purchased the building directly across the street from my building, and they have rapidly increased their workforce in a way that has created significant problems for the residents and other businesses downtown.

It seemed like a good idea to bring the jobs and growing business to an empty building. But it was soon evident that the building itself, parking resources, and city services were totally inadequate for the large increase of people, many whom have highly unprofessional behaviors. All of this was thrust upon a very vulnerable community that was just getting its creative legs.

The call center jobs are not high income ones, and they have drawn a work force that is full of people who behave in a manner consistent with the behaviors of the wayward youth I use to counsel. The behaviors are basically going on unchecked all the time.

Loitering, parking, employees’ smoking, poor security and traffic jams have made it a huge challenge to remain positive about the district. All of the problems I shared in this post in May have grown exponentially.

The fact that these problems have grown steadily over the past year have put a huge strain on the downtown businesses. It has affected me personally and professionally, as I cannot escape it. I live and work across the street from this constant and disruptive commotion.

To say that it has affected my psyche is putting it mild. I have gone from anger and frustration to complete pessimism to wanting to escape at all costs back to optimism and then back down again. I am quite often miserable, and my attitude is frequently negative. I really despise feeling this discouraged.

Prompted by the company’s public celebration of hiring their 1000th employee, that old passion to make a difference in my world arose in me again. I wrote a letter to the editor to my local paper, and I spoke out at my City Council’s meeting about the lack of attention to the problems facing downtown businesses and residences.

To my surprise, I got a response. My pessimism leaves me wondering if it will truly make a sustainable difference, but I have to at least try. I am meeting with the President of City Council next week, and I received a phone call from the Operations Director of the Company. A renewed urgency to correct the problems has been voiced. We will see if it is followed by action.

The Canton Arts District arose somewhat organically with some planning, but with more of a “lets throw it all out there and see what sticks” mentality. Private entities led the effort with the city government looking the other way. Not having the City as a partner all along seems to have been a flaw in the development, looking at it in restrospect.

If you are a part of a similar effort in your community, take heed. One choice could potentially derail your whole train.

I am hoping that we can get our train back on the track. I will let you know how it all rolls.

Life is an Adventure!


Naysayers Schmaysayers. Create it and they will come.

Enjoi Life Chalk Art

Artists and arts involved people can be some of the most inspiring and adventurous people. Their vision can take us places that we would have never imagined, and their ideas can propel us in new directions.

Artists and arts involved people can also be some of the most critical and negative people. Whether it is their overly emotive qualities or their inability to work through their own unfulfilled expectations, some artists seek to cast aspersions on the efforts of others to create.

We have some of both in the Canton Arts District.

There are some artists who take advantage of opportunities and create amazing works of art, regardless of what the circumstances around them may be. There are also others who fail to create much, and to vindicate themselves, they go around blaming others for their lack of success.

You know the type. They want to destroy any signs of success in order to make their own failures make sense.

I have my moments of expressing frustration. I at times complain about how the city administration and arts administrators in Canton make decisions that seem short-sighted to me. But I keep creating, and I keep doing what I can to make my city a better place to live – for artists and for everyone.

I keep working with others, whether I like their choices, and I keep on making my own opportunities, regardless of whether someone or something is standing in my way.

So if you are an artist who wants to convince me that someone or something has ruined your chances, all I can say is, get over yourself.

You can complain about the way things are, or you can change things and transform them into what you want them to be. It is your choice, and nothing anyone does to you can stop you if you really have the drive to create.

It is easy to complain. It is not so easy to find ways to work around obstacles. No one said creativity was easy.

I choose the latter, and I really have no time for those who choose otherwise.

Building cities through the arts – it is not done by accident anymore.

Canton First Friday Arts Festival
Digital art by BZTAT

When I moved to the Canton Arts District in 2007, it was an adventure. A formerly blighted downtown was being redeveloped into a creative paradise for artists. There was an energy that was exciting and inspiring.

For five years, I have been a big part of shaping and developing the district. I have lived here, worked here and helped to create and promote a variety of activities. Other artists and I, with the help of ArtsinStark, the Canton Special Improvement District and King Properties, can take pride in what we have built.

There is a wave of interest in developing declining downtowns across the country through the arts. Canton, honestly was on the forefront of that. It is not by accident.

Robb Hankins, the charismatic and inspiring leader of ArtsinStark, has led the city to redevelop and reshape itself through public art, live music and theater, and artists’ galleries and studios.

Rocco Landesman, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, has made such efforts a cornerstone of his agency’s purposes. Consultants like Rebecca Ryan actively encourage cities to capitalize on the arts as a way to bring young professionals to their cities.

Artists can benefit greatly from such an influx of interest in the arts. I have. But artist beware. It is not the end-all-be-all for launching an art career.

In Canton, we have had numerous challenges. Egos and lack of business acumen have impeded the progress of many creative people with high and sometimes unrealistic expectations. Canton is a football town, and although its people have embraced the new arts focus, it is not a community where enough people buy art to support a number of self employed artists.

And although the business community has embraced the arts in a very surprising way, the mayor and other elected officials have not. In a future post, I will share about how decisions made by city officials have totally altered my experience of the city.

The present day movement of building cities around the arts harkens back to the New York City SoHo District’s regeneration as an artists’ haven. Once a low cost area for creative people to live and work, it now is an upscale area where only the most successful artists can afford to live.

Most cities are hoping that the world that the artists create in their communities are not necessarily going to remain a place where starving artists can survive.

Cities are fluid organisms that change and adapt to the circumstances around them. Artists have to adapt as well, and recognize that change is inevitable.

How have the arts changed and contributed to the development of your city? How have artists had to adapt to the changing circumstances around that development? Are the arts an important and embraced part of your community?

Are you an arts supporter who wants to see artists and their cities succeed? What suggestions do you have for them?