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The Muralists at the CAC

Four uniquely personal murals by local artists
September 1, 2021

Bruno Casiano
Puerto Rico plays an integral role in the life and art of Bruno Casiano. Born in Gary, Indiana, to Puerto Rican parents, Casiano moved back to the island with his family at age 10. He grew up in Juana Diaz and attended art school in San Juan and the Dominican Republic, studying illustration, fine arts, and design; he worked as an illustrator before moving to Cleveland in 1989. He became one of the city’s first Latino gallery owners and worked in factories, where he also learned metalwork. Casiano has had multiple solo and group shows. His ancestral homeland has never been far from his mind or his art. The vibrant energy and colors of Puerto Rico provided the inspiration for his music-themed mural.

How did your background inform your mural concept?
Knowing the Community Arts Center’s neighborhood is dominantly Puerto Rican, my inspiration was rooted in the area. The specific idea came from the culture itself. It wasn’t too difficult to come up with; it’s such a musical culture. If you don’t know how to dance at age 10 or 12, you’re an oddball. Including maracas and movement came right to mind.

What else influenced your design? 
I wanted to convey a sense of connection; that’s key to life and art. Seeing art isn’t just about going to a museum. Art can help people become better human beings. 

What do you hope the viewer takes away from your mural?
The whole concept is musical; it’s dynamic, it has movement, and it’s very rhythmic. I want viewers to feel how great it is to be an artist, how dynamic it is—it’s not dusty or boring. Art is more than just an object on a wall or a pedestal. It transcends time and place. Art has a connection with humans. I’m a big believer that at an early age, if you view art, you feel art. I still remember at age 11 going to an art gallery in Ponce with my dad. I thought, “How can a human do this?” I hope others feel that, too.



Derek Brennan
Artist Derek Brennan is new to the Cleveland area, but is already making an impact. His Parade the Circle–themed mural is a bold, whimsical design featuring marchers and musicians who practically burst off the wall. It merges Brennan’s background as a fine arts painter, caricaturist, and illustrator. 

What was your inspiration for your mural design?
It’s centered around Parade the Circle. When people see it, I want them to see a parade coming off the wall. I was thinking about the elements of a parade: the sounds, kids laughing, brass instruments, loudspeakers, and the energy. I wanted to convey that energy. I was inspired by the parade because I was blown away by the scale of all these puppets and how many people work on them and come together to create this one event. I wanted to convey that communal aspect. Being new to Cleveland, I have not participated in the parade, but I definitely want to in the future. 

How else did you seek to create a sense of community in your design?
I’ve been active in community art over the past five years. I’ve probably done 17 murals. In them, I want to connect with the people who will be interacting with them the most. For this design, that was kids. So I worked with a group of local students to create their own drawings of the puppets, which I incorporated into the mural. It was a fun way to include a sense of community. 

What do you hope the viewer takes away from your mural?
I want people who come to see it to feel alive, to feel this joy that comes from being around a parade and celebrating different cultures. I want people to have fun looking at the mural and see the drawings of the kids. It’s a big, fun project full of life, and I want people to feel that and be inspired.



Debra Sue Solecki
Debra Sue Solecki spends her days teaching art. But it’s not just a career; it’s a calling. Solecki is a true community-oriented artist, from her classroom to the gallery to the sidewalk, where she has made a name for herself as a prominent chalk artist in the past decade. Her mural is a joyful, family-friendly octopus who appears to leap off the wall that he is drawing on. 

How did your background as a teacher play into your mural design?
I immediately thought of something colorful—kids love animals. And, they love realism. They want to see something they can understand and relate to. I settled on the idea of having an octopus in the space; he’s on the wall, but looks like he’s going to come off it.

What else influenced your concept?
I have a background in fine arts commission pieces. I like to work with the concept of perception, to play with the idea of 2D versus 3D in a space. I researched the history of the neighborhood that surrounds the Community Arts Center. I was familiar with the current immigrant community, but wanted to learn more about the area’s past. I discovered that eight major ethnic groups have lived there, so I knew that the symbolism would work with an eight-armed octopus. The community now has a strong Latino base, but I also wanted to capture the history, the beginnings, in my piece. Times change and new groups move in; that’s characteristic of Cleveland. History is important to help people make connections. Even people who are not Latino can still connect to this community and feel included; perhaps their ancestors used to be in the area. Symbols on his tentacles and body represent the eight ethnic groups who have called the surrounding Clark-Fulton area home.

What do you hope the viewer takes away from your mural?
I really just want people to enjoy the vision and perception and the content, and to feel a connection to the history of Cleveland and, even if they don’t recognize all of the symbols, to feel the meaning behind it. Making people wonder is part of my goal. 


Rafael Valdivieso
The bold colors of his native Ecuador inspired painter Rafael Valdivieso’s 17- by 12-foot entryway mural. Born in Quito, Valdivieso studied painting, printmaking, and graphic design in his homeland before moving to the United States (by way of Israel) in 2000. The artist now calls Cleveland Heights home—but his roots color all he does.

Valdivieso has become an integral part of the arts community in his adopted homeland, participating in numerous group shows and community-oriented arts events, from Parade the Circle to Day of the Dead celebrations and festivals. Valdivieso’s intricate mural, which features what appear to be hundreds of colorful intertwined images of people and animals, is spirited and bold and “evokes a sense of teeming wildness and intertwined themes of human joy and struggle,” according to the painter.

What was your inspiration for the mural?
The museum is at the center, surrounded by puzzle pieces of imagery from Parade the Circle. My intention was to form a poem of movement and color to mirror the magic around us. I believe the goal of the museum is to open windows of cultural exchange. The mural reflects the different disciplines of dance, music, and theater and strives to capture the diverse cultural expressions in Cleveland. This project reflects the accumulation of my own experiences, collaborating over the past 16 years in various events with the museum’s Community Arts program, such as Parade the Circle, the Chalk Festival, and the Lantern Festival.

How is your personal background reflected in the mural?
As I am from Quito, the many colors of the Andes were my inspiration.

What do you hope the viewer takes away from your mural?
I hope viewers experience a moment of joy and harmony, and that they have fun discovering surprises in all the details.