Mercé L. Culp

Mercé L. Culp


October 26, 2020




Tell us more about some of your past projects?

There have been so many interesting projects that I have created or been a part of in the Toledo area and abroad. My top 3 include YAAW 2016 & 2019 (Young Artists at Work) summer program, Partnership2Gether Arts Task Force in Israel and “We The Explorers” NASA launch of origins art installation inside a near-earth asteroid, onboard OSIRIS-Rex. Working with the YAAW program as an instructor and later, an assistant instructor. I managed 15 teen apprentices the first year as I teamed up with an amazing sculpture guru named Peter Koelsch. Our group collaborated with Radiant City led by Yusuf Lateef and Ben Cohen. Together we created 250+ costumes and wearable sculptures to create an unforgettable experience of experimental art performances, live performing art in the street during a third Thursday Art Loop and an avante garde live action, choreographed dance in a location somewhat adjacent to the base of the high level bridge. The sheer amount of experimental creation that summer in 2016 was mind-blowing. It was definitely a great playground for any artist and aspiring artist to try new methods and materials to develop a filmed myth for what Toledo has become. 

My second opportunity with the YAAW program was last year, 2019. I assisted a well-known street muralist named Ken Dushane, commonly known as PHYBR in the Detroit and Toledo areas. His master skills in the mural game were key to pull-off the painted muralized basketball courts at Toledo’s historical Savage Park. He taught our apprentices industry-standard methods for painting on an outdoor active surface with the mandatory need for sports usability. In that time, we called on the skillsets of artistic teenagers with close attention to detail to create a colorful court designed by the stripe and zigzag color master Natalie Lanese. 

Back in 2013, I accepted an artist residency in Israel. Of four tasks forces, the Arts Task Force received permission and funding for 3 major projects. This was no typical trip. Many people travel there for their birthright trips with 15 hours of programming and historical site-seeing. Well, my trip included 15 hours of programming but no one can duplicate a trip like this one.I was one of 12 American artists who received this honor. I toured notable historic sites, a castle, anthropology museums and enjoyed shopping in the markets. There were three major opportunities we gained on this trip. One, a community exhibition. Two, we were paired with Israeli artists to work on group projects. One group painted a mural inside an elementary school. Another group created a documentary. My group created and installed a sculpture on Mt. Klil with one of Israel’s well-known sculptors. For four days, I created art in the hot morning sun alongside two young female soldiers and 2 Americans. The most amazing tours were our visit to digital art studios, sculpture studios, a dance village (a kibbutz where only dancers live), a performing arts center with a theater and a glass studio inside. We toured a castle and ate in Israel’s finest restaurants with the freshest food. One evening, we even received home hospitality from a local mosaic artist. Lastly, our trip ended with a tour of The Holocaust Museum. There were 14 exhibitions and time permitted us to attend seven. Thought and emotions hit you differently when it is not about someone else someplace else. The belongings and the stories were relatives of people we interacted with. Shoes, backpacks, notebooks, was personal. The numbers calculated on a digital wall; the room full of thick books; some written in Hebrew, some pages written in German. Language was no barrier to the feeling of grief and loss mixed with intrigue. Taking-in such an exhibit was humbling. The compassion that ensued for the victims that we only read about in textbooks made me reflect as I stood inside there looking around. It was difficult to hold back tears while looking at sculptures and faces. Simply, this was an unexpected twist to how we pictured our day. It made me wish I had spent more time there to see the rest and perhaps reschedule my walk through Jerusalem and the moment I said a prayer at the Wailing Wall. I can’t think of a more meaningful experience for an artist to have. 

“We The Explorers” NASA launch of origins was an art installation inside a near-earth asteroid, onboard OSIRIS-Rex. Creative artists and writers submitted work to NASA’s art department in order for them to load images and documents onto a microchip. That microchip was installed on the spacecraft. The wings on the spacecraft have solar panels that keep it in orbit. The spacecraft reached its destination in December 2018. A sample will extract a sample from the asteroid, named  Bennu. The sample is scheduled to be brought back to earth by September 24, 2023.  

What current projects are you working on?

I am currently in the middle of my first virtual exhibition, called VX1. This is a social media- driven exhibition of all things black and white and mostly works I have created during the pandemic. UrbanDigitz is the brand label for my artwork and I am pouring all 4 dimensions of my catalog into the new launch of my fashion line, MFINITY FASHION. I make wearable canvases. My “Luxury Fashion. Artist Brand” features custom textiles of hand-drawn sketches, graphic design, street art and jewelry.

What advantages does being in Northwest Ohio/Toledo offer your efforts?

One advantage that being in Northwest Ohio/Toledo offers me is community connection, the chance to build an artistic life in a less expensive area and with a hometown platform. As I have explored many options, I have come back to one of my earliest notions… artistic fashion; a thought I have held since the age of nine. Toledo has significantly expanded its culture through the revival of arts and entertainment. Being in this area while growing up in the 80’s gives me a unique view. I have seen how things used to be in the era of downtown arcades, ice cream shops, theaters, and arenas and what it looks like for arts and entertainment to be a major reason to repurpose buildings, revitalizing the city. I have been part of this arts renaissance in Toledo for 14 years by way of volunteerism, teaching art to youth, after school programs, summer camps, exhibitions, live performances, fashion shows and today, virtual exhibitions.

Tell us about one of your greatest successes.

I don’t believe I can talk about anything as if it were one of my greatest successes. I have spent the last 14 years exploring how best to maximize my knowledge of uncommon processes and alternative materials; things I learned in college at BGSU and blending that with new ideas. My journey has been a rollercoaster of challenges and amazing “once in a lifetime” opportunities and moments. What I can say is that each one of my experiences, creative and non-creative, cumulatively set me up for what has been my most recent focus ... wearable artwork. The realization of artistic fashion as an exhibition is my first morsel of success on my pile of cool happenings and projects I’ve completed thus far. I have created a new way for the public to enjoy my artwork and to expand my patron-base to new audiences. The word, “commission” has a new meaning for me. Custom clothing specified by a shopper’s request to be adorned in my graphics, drawings and paintings of their choice places art-buying in a different realm. This fashion endeavor has spawned consistency for the way I intend to exhibit moving forward. I consider that a success; a far departure from my experimental processes on display in previous years. 

Tell us who or what inspires you?

I am extremely inspired by Oscar winner, Ruth Carter, costume designer for the movie, Black Panther and Love & Basketball plus a ton of Spike Lee films. Her mindfulness and expression of the black experience and African-rooted aesthetic make me want to create African-infuenced artwork in celebration of the under-appreciated artistry African and black culture offers this world. Other inspirations on my list include dance movies/shows, makeup contest reality tv, Lego Masters, Food Network shows that revolve around cake and dessert and lastly, fashion runway challenge shows. I don’t have dull moments and rarely experience a creative block due to inspiration overload. My new artistic practices are the container for all of this creative consumption.

Tell us about your background.

Art has always been a part of my life. My mother was an old school graphic designer in the early 1980’s. Special instruments, one thousand pens, a new Carrera typewriter, press type letters, clip art and a small copy machine were all housed in the basement. Giant clip art books and special tape were intriguing to me. This was my first introduction to composition and mixed media. My drawing skills developed and my sense of fashion too. My mother and her sisters used to cut and sew new dresses for school the night before wearing them. It's stories like this that made me confident to pursue sewing on my own.  She often told me stories of how she would customize and dye shoes different colors in order to make sales as a shoe-store manager. My dad was into fashion as well. He has an eye for great sweaters, good leather and nice denim. He used to manage his own Levi Strauss store in Chicago in his 20’s. My creativity pulls on their stories and creative experiences. I started learning construction and set design from University of Toledo, at the age of 16, giving me basic woodworking skills and comfortability with power tools. My aspirations to be a cartoonist like Charles Shultz and make clothes that I designed myself is consistent with what I do today. I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Bowling Green State University. My concentration was in Digital Art, 3D Digital Character modeling and animation. My studio art support was metalsmithing where I began a journey into casting bronze and sterling silver jewelry. My education helped me fine-tune my skills in graphic design that I now use to create custom textiles. Wearable art still makes sense to me. Today, I have launched my luxury fashion, artist brand giving the public a new way to purchase my art. 

Do you have a motto or favorite quote you try to live by?

Don’t lean on your own understanding of this world, instead always stop to acknowledge God so that he can direct and order your next steps. I simply can’t say I have life figured out. I don’t even pretend. 

Favorite place for local culture?

I don’t have a specific local place that i go to for culture. Culture seems to be a feeling that comes and goes on an event-basis locally. I feel culture around art events, especially those that include a variety of people. mutual admiration for the other person’s craft or existence is a culture that has developed very well amongst Toledo’s artists and supporters of the arts, for example. Honestly, culture is the feeling I get when the public and fellow artists support a big event. Culture is when others celebrate a group lesser represented and do so genuinely. Culture is being redefined daily by which way we decide our views will sway and moving forward, how will we treat one another. To me, culture looks like “getting back to kindness”. If we can all get back there without discrimination, regardless of politics, religion, etc. adjusting our appetites to make room for positivity in this overwhelm of negativity. Accepting positivity in our life, letting go of hate and celebrating the good inside of ourselves and others. 

My favorite place to chill locally is . . . 

a coffee shop, with my headphones on and a laptop. When my ideas are strong and I see my way clear for something big to happen, this is where you can find me. This is my definition of chill. I believe in relaxation but I believe more in knowing your moment. I have opportunities and many moments that tell me, “Mercé, you need to get to work on this; improve this or that in your life; if you place your focus here right now...x,y, and z will happen”. It’s all a set-up! A set-up for great ideas to become realized and new levels to be achieved.

My favorite natural space in the Toledo area is . . . 

Any outdoor mall….just kidding. A walk around a familiar neighborhood is nice to wind-down between projects.

When I’m not working hard, I can always be found at . . . 

When I’m not working hard, I can always be found in my home studio after a 1 hour stroll through the nearest Target or hardware store. I will admit that there are transitions between working all day and night on multiple things. It’s in these times I reflect and gain momentum for miniature master plans that recur in my mind daily. My stroll through the store helps me visualize my most solid ideas for near-future projects. 

If you could change anything about the current landscape for creative, progressive people . . .

The creative landscape has expanded here in Toledo. More artists, more art-based business and more community culture events exist than ever before. In a midwest city of this size we still have the ability to increase the offerings for creative placemaking and workspace. The demand for special interests and niche markets is here, but it would be nice to have a center or district for niche groups to grow. A center that revolves around a strategic plan and vision, housing materials and workspaces in one place would give creatives one big place to come to grow their craft, test their ideas and form new businesses. A center like this would promote collaboration and give access to a space for major projects. The location is key. A downtown or central-city hub would be convenient. It would remind me of the old Portside concept which is now Imagination Station. There... I think I am on to something. A Portside or Union Station for artists. Accessible creative membership would allow artists to gather and exhibit more frequently. Art Union Station would be a great springboard for individuals to prepare themselves for grand opportunities and attract more industry this way.

3 words that best describe me or my work are . . .

Bright. Bold. Over-the-Top. These are three words that describe my personality that also spill over into my creative life. I love every color. As much as I love bold colors, I am a major fan of black and white.  Color grabs people’s attention and shifts one’s feelings in one direction or another. Black and white is a classic, neutral collaboration of shade that gets a standing ovation simply for their existence together. There’s no wrong way to play black and white and it's interesting how color helps shift the emotions that decide whether to embrace or reject the subject. Color has the ability to grab you and make your thoughts stand still.  As for me, I enjoy the relationships between color and tend to wear clothing that celebrates how awesome I think that color is. 

My biggest vice is . . .

Dancing while working, singing while studying and a creamy jar of peanut butter from which I enjoy a peanut butter tablespoon popsicle and an occasional handful of apple slices.


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