Connecting Art, Communications and Politics
Michelle and Leo D’Cruz opened the doors to their second-floor studio in April to reveal a brand-new contemporary art space downtown. After hauling 1,300 pounds of art from France to West Court Street, the final step was to fix a plaque to the entrance that boasts their logo in red and gray translucent letters: Reverb Art + Design.
Since 2014, Reverb has predominantly offered graphic design and communications services, but its co-owners and life partners have also been taking action to go beyond the basic definition of those lines of work.
“The idea of Reverb is that it generates waves outside of these walls,” says Leo, who also acts as the chief communications officer.
The two believe design and art should be used to innovate and create dialogue and solutions for social issues in the community. The recent gallery opening and plans for a communal meeting space are two ways Reverb is confronting these notions.
“We’re really excited to finally bring folks in and start doing what we’ve been planning to do. I think we found the perfect artist to kick things off,” says Michelle, who is also Reverb’s creative director and curator. The artist is Detroit-based metalsmith Tiff Massey, whose wearable sculptures and geometric jewelry challenge the viewer/wearer to contemplate class and race. Her exhibit, Untethered, opened along with the gallery last month.
Magnified square formations of lustrous, welded metals hang starkly against the white brick walls of the gallery. Despite their immensity, one piece in particular attracted an exceptional amount of attention at the opening. “Quilt Code 2 Noir” is at the very least an example of careful craftsmanship and thoughtful pattern work. What shows superficially are rudimentary shapes carved into a large piece of black wood, which Massey more profoundly refers to as a language inspired by traditional African patterns and symbols.
“We knew [Massey] had a point of view,” Leo says. “She wanted to start conversations about race, about class, about gender and sexuality. We want our space to activate those types of questions and conversations.”
Leo and Michelle began their careers — his in policy and sociology and hers in design and marketing — separately after graduating from Pennsylvania State University one year apart and completing graduate school at George Mason University and Cranbrook Academy of Art, respectively. It wasn’t until they moved to Cincinnati (for the second time) from California, pursuing a sense of home and community, that they decided to merge their talents and passions.
“We knew whatever it was that we wanted to do had to be revenue-driven, but it also had to be personally satisfying,” Leo says.
Considering the range of organizations and causes Leo and Michelle participate in, Reverb might be an ever-changing operation. Aside from their design and communication efforts, they are both members of “The 50” who donated and ensured free admittance to the Contemporary Arts Center; Michelle sits on the board of Caracole, an organization that gives supportive services to people with HIV/AIDS; and the two are proud Northside residents and co-editors of The Northsider.
Molding Reverb into something that reflects Leo and Michelle’s shared ideals while demonstrating their different approaches has yielded a business in which politics, art and communications overlap. With a list of more than 70 local and national design clients, including the Democratic Hispanic Latino Caucus, Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber and Mended Hearts, they want to start reaching out to more local, grassroots organizations.
“We live the ideals that our clients do,” Michelle says. “We are involved in the things we believe in — the work comes from there, because people see that. They want someone who has a vested interest in the same things.”
Even more recent than the gallery opening, Reverb landed what Michelle and Leo call a “dream client” — Cincinnati Pride 2016. Reverb Art + Design is contracted to complete design needs of the historic civil rights defender, including signage for the 43rd-annual Pride Week and Parade in June.