Anderson Creative’s Craig Joseph tells stories through artSmart, talkative, funny, self-aware and bursting with creativity and ideas, Craig Joseph wears many hats well. As curator of the downtown Canton gallery Anderson Creative Studio, he dreams up and organizes clever and thought-provoking art shows.
At the Players Guild and Kathleen Howland Theatre, also downtown, he directs and acts in challenging plays. He writes fiction. He makes and collects art. He has been a youth pastor and a teacher.
When I ask myself ‘How did I get to be who I am?’ it boils down to one thing — I’m a person who loves telling stories, writing stories and building community around stories,” says Joseph, a 1993 GlenOak High School grad.
“From the time I was 5, I was writing books, always putting on plays. I come from a big ethnic (Syrian-Lebanese) family, and there’s always someone telling stories somewhere. Early on, that got imprinted on my DNA.”
No surprise, then, that storytelling is a common thread in the exhibitions at Anderson Creative Studio. “Blind Date” paired artists and writers to interpret each other’s work either visually or verbally. “Uncensored” collected diverse works by artists from around the country that had faced censorship issues, primarily due to political or sexual content, and shared these background stories.
“Habitat” chronicled a bumbling fictitious explorer through journals, photographs, sketches and taxidermied creatures, created by artists, actors and a writer. In “Stations of the Cross,” local artists offered personal and innovative visualizations of events leading up to, and including, Christ’s crucifixion. A total of 102 artists and writers had their work exhibited at the gallery in 2010.
“One of the things we have in our mission statement at Anderson Creative is to create a livelier exchange between artwork and viewer,” Joseph says. “People don’t do a quick pass-through. They read and look and discuss and ask questions. It’s really gratifying.
“We’re educating people how to look at artwork. We’re setting the bar high and asking them to jump a little bit,” he says. “And hopefully convincing them that art is necessary, that it makes us better human beings.”
Anderson Creative has a full lineup of inventive exhibitions booked through year’s end. For March, 20 area artists were asked to select a fondly remembered toy from their childhood and create an artwork inspired by and possibly incorporating the toy.
The gallery is owned by Kevin Anderson, a designer and builder of artistically functional furniture. He and Joseph have been friends since the eighth grade, having met in the youth group at Christ Presbyterian Church.
“We were always immature and wildly creative together,” Joseph says. “We’ve been each other’s inspiration and creative muse.”
It was Anderson who inspired Joseph to return to his hometown in October 2009, after spending 10 years in Chicago and two in Minneapolis.
“Because of my friendship with Kevin, I knew there was some percolating going on in the art scene in Canton,” Joseph says. “I thought it might be cool to go back for a while and see what that was like. It was very organic.”
Joseph curated the Anderson gallery’s successful “Blind Date” show and the ball started rolling. “After three or four shows, I said to Kevin, ‘Hey, what if I’m officially the curator and you’re officially the owner?’ ” he says. “We complement each other.”
Despite its often challenging artwork, especially by Canton standards, Anderson Creative actually is selling artwork. “In the last year, we’ve had 85 different buyers, some of them repeat customers, which for our first year is pretty stinking good,” Joseph says. “Art isn’t cheap. We’re selling a luxury product in a lousy economy in a Rust Belt city.”
Joseph himself is a committed/addicted art collector. “I have a massive and diverse art collection because I love it,” he says. “I have stuff from all over the world, all different styles. I have a list of folks in Canton I want to own pieces by. People don’t think they need art. I definitely do.”
HE’S A THEATER GUY, TOO
In addition to curating monthly exhibitions at the Anderson Creative gallery, Craig Joseph is making his mark on the local theater scene.
Most recently, he directed “The Elephant Man” on the Players Guild’s arena stage.
Last October, he starred in “Chesapeake,” a one-man play about a performance artist who kidnaps the dog of the conservative senator who got his funding revoked from the National Endowment for the arts.
Last summer, he directed — and wound up starring in — “Then Wave,” an intense play about a Gulf War veteran suffering from paranoid delusions who abuses his wife and son.
His stage interest can be traced back to his alma mater, GlenOak High School, where he appeared in “tons of plays,” among them “Death of a Salesman,”“Anything Goes” and “Oklahoma!” “My junior and senior year (at GlenOak), they set up an I.S. program for me, and a friend and I wrote and directed two musicals that we cast teachers in.The first was a British-sex-farce murder-mystery musical. The second was a political satire inspired by Jim and Tammy Bakker, Gary Hart and Oliver North.” Heady stuff for a high-schooler.
After graduating from GlenOak in 1993, Joseph spent four years at Wake Forest University in Winston- Salem, N.C. “I had a double major in English and religion, but I was involved in theater the entire time,” he says.
Next, he moved to Chicago, where he earned a master’s degree in theater at Northwestern University, while acting in, directing and serving as dramaturg for a plethora of productions — “The Wiz,” “Damn Yankees,” “The Master Builder,” “Noises Off ”— at Northwestern and professional theaters around the city. “I did some really good storefront stuff.”
“As I get older, I find that I’m preferring to direct,”Joseph says, although he recently traveled to Chicago, and learned an entire script in one day to replace an actor in a play who had to go to a funeral.
“My life is ridiculous,” he says, with a chuckle.