Artist Spotlight- Ben Smith

 As the community reflects on 2016 and the lasting arts-based infrastructure that now exists in North Collinwood, it’s impossible not to think of Ben Smith.

Smith is the creative force behind Riff Mechanics and the Splice Cream Truck – Cleveland’s only community recording studio in a former mail truck turned retro ice cream wagon. The Splice Cream Truck launched earlier this year as one of the nine winning Ballot Box Project proposals.

In case you missed it, the Ballot Box Project is a program of Northeast Shores Development Corporation that brought together the North Collinwood community in 2016 to decide how to spend $120,000 in community arts programming. Through Ohio’s first arts-based Participatory Budgeting effort, North Collinwood residents literally decided what neighborhood issues were most pressing, asked artists to create proposals addressing these needs and voted on the winning projects via ballot process.

Then Smith and eight other teams of selected artists hit the ground running.

For the last half of 2016, Smith traveled across the country to get a used mail truck that could be retrofitted into a recording studio with analog and digital equipment – and also happened to look like a 1970s ice cream truck.

Why exactly?

Through the Splice Cream Truck, Smith set out to record the stories of community members. At concerts, neighborhood meetings, festivals, block clubs, and just plain blind luck by driving around to find people, Smith developed a living, breathing history of Collinwood. Oral histories recorded in the truck are pressed to vinyl for preservation at neighborhood institutions, like the Cleveland Public Library. Smith’s dedication to building a people’s history is one of the reasons the community so resoundingly supported his proposal. It put history and storytelling in the hands of the people living here.

Plus, anyone with a story to tell got a free serving of homemade ice cream from the Splice Cream Truck.

As a musician, producer, composer, and audio engineer for the past 15 years (as well as collaborator at heart), Smith came to the idea for the Splice Cream Truck naturally. His roots are in classical composition and jazz, but he quickly dove into any and all genres of music. At a young age, he found his first love for music in the scores of films and video games – sounds that opened his imagination and transported him to other worlds.

In addition to running the Splice Cream Truck programming, Smith is a fulltime recording artist working on film, television and video game scores. His go-to media for recording are timeless analog technologies like tape and vinyl – technologies that Smith says produce a warmer sound that digital just can’t emulate.

While the warm weather and hours of daylight are dwindling, there will be at least one more appearance of the Splice Cream Truck before 2017 rolls around. Keep an eye on the Splice Cream Truck’s Facebook page for an upcoming visit to the Rose Center for Aging Well (16600 Lakeshore Blvd) in early December.

You can learn more about Ben Smith and his proposal for the Ballot Box Project here.