Cleveland, United States
We know that Cleveland rocks, but have you ever considered Cleveland as a world-class, avant-garde center of arts and culture? I was very surprised to learn during a recent whirlwind visit that Cleveland has artistic venues and innovations that are on par with those of any major city in America.
From 1994 to 2001 the number of domestic visitors to Cleveland doubled from 4.4 to over 9 million, and it is easy to see why. There is an exciting momentum in this city that has been propelled by the establishment of new hotels and restaurants, the revitalization of neighborhoods and the partnership of artists, politicians and business people to change Cleveland from a polluted steel town to an exciting and vibrant cultural destination.
The commitment to hometown artists is obvious, as every time you turn around in Cleveland you find some interesting connection to the artistic community. For example, there are friendly musicians and other artists who perform on city sidewalks as part of the Sparx “Street Beats” program. These people who are considered city ambassadors are actually paid a salary to perform rather than having to rely on tips. Part of the point is to let artists know that their work is valued and that they deserve to be paid for it.
During my three-day weekend in Cleveland, I learned about the revitalization of downtown’s Euclid Ave, through arts and culture initiatives such as the decoration of fire hydrants and storefronts by local artists. This area used to be the lively theatre district in the 40’s, but had become run down and deserted. Now, change is in the air as buildings are being renovated into condos and new businesses are being established. I toured the future House of Blues, a mammoth project that is expected to be completed by November 2004. It will include a giant stage – complete with a mosh pit and seats for 45,000. I met amazing artists in the ArtCade, also known as the Colonial Marketplace, due to its history as the first indoor & outdoor mall in the United States. This beautifully constructed building now acts as an art incubator where the work of new artists is shown in innovative galleries.
One such artist is the charming Corlette “the nutman” Baylock who makes innovative cartoonish looking art pieces out of the half shells of pistachio nuts. He uses slogans with the word nut to add to the humor to his work – like “get your life in a nutshell” and “a nut is a terrible thing to waste.” Cortette tells me that since these nuts are expensive he has fans all over the world sending him their used shells. His “Dots to Nuts” gallery had a been a fixture in the ArtCade for years.
Also impressive was the Tower Press building where artists have wonderful live and work spaces, some of which are financially subsidized. The opening of Artefino, a novel gallery and café by notable local artist Hector Vega, coincided with an opportunity to tour the artists studios and apartments where they create unique arts forms. The artists love having the opportunity to work and live among other artists. 16 apartments are set aside for promising artists at below market rates. I toured apartments that housed painters, a filmmaker, a clothes designer and artists who works with mixed media.
So much more is going on in Cleveland. There are art walks in unique neighborhoods such as historic Tremont and Little Italy. It was great fun to tour various galleries and shops where the proprietors offered us refreshments such as wine, lemonade and gourmet cookies.
I was completely taken aback by University Circle, where numerous world class educational and cultural institutions such as the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Western Reserve Historical Society, and the Cleveland Botanical Gardens are within a stones throw from each other. You can literally walk from one to the other in minutes and spend your entire trip just soaking in art, history and culture. One of the highlights of my time in Cleveland was a chance to view Parade the Circle, which takes place in the midst of all of these institutions. This is a yearly community event that is completely inclusive – any group can enter and create its own artistic vision. I saw groups of school children, seniors, musicians, people with disabilities, various races and ethnic groups all intermingled in an uplifting and colorful celebration of the Cleveland’s dedication to the philosophy that art as something that belongs to all of us.
Even the hotel where I stayed, the classy Intercontinental Suites Hotel, which is located within the Cleveland Clinic Foundation Campus, shows its devotion to the arts through the beautiful galleries and art pieces scattered throughout the hotel. The rooms are quite comfortable and the staff is extremely attentive.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame helped get Cleveland back on the map in the mid-90’s and it is still a fantastic attraction that you shouldn’t miss if you make it Cleveland. For those of us raised on Rock and Roll, this is the place to find the rediscover the music of your favorite rock stars through a remarkable collection of memorabilia and interactive exhibits.
It is uplifting to realize what a long way Cleveland has come. A city that was once known as the “Mistake on the Lake” in the 70’s when the Cayuga river caught fire due to all of the pollutants, is now proudly moving forward to become a wonderful tourist attraction where you can have an greatly enjoyable arts filled getaway, with a lot less traffic and expense than the you would find in the larger cities.
For more information contact:
Convention and Visitors Bureau of Greater Cleveland
Intercontinental Suites Hotel Cleveland
8800 Euclid Ave.
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum
1 Key Plaza