FRONT International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art opens with a press conference at the Cleveland Museum of Art July 14.

Stories and photos by Amanda Koehn

The FRONT International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art kicked off July 14, aiming to draw attention from near and far to Northeast Ohio’s historic struggles and efforts toward change, as well as the area’s thriving arts scene.

Local artists receiving fellowships from FRONT were also announced at the opening press conference at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

FRONT founder Fred Bidwell opened the program, signifying the start to the contemporary art triennial, which runs through Oct. 2. The 2022 event is the second iteration after beginning in 2018 and being postponed from 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hundreds to thousands of people worked toward bringing the event to fruition, he said, resulting in presentations of over 100 artists from around the world installing in 30 sites across the Northeast Ohio region.

He noted FRONT’s significance, given the hit the arts community has taken since the pandemic began.

“I cannot emphasize how damaging the pandemic has been,” he said. “I think we were all very aware of the hospitality sector, how that was impacted by COVID, but actually the arts and culture sector was even more damaged by the pandemic. And so, an event like this is particularly welcome for a sector that has taken a huge hit in the past few years.”

Founder Fred Bidwell speaks at the podium to introduce FRONT triennial’s second edition.

Aside from the pandemic, Bidwell said events like FRONT are an important counter-balance to the concentration of the art market in major coastal cities in North America.

“We think that distorts the art market and we, both artists and art lovers, crave for something more authentic, more diverse reflections of the world and communities around us, unconstrained by market traditions and driven by ideas,” he said. “That is FRONT. We think innovations in the contemporary art world can happen in places like Cleveland, and perhaps can only happen in places like Cleveland in the future,” noting the wide-ranging strength of the local arts community in making programming like this possible.

Prem Krishnamurthy, artistic director of the 2022 FRONT triennial, discussed how art can transform and heal at different scales. He explained the significance of FRONT’S 2022 title, “Oh, Gods of Dust and Rainbows,” which is from a 1957 Langston Hughes poem that reflects on adversity and prays for transformation. Aspects toward that transformation include how a daily practice of making art can serve as therapy and liberate individuals; that music, movement and aesthetic pleasure bring different people together toward healing; and artists questioning existing structures helps envision more equitable ways of living on a planetary scale, he described.

“… Art has the ability to speak with power,” Krishnamurthy said. “Artists have a privileged position where they sit with those who have power – social, economic, cultural, spiritual power. And they also have the means and tools to prototype new ways of living, and this is a power that art can bring to the world to change it in smaller and bigger ways every day.”

These big ideas are spread across the venues and artwork featured in “more and less obvious ways,” he said.

Prem Krishnamurthy, artistic director of the 2022 FRONT triennial, discusses the themes behind the exhibitions around Northeast Ohio.

Art Futures Fellowships announced

FRONT also announced its four inaugural recipients of the Art Futures Fellowship, a three-year program to support emerging Black, Latinx, Indigenous, Asian American and Pacific Islander visual artists in Northeast Ohio. Each honoree receives an unrestricted $25,000 award, in addition to career development, sponsored research and travel opportunities, as well as an offer to develop projects for FRONT’s 2025 exhibitions.

The recipients are: Amanda D. King, Antwoine Washington, Charmaine Spencer and Erykah Townsend.

Eighty artists applied for the fellowship, said Deidre McPherson, FRONT director of artistic and community initiatives, in announcing the winners. The selection committee ended up choosing four winners instead of the planned three due to the strong application pool, she said.

The aim of the awards is to help regional artists gain recognition and build careers, and shift systemic inequity in the field by increasing access to opportunities and resources for local artists of color, according to a press release.