The inaugural FRONT International triennial will use art to showcase Northeast Ohio and shine a light on its neighborhoods, including Glenville
By Amanda Koehn
About 40 years ago, Cleveland-based artist Dale Goode painted a mural depicting abstract, African-American faces at East 105th Street and Superior Avenue in Cleveland’s Glenville neighborhood. At the time, there were few, if any, murals in the neighborhood despite them popping up elsewhere in the city.
Although Goode says his mural was intended to spur prominent displays of art in Cleveland’s predominantly African-American communities, like Glenville, the neighborhood’s art scene never gained momentum. In fact, the building on which his mural was painted was torn down just a few years ago. Still, Goode and other community leaders insist the neighborhood’s culture continues to lend itself uniquely to an arts scene that simply hasn’t yet been fully realized.
“I think there’s a lot of character, there’s a lot of texture there,” says Goode, who lives near the border of Glenville and Hough and still makes art there. “I think it has an awful, awful lot of potential artistically, aesthetically and culturally.”
This summer, Glenville will get an injection of new art in the form of the FRONT International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art, a regional arts event – the likes of which Northeast Ohio has never seen – that will blanket the area with unique arts programming from July 14 to Sept. 30.
With hubs of art installations around Cleveland and surrounding cities, the wide-ranging collaboration between world-class arts institutions – think Cleveland Museum of Art, Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland, Akron Art Museum and the Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin – is not only novel for Northeast Ohio, but the United States. It features artists in residence from around the world whose work is being developed around the theme “An American City,” which isn’t singularly Cleveland but innately reflects it.
As part of the triennial, a building in Glenville, The Madison, is housing artists in residence as they filter in and out of the city working on installations. Also, six of the nearly 100 artists involved are working on projects in or about Glenville.
FRONT’s founder, Fred Bidwell, says he’s hopeful Glenville’s arts programming will re-introduce Northeast Ohioans to a neighborhood that’s nearby yet someplace they’ve likely never spent time. In addition, neighborhood artists like Goode and community leaders are hopeful it could spur a renaissance of art, culture and investment the community has been building toward.
FRONT’s first draft
The concept for FRONT was developed by Bidwell, a local philanthropist, art collector and co-founder of Transformer Station, an exhibition space in the Hingetown district of Cleveland’s Ohio City neighborhood. Bidwell says after seeing the success of Transformer Station in bringing people to a community – Hingetown is now one of the hottest districts in the city – he wondered what a larger arts concept could bring to the region.
“Even though it’s going to be a major arts and culture experience for the people of Northeast Ohio, this is really an economic development project to bring new dollars into the city and to also rebrand the city as a cultural and intellectual hub,” Bidwell says of FRONT’s potential.
In Cleveland, programming will largely be found in three walkable neighborhoods: Ohio City, downtown and University Circle/Glenville. Further, the locations within each neighborhood – and the art inside them – will be expertly curated.
“We didn’t just pick these places and projects randomly,” Bidwell says. “They are all tightly bound to the places they are in.”
For example, St. John’s Episcopal Church in Ohio City, a stop on the Underground Railroad, will feature a photography collection by 2017 MacArthur Fellow Dawoud Bey of Chicago. The photos depict escaped slaves moving north through Cleveland, reconstructing a historic moment of the African-American experience in the city.
The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland will host a 24-channel video animation piece on American economies by New York artist Philip Vanderhyden. Accordingly, the Cleveland Public Library will have an installation by Yinka Shonibare, of London, depicting books and shelves wrapped in African wax cloth and exploring ideas on immigration and borders.
A Cleveland Foundation Creative Fusion artist in residence Juan Araujo, of Lisbon, Portugal, will depict themes of architecture and modernism through an array of media at architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s historic Weltzheimer/Johnson House in Oberlin.
In Glenville, The Madison, formerly a medical office building named after its original designer and Ohio’s first licensed black architect, Robert P. Madison, was restored to house artists. An adjoining former day care center was also redeveloped as the FRONT Porch, where visitors can engage with artists. Together, they form the PNC Glenville Arts Campus.
Bidwell says those spaces were chosen because they presented large, unutilized real estate to serve as a home base for the artists.
“(Glenville) is obviously a neighborhood that has been disinvested in for many years, but it’s really got such great bones,” he says. “And with its proximity to University Circle, there is a real potential for revival there.”
Goode is among the FRONT artists whose work will focus on Glenville’s history and culture. In transition from his mural days, for the past 10 years he’s worked primarily in sculpture, creating installations from repurposed found objects made of materials like steel, old fences and clothes. He recently had work shown at the Akron Art Museum and the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown.
For FRONT, he’s working on abstract sculptures made from shredded steel, aluminum cans and copper that will be shown in a lot across the street from the FRONT Porch.
“It’s an artistic and aesthetic statement – not so much a political statement, but maybe it will be – about the amount of waste we produce as Americans and as human beings,” Goode says.
As an artist who’s a lifelong Northeast Ohio resident, Goode is uniquely positioned to introduce visitors to his part of town – something he hopes will translate into Glenville’s culture being reflected in FRONT.
Glenville’s arts presence
Back in the 1930s, Glenville was a largely Jewish part of the city, and by the 1960s, it was predominantly African-American – as it is today. For 50 years, the neighborhood has struggled with disinvestment and decay while its residents face crime and income inequality.
For the last 20 years, though, Famicos Foundation, a community development corporation, has worked to strengthen the neighborhood and build systematic investments. It’s gradually seen success. For example, a portion of Glenville, Circle North, just north of University Circle, has prospered in recent years.
However, Khrys Shefton, director of real estate development at Famicos, says its successes haven’t been felt in the rest of the neighborhood, which extends north to Interstate 90.
Further, she says, the areas where investors have pooled their resources – areas close in proximity and appearance to University Circle – don’t necessarily reflect the arts and culture of Glenville.
“They associate everything that’s positive about the neighborhood, not with Glenville, but with other things,” Shefton says. “So, the neighborhood’s cultural identity is stripped from it and they say it belongs to other places so other people can feel comfortable coming here. And I think that’s a real tragedy.”
Shefton says artists have long lived in Glenville but that the neighborhood isn’t often recognized for that.
To that point, while Goode’s 1978 mural has come down, many other murals exist in Glenville. In fact, in February, FRONT hosted a program, “Glenville Exchanges: The History of Glenville told through its Murals,” to discuss the neighborhood’s wealth of murals, which FRONT participants and visitors would do well to explore.
One example of a Glenville mural is “Our Lives Matter!,” an original work by Gary R. Williams and Robin M. Robinson of Sankofa Fine Art Plus, a nonprofit community arts organization in Cleveland’s Glenville neighborhood. Williams and Robinson also led FRONT’s Glenville Exchanges discussion.
On the whole, an increased arts presence would bring to the forefront aspects of Glenville that are cultured and special rather than dilapidated or gentrified. Potential residents and business owners often find murals, art galleries and other culturally rich attractions to be inviting, a dynamic that’s been transformative for neighborhoods like Ohio City and Tremont.
However, change doesn’t happen overnight, and art – particularly outside art – can’t be the sole component. Shefton says it’s important Glenville residents have an active role in FRONT, and in turn, that outsiders give the neighborhood a chance.
Glenville – like many areas in and around Cleveland – would benefit from investment that preserves its culture. To that end, once FRONT has wrapped up, The Madison will become apartments sold at market rate. Bidwell is hopeful the artful component will attract diverse businesses and allow for sustainable revitalization on and around East 105th Street.
While Goode says he’s “excited and amazed” to gain exposure and see money come into his neighborhood and city, Shefton seems cautiously optimistic. She says Glenville residents she talks with seem intrigued about the triennial’s potential, though, and the idea that more Clevelanders will come to know and appreciate the neighborhood for the strong culture it’s already cultivated seems like a fair bet.
She reiterates, however, Glenville’s success rests more on the shoulders of Northeast Ohioans – artists included – than national or international audiences.
“We need to be satisfied that if nobody from any other place in this country ever comes to this place again, it’s good enough for all of us,” she says. “Just embrace it as another neighborhood that has all sorts of cool things for you to visit and do, and you can spend the day there – and spend some money.” CV
Installations and exhibitions related to FRONT will be on view from July 14 to Sept. 30 at about 20 locations throughout Northeast Ohio. Serving as the triennial’s main hubs will be four of the region’s large museums:
- Akron Art Museum: 1 S. High St., Akron
- Allen Memorial Art Museum: 87 N. Main St., Oberlin
- Cleveland Museum of Art: 11150 East Blvd., Cleveland
- Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland: 11400 Euclid Ave., Cleveland
FRONT’s opening gala will be held from 6 to 10 p.m. July 13 at Public Auditorium in Cleveland and will feature performances by Beijing-based artist collective, Asian Dope Boys.
For a full list of FRONT venues and for opening gala ticket information, visit frontart.org.
CAN Triennial to run concurrently to FRONT
While FRONT will bring an international focus to Northeast Ohio during its two-and-a-half-month run, the Collective Arts Network, a Northeast Ohio nonprofit that consists of about 100 area galleries and arts institutions, will aim to highlight local artists as well as the regional arts scene.
To accomplish that, CAN will stage its inaugural CAN Triennial from July 7-29 at the 78th Street Studios in Cleveland’s Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood.
“The key difference between this and FRONT is we want to add to the excitement and energy of FRONT, and simultaneously take advantage of it on behalf of artists and galleries of Northeast Ohio,” says Michael Gill, CAN executive director, adding that 545 artists from seven counties surrounding Cleveland applied to show work and about 80 will be chosen.
The three-week event, which in addition to visual arts will include film and music series, will take over two city blocks and three floors with exhibits revealing beauty, struggle, innovation, resilience and cultural influences, according the CAN’s website.
“Curatorially, I think we want to do something that hasn’t happened in a big way in Cleveland in a while, which is to have a large-scale curated overview of artmaking here,” Gill says.
For more information, visit cantriennial.org.
Lead image: The PNC Glenville Arts Campus, which includes the FRONT Porch, will serve as a place where visitors can engage with artists during the FRONT triennial. Photo by Michael C. Butz.