Four institutions on Northeast Ohio’s western edge represent a wealth of artistic offerings
By Ed Carroll
From a world-class museum at a liberal arts college to a cutting-edge gallery at an outdoor shopping center, or from a thriving community arts hub on the shores of Lake Erie to an all-in-one community college arts center home to both visual and performance art, Northeast Ohio’s outer-ring West Side suburbs have something to satisfy artistic interests of all types.
Varied only slightly by geography, the Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin College, Gallery W at Crocker Park in Westlake, BAYarts in Bay Village and Stocker Arts Center at Lorain County Community College in Elyria combine to make western Cuyahoga and eastern Lorain counties a well-respected hot spot for those in the immediate area and a must-experience destination for those who aren’t already familiar.
Oberlin’s art ‘gem’
The Allen Memorial Art Museum in Oberlin celebrated its centennial anniversary June 12, and like most institutions that have stood for a century, it’s steeped in history.
The Allen Memorial Art Museum was founded by Elisabeth Severance Allen Prentiss and her husband, Dr. Dudley Allen, who wanted to build an art museum for Oberlin College. Allen passed away before construction began, hence it’s a memorial museum. Renowned architect Cass Gilbert designed the building.
Megan Harding, manager of publications, membership and media for the Allen Memorial Art Museum, says people in the area have grown up with the collection.
“It’s a resource people can come in and view for 10 to 15 minutes and look at one painting, or spend a couple hours and look at the entire collection,” she says.
The entire college is encouraged to use the museum as a resource, no matter the course material – be it an astronomy class measuring the quilt of the night sky or a mathematics class measuring the volume of an ancient Greek cup – because it likely has something to relate to it.
“We find that by combining (classes and the museum), students get a richer experience and an appreciation for the visual arts they might not otherwise have,” Harding says.
In addition, the Allen Memorial Art Museum showcases world-class works of art, which the public is free to enjoy.
“This is a very high-quality collection here,” Harding says. “These works are on par with what they have at the Cleveland Museum of Art. We have been ranked consistently for decades as one of the top five academic art museums in the country. People don’t know what they have here. It’s really a gem. It’s a wonderful place to visit.”
Gallery W is relatively new to Northeast Ohio’s art scene. It opened in 2016 on the first floor of American Greetings’ Creative Studios in Westlake’s Crocker Park shopping center. Gallery W is spacious, featuring ceilings that are 13 feet high and about 23,000 linear square feet of wall space.
Linda Marshall, creative director at American Greetings and gallery manager at Gallery W, describes the gallery as a “gift to everyone” from the company.
“American Greetings wanted to recognize our creative roots as an organization,” she says. “They wanted to make this a statement and an important statement. They decided to make this first floor kind of an olive branch to the community for anyone who wants to come in publicly to visit American Greetings or any guest to come into our gallery or our lobby and just enjoy creativity and be inspired.”
Due to the large space, Gallery W often features established artists – frequently affiliated with Northeast Ohio – who are capable and confident enough to hold the space. Recent shows have featured Barry Underwood, Sarah Kabot, Joseph Minek, Jerry Birchfield, George Kozmon and Loren Naji.
Megan Baucco, associate manager of marketing communications at American Greetings, says Gallery W is fortunate to be part of a larger corporation. As a result, it doesn’t need to sell art to survive, meaning it can take creative risks on the art it features.
“We try to humbly say we’re unique over here, and if we’re being technical about it, there’s nothing else like us,” she says. “We’re really fortunate that there’s no bottom line in Gallery W because that gives us a unique opportunity to show pieces others might not want to because they’re not for sale. If you think we’re just another art gallery to stop by and check out, then you need to come back a few more times and see how very different we are.”
BAYarts was founded by area artists seeking community in 1948. Originally named Baycrafters, the nonprofit became BAYarts in 2006, and today, it primarily operates as an arts education facility.
However, BAYarts artistic director Karen Petkovic says the organization has evolved to be more of a professional gallery and hosts regular exhibitions. BAYarts has two galleries: the Diane Boldman Education Gallery, which largely showcases work by BAYarts faculty, staff and students, and the Sullivan Family Gallery, which hosts shows featuring professional artists.
BAYarts’ base consists primarily of Bay Village, Westlake, North Olmsted and Avon Lake residents, but people from across Northeast Ohio visit the organization’s campus. When it comes to selecting artists to feature or finding curators for shows, Petkovic says she tries to reach past BAYarts’ base to infuse the galleries with artistic diversity, citing the “My Cuban Experience” and “Cuban Art Invitational” shows on view in July as recent examples.
“We always are trying to kind of shake it up a little bit,” she says.
BAYarts has thrived throughout the years, Petkovic says, in part due to its inviting atmosphere.
“It’s just a very welcoming place,” she says. “It has a huge history, and the fact that it’s in the (Cleveland) Metroparks – and the buildings are historic and interesting to the community – is part of it.
“We’ve worked really hard to have programming, shows, summer concerts and (other) things that really reach out to the community so that they can come out for an evening right in their own backyard and see a band or a professional gallery show and send their kids to classes. It kind of just does everything, bringing it together.”
The C. Paul Stocker Humanities and Fine Arts Center, commonly known as the Stocker Arts Center, was established in 1980 as part of Lorain County Community College in Elyria and serves as a multifunctional arts center not only for the college, but for the entire community, featuring two theaters, art education and a gallery, the Beth K. Stocker Art Gallery.
The Stocker Arts Center is open to the public and always free, for LCCC students and nonstudents alike, but those aren’t the sole reasons for its popularity.
Stocker Arts Center director Janet Herman Barlow suggests the center is so highly regarded because the college prioritizes supporting and cultivating it.
“I think the college has nurtured it throughout its history, for all 37 years it’s been here,” she says. “I think the college takes a lot of pride in what it can bring to the community and what it stands for.”
Stocker Arts Center presents theater, music and other fine arts, and its gallery showcases for both students and faculty.
“At least two of our shows every year are student exhibitions, strictly the work of students at Lorain County Community College,” she says. “Every other year, we do a faculty exhibition as well. This fall, we’ll open with the arts faculty fine arts exhibit. … It’s a sign that the college is deeply committed to fine arts – as well as to other kinds of academic programs.”
Herman Barlow says Stocker Arts Center is the “community’s arts center.”
“We’re the only place that really has it all in one,” she says. “We’re closer than you think and it’s worth making the trip.” CV
Allen Memorial Art Museum
“Maidenform to Modernishm: The Bissett Collection” and “This is Your Art: The Legacy of Ellen Johnson” opened Aug. 15 at 87 North Main St., Oberlin.
“Equal: Jessica Pinsky” and “Teacher Tell Me a Story: The Mad Side of Wonderland” will be on view through Sept. 23 at 28795 Lake Road, Bay Village.
“The 38th Annual American Greetings Fine Art Show” will be on view from Sept. 15 to Oct. 27. An opening reception will be held from 5 to 9 p.m. Sept. 15 at 1 American Blvd., Westlake.
Stocker Arts Center
The “Art Faculty Fine Art Exhibit” will be on view from Aug. 28 to Sept. 22. An artists’ reception will be held from 3 to 7 p.m. Aug. 31 at 1005 N. Abbe Road, Elyria. “James Massena March: Retrospective” will be on view from Sept. 28 to Oct. 27, with an artist’s reception from 3 to 7 p.m. Sept. 28.
The third annual FireFish Festival will again bring art, music, dance and fire performances to downtown Lorain – but this year, those events will span two instead of just one.
From 5 to 10 p.m. Oct. 6, the festival will feature regionally acclaimed music groups and art installations across Lorain’s abandoned storefronts.
From 2 to 11 p.m. Oct. 7, the party will continue with music, dance and theater performances, leading up to the grand finale, the FireFish Processional. There, the crowd will join dancers, fire jugglers, baton twirlers, stilt walkers and drummers as they make their way to the Black River landing for the lighting of ceremonial papier-mâché fish in a fire display.
The FireFish Festival was created by James Levin, who also co-founded IngenuityFest and founded
Cleveland World Festival.
For more, visit firefishfestival.com.
Lead image: “Moving Up” by Sarah Kabot, part of “Constructions” at Gallery W. Photo by Michael C. Butz