Cleveland: The Next Venice?

Could Cleveland, Ohio become the next Venice, Italy? Before you scoff at the idea, consider this.

“In 1894 Venice, which we think of as a tourist spot these days, a sparkling jewel on the Adriatic, was hot on its heels: a failed port city, a backwater of Europe, in search of purpose,” Fred Bidwell, Executive Director for FRONT International: Cleveland Triennial of Contemporary Art, told “They had to do something to rebuild and reimagine what that city meant and that was the origin of the Venice Biennale.”

The Venice Biennale is the most prestigious and longest-running art event in the world. Hundreds of thousands of people from around the world visit every two years to experience the art-filled pavilions selected by participating countries and the galaxy of ancillary programs that have spawned their popularity.

“That idea of ​​a World Art Fair changed Venice from being an ancient city to a really important destination,” Bidwell said. “That’s my dream for Cleveland.”

Cleveland, in fact, is better positioned to become “the next Venice” than Venice is to become the first Venice. Again, before you scoff, consider this.

Cleveland’s arts and culture infrastructure already exists on a world-class basis. The Cleveland Museum of Art is one of the top 10 art museums in the country. Joining him in service to the region are the Akron Museum of Art, the Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin College, the Cleveland Museum of Contemporary Art, the Sculpture Center, one of the few such institutions in the U.S. artist support organization/gallery, and Transformer Station, Bidwell’s privately owned and operated art museum on Cleveland’s west side.

Don’t forget about the exceptional Cleveland Institute of Art. Or the city’s orchestra, ranked the second best in America and the fifth best in the world in a 2022 survey. Or the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Who’s making fun now?

Cleveland’s latest cultural offering with a global reach enters the home stretch of its second edition when the FRONT Triennial concludes on October 2, 2022.

“Cleveland has these fantastic arts institutions, but they often aren’t as well visited because (Cleveland) isn’t on the coast. It’s not a big tourist town,” Bidwell said. “The birth of (the FRONT Triennale) was what would happen if we brought together all the museums in the region and some of the most important educational institutions to make an exhibition of contemporary art, united around a theme, directed by an artistic director , for a whole summer every three years.”

Debuting in 2018, the second version of FRONT this summer brought together more than 100 artists at more than 30 locations in Cleveland, Akron and Oberlin. The museums, of course, but also the Cleveland Public Library, the Cleveland Clinic, and an old Quaker Oats factory. Collaborations and new commissions from artists from all over the world were presented. Julie Mehretu, Nicole Eisenman, Jacolby Satterwhite, Firelei Baez, Chakaia Booker. Movies, shows, public programs.

“This is not a regional art show. This is contemporary art on the level of Tokyo, Hong Kong, New York, Paris, London in the Midwest,” explained Bidwell, who twice served as chairman of the Akron Art Museum board and is currently on the board. board of the Cleveland Museum of Art. . “There is some cognitive dissonance here, right. How is it possible? But that’s part of the attraction and our visitors are often here for the first time and have never been to a Midwestern city. It’s a bit like an exotic safari, but that’s a good thing because once you have that experience, it’s great.”

Turns out there’s high culture throughout the Midwest beyond Chicago despite the region’s Rust Belt, Drew Carey brand of meat and potatoes. Compelling, provocative, best-of-breed arts events and institutions call places like Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Detroit, Indianapolis, Grand Rapids, MI, Toledo, OH and Sheboygan, WI home.

and Cleveland.

FRONT may be the most ambitious of all with its stated mission to “make Cleveland one of the world’s leading destinations for arts and culture”.

Bidwell’s goals are even higher.

“There is a real opportunity with this model to change the balance of power in the art world,” he said. “New York, Los Angeles, Miami, those are great art centers in the United States… but their art events are all commercial. The Armory Show or Art Basel Miami, those are trade shows; all the art you see there is for sale. That’s a big difference from FRONT, which is idea-driven and free and open to the public, paid for by philanthropy. We are giving artists the freedom to work without a commercial motivation, outside the pressure cooker of the commercial art world, and giving audiences a very high-quality experience.”

Bidwell’s apt mention of Miami as capital of the arts may be a better example of Cleveland’s cultural aspirations than Venice. No one would have considered Miami an art destination before Art Basel arrived there in 2002. Now, it is without a doubt a global hotspot for contemporary arts. Art Basel Miami has become the largest and most prestigious contemporary art fair in North America, at least perhaps now eclipsing its Swiss predecessor.

Miami’s transition occurred in just 20 years, triggered by an event, built on a foundation that is not as culturally rich as Cleveland’s.

The inaugural edition of FRONT generated more than 90,000 visitors from more than 25 countries and brought $31 million in new economic activity to the region. That success drew attention locally, where increasingly, Bidwell sees acceptance of the Cleveland idea for the arts.

“Civic leaders, the new mayoral administration, the philanthropic community are really starting to think about arts and culture as drivers of Cleveland’s brand,” he said. “I think a lot of people, even though we’ve had these great institutions since the turn of the century, took it for granted; ‘God, the Cleveland Museum, the Cleveland Orchestra has always been here, doesn’t every mid-sized city have these institutions?’ Of course not, but that’s what happens when you grow up with it. You take it for granted. Initiatives like FRONT have caused city leaders to say, ‘Wait a minute, we actually have a tangible competitive difference here in arts and cultural assets that can be leveraged.’ It may be very difficult to turn Cleveland into a high-tech capital, that may take 30 years, but we already have the arts and cultural assets, but we’ve never harnessed them effectively.”

Cleveland as the next Venice?

Who’s making fun now?

See also  Non-profit organization hosts "Coffee for a Cause" to help people with developmental disorders

Leave a Comment