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Cleveland’s art doesn’t need special treatment

Words by Evan Harms

Last weekend I went home to Cleveland for about 28 hours, primarily to see my girlfriend and secondarily to do laundry. One of my favorite activities is to explore all aspects of that city, from bigger, more obvious places in Lakewood to smaller, out of the way oddities dotted throughout the Big Plum.

While perhaps entry-level, University Circle is one of my favorite places to go — it’s absolutely stuffed with art, architecture, history, music and beyond. Which is why, last weekend, we made our way to the world-renowned Cleveland Museum of Art.

We spent a couple of hours meandering through the galleries, and I actually got to see things I’ve never seen before (or at least don’t remember seeing). Hidden among rooms of Buddhist art, Post-Modern paintings and Native American stone carvings was a very small room solely dedicated to Clevelanders.

The quality of the art was incredible, of course. There were drawings, paintings, ceramics and metalworks on display. It was cool to have this separate room for Cleveland-related artistic works, but it still felt very sparse.

Later, during the drive back to Kent, I found myself thinking and reflecting on that strange little room. It was cool to see Cleveland and Clevelanders represented in a special way, but it didn’t quite feel meaningful. Still flying down I-480, I tried thinking of what a meaningful exhibition of Cleveland art would look like.

Of course, it wouldn’t look like anything. Our creative communities tend to thrive on diversity, in background and form. When I think of art in Cleveland, I think of those horrible, corny guitars that have become much harder to find lately, but they ruled my childhood. However, we saw a unique approach: using a uniform template for our artists to build upon. Sometimes they felt a little forced and redundant, but they were generally a pleasant site.

I also tend to think of public art — not just our wonderful, free CMA — but outdoor sculptures and installations, like the colorful creatures that fill downtown.

A cohesive vision for an urban art scene is ridiculous, impossible even. This isn’t meant to be a long-winded slam against the CMA, but their tiny Cleveland exhibition seemed a little halfhearted. Instead of taking a vision for specific Clevelanders, weave their work into the greater scheme of the museum and, in turn, the world.

It’s not their job alone. Local galleries, shops, artists themselves and ultimately you, the reader, should feel some sense of obligation, or at least desire, to search out and identify important creative figures in your community. Get in on the ground floor, because Cleveland’s creative power is only beginning to be realized.

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