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revival: new momentum in the contemporary arts scene is helping to revitalize region

Museum of Contemporary Art
Museum of Contemporary Art - Bob Perkoski

Thanks in no small part to progressive-minded industrialists of the last century, Cleveland boasts a rich arts history that includes iconic cultural institutions such as the world-class Cleveland Orchestra, internationally-renowned Cleveland Museum of Art and noteworthy PlayhouseSquare.
 
Today, a sort of arts renaissance is taking place, especially within the contemporary art community.
 
The region’s contemporary art scene has been re-energized in large measure by recent developments at both the Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) and the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) Cleveland.
 
Reaching a major milestone in the final phase of its $350-million renovation and expansion, CMA recently celebrated the grand opening of its 39,000-square-foot atrium. MOCA, too, just celebrated a huge coup, opening the doors to its new $27-million, 34,000-square-foot showpiece in University Circle. Both are garnering serious accolades on the regional, national and international fronts.

Cleveland’s modern art movement is thriving and growing, serving as a magnet for attracting visitors while proving an economic engine for revitalizing the region, say local arts leaders. And the timing couldn't be better, with increased travel and tourism in our city and county.
 
Recent data shows that nearly two million more visitors paid Cuyahoga County a visit last year than in 2009. And for 2012, estimates are that arts and cultural trips will number second only to beach visits, according to Lexi Hotchkiss, communications director of Positively Cleveland.
 
“When you’re looking at travel and tourism, new developments in arts and culture are a big theme for what we’re doing here and trying to promote,” Hotchkiss explains. “One in 11 jobs in Cuyahoga County is supported by tourism, which generated $1.9 billion in wages in 2011.”
 
Cleveland has much to offer contemporary art enthusiasts beyond the large, cultural icons. Arts enclaves continue to popup and expand in neighborhoods such as Asiatown, North Shore Collinwood, Slavic Village and Little Italy. Galleries are breathing new life into old neighborhoods, as 78th Street Studios does for Detroit Shoreway, SPACES for Ohio City, and the Screw Factory Artists’ Studios for Lakewood.
 
The Community Partnership for Arts and Culture (CPAC) strengthens art by offering research and programming, maintaining communication with other community groups, and engaging in public policy work that advances art and culture. CPAC obtains grants from Cuyahoga Arts & Culture, the political subdivision that receives and distributes proceeds from the cigarette tax, to provide fellowships to local artists. They also work to unite business and civic leaders with the arts and culture sector by highlighting the value the arts and culture sector brings to a community.
 
“The arts and culture sector has really started to move from the periphery of civic engagement to be a player, and that’s healthy for everybody,” notes Tom Schorgl, CPAC’s president and CEO. “It has two value propositions: the intrinsic, that helps develop empathy and provides an opportunity for people to come together from across the region, and the instrumental value, how art attracts people from outside the community. So there’s an economic stimulus it can provide.”
 
While it may not always be obvious, Cleveland’s art organizations support one another’s efforts, experts say. For example, when CMA exhibits contemporary art, it benefits MOCA by enhancing the ecosystem around contemporary culture, notes Jill Snyder, MOCA’s executive director.
 
“In a healthy arts community, contemporary art is strengthened by having the encyclopedic museum give it attention that educates the broader public,” she explains. “A contemporary art museum like ours can gain the benefit of a broader historical overview of connecting contemporary art to the art of the past. That creates an environment where people are more comfortable with and excited by contemporary art, and may be more comfortable collecting it. It also creates more energy for artists to stay in the region.”
 
And artist retention is critical to a thriving modern art community, say arts leaders. Fortunately, Cleveland’s supportive arts community coupled with affordable housing and quality of life help keep artists in town.
 
Leading the charge is Cleveland Institute of Art (CIA), which focuses not only on attracting and nurturing fresh talent, but keeping those artists in the workforce post-graduation. This is achieved through its renowned reputation and faculty of master artists who are engaged in their craft and mentor students. Beginning their sophomore year, students have access to their own studio, and in some cases will host shows and sell their work prior to graduation, explains Grafton Nunes, CIA's president and CEO.
 
“Nearly 50 percent of our graduates continue to work here as artists and designers,” he says. “The number of galleries here supporting their work is supplying the patron base with quality art, and that gives a sense of economic vitality.”
 
Helping those artists find the resources they need to survive and thrive are organizations like the COSE Arts Network, says Carol Drummond, its Advisory Committee chair.
 
“One challenge local artists face is creating community, a place where they meet other creative people who are making a living and learn about the community at large,” Drummond explains. “COSE Arts Network does that by providing educational workshops, networking events, interactive roundtables and access to business services that artists might not think of because they’re thinking about creating artwork.”
 
Strong collaborations among art organizations also contribute to Cleveland’s mounting contemporary art scene. CIA and MOCA have organized an annual competition by which CIA’s industrial design students submit furniture designs, with the winning pieces being showcased in MOCA’s Gund Commons.
 
In Ohio City, Fred and Laura Ruth Bidwell of the Bidwell Foundation are restoring and expanding the historic Transformer Station on W. 29th Street into a contemporary art exhibition space slated to open in 2013. Through an agreement with the Cleveland Museum of Art, it will feature the museum’s contemporary art programming six months out of each year and the Bidwell's own impressive collection the remaining months.
 
“This is exciting for us because as a museum, it allows us to experiment a bit,” says C. Griffith Mann, CMA's chief curator. “It also gives the museum an opportunity to showcase the work it does on the west side of the city. As an organization, we aspire to be ambidextrous and to be able to work on both sides of the river to draw audiences and engage people no matter where they are in Northeast Ohio.”

Photos Bob Perkoski, except where notied

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