2018: Looking Back and Forth

Making Myself Great Again, Dana Depew, installation for CAN Triennial 2018–one of the most iconic works of CAN Triennial and Cleveland art in 2018

In Cleveland’s art world, 2018 was a year of landmark exhibits, new beginnings and portentious change, sometimes all rolled into single events. Here’s a look at some of the milestones, and what they will mean in 2019 and beyond.


The most noteworthy events of 2018 both included the word “triennial,” and both coordinated broad realms of the region’s art resources.

Dawoud Bey. “Untitled #1 (Picket Fence and Farmhouse).” Photograph., from FRONT International

In the inaugural FRONT International Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art brought together more than 100 artists, the vast majority of them from around the US and the world. It was broadly and favorably reviewed, including by the New York Times, Hyperallergic, ArtNet, Smithsonian Magazine, and more, bringing Cleveland a heap of praise from afar. That said, FRONT didn’t get  enough attention or credit for the artists it did present from Cleveland and the Great Lakes Region. Specifically, the Great Lakes Research exhibit at the Cleveland Institute of Art, which exhibited 21 artists from around the Great Lakes, including 6 from Northeast Ohio, or for the half dozen Cleveland-based Creative Fusion residents, or for the several Cleveland-based artists whose work was represented at SPACES.

Sculpture Bases, by Lauren Yeager, installation as part of FRONT International

The inaugural CAN Triennial, meanwhile, was held at 78th Street Studios and shone a spotlight specifically on artists of the region. Four curators of visual art, two curators of Film, and two curators of music presented 97 visual artists, all of Northeast Ohio, plus dozens of filmmakers and musicians. Multiple organizations collaborated, offering everything from logistical support to exhibition and purchase prizes. It marked the long-awaited return of an expansive, regionally focused exhibit.

Looking back on both of those 2018 events, though, is more about the future than the past: both are already looking ahead to their second iterations in 2021. Plans are under development. For 2019: watch for both of these projects to make announcements and to have learned from their first-round adventures.

And so much of 2018 went that way: Something happened, and that meant more news is forthcoming.

Cuyahoga Arts and Culture Leadership

CAC ceo Karen Gahl-Mills resigned as the organization was confronting two major issues: her initiative toward greater racial equity in CAC’s individual artist grant program had become bogged down in the complexity of that challenge. And her decision to deal with declining cigarette tax (and projections of continuing decline) with one significant cutback, rather than annual, smaller reductions, was met with  surprise and pushback from some of the region’s major institutions. So CAC’s board of directors enlisted a search firm to hire her replacement. For 2019: Watch for news of new leadership in one of the nation’s largest public funders of the arts.

Karen Gahl-Mills

CAC Individual Artist Grants

Related to that, after two years without making grants to individual artists, CAC announced partnerships with six nonprofit institutions that will offer grants and other support to individual artists. Their partners include Karamu House, Cleveland Public Theatre, Hispanic Business Center, LAND Studio, SPACES, and the Cleveland Arts Prize. For 2019, watch for details and deadlines to apply.


On The Verge

One of those opportunities in particular –the smallest one–bodes well for the future: Cleveland Arts Prize was awarded just $15,000 to expand its Verge prizes, which are aimed at artists who have not yet achieved the kind of greatness other Cleveland Arts Prizes aim to celebrate, but who seem to be on the verge. It’s application requirement–a video–is especially well matched to young people. For 2019: Watch for inspired young people. 

The A Train Michael Gibson, pencil drawing, on view in the inaugral exhibit at Framed Gallery

Waterloo got Framed; Clark Fulton reaped a Harvest; And a Palace was built in Glenville

In recent years, despite the fact that most of the people in  Cleveland are of African descent, Northeast Ohio had no bricks-and-mortar representation of art made by people of color. That is, commercial galleries or other visual art institutions owned or operated by people of color and presenting works by people of color were non existent. Then in 2019 Will Sanchez opened La Cosecha on Storer Avenue, emphasizing Latino artists. And Stacy Bartels opened Framed Gallery on Waterloo, specifically to sell work by African American artists. And Gwendolyn Garth—an artist who has led discussion about racial equity both through her oganization Kings & Queens of Art, and in her role as a member of the board at Cuyahoga Arts and Culture–opened a physical gallery in Glenville, The Art Palace. For 2019: Watch for shows in all these venues, leading to greater awareness of artists most of us don’t yet know.

Mural by Dante Rodriguez in the Gordon Square Arts District

Up Against the Wall

After decades during which most public art in Cleveland consisted of illegal graffiti along the RTA Red Line, 2018 marked a crescendo of mural painting activity that began to build about 5 years ago. In 2018, non-profit organizations were buying murals in bulk, with multiples going up along Detroit Avenue in the Gordon Square Art District, as part of FRONT via the Canvas City Program, three commissioned by the City Club, and more. The Cleveland Skribe Tribe — re-kindled to paint Chief Thunderwater on the occasion of CAN Triennial–went on to land a massive mural project at Tri-C. For 2019: Look for more projects, as artists, cities, and non-profit organizations all have honed the requisite skills.

Mural by Ryan Jaenke in the Gordon Square Arts District

YARDS Project Space:

After a couple of decades at the helm of Zygote Press, Liz Maugans charged ahead as expected with a groundbreaking new gallery-as-lifestyle component of a residential development in the Warehouse District. Worthington Yards is a loft apartment complex developed by Neil Viny and The Dalad Group, where, in first-floor common space, Maugans creates exhibits and events to complement a permanent collection of art there. For 2019: Watch for exhibits built to engage the residents in art selection, beginning with Residents Select (opening January 10) as well as the launch of the Spring issue of CAN Journal March 1.

Inca, by William Martin Jean, from the inaugural exhibit in Art at the Schoolhouse

Art at the Schoolhouse

Speaking of new galleries, Herb Ascherman and Margo Brown opened a new gallery in a familiar space–the front room in the old Schoolhouse on Murray Hill Road in Little Italy. First up was an exhibit of abstract works by William Martin Jean. For 2019: Watch for Ascherman to continue mining his contacts to  keep the art pulse beating in that long-running, ever evolving art district. 

The Analog Kingdom, detail, by HEYMAN! Productions, at Ingenuity

Ingenuity Re-Energized

After years  during which Cleveland’s “festival of art and technology” lacked the energy to fill its venues  and had such a low level of engagement with the local creative community that one could reasonably wonder whether and why it would continue, Ingenuity came roaring back in 2018. The magic seems to have been fulfilment of a vision, to engage neighboring tenants at the Hamilton Building, which houses a collection of small maker-studios, some of which sub-lease space from Ingenuity. It was decidely lower-tech than originally visioned, but that made it more accessible both for participants and substantial crowds. For 2019: Look for continued growth. 

BAYarts to expand

The announcement in June that BAYarts will take over the building formerly operated by the community theater company Huntington Playhouse is yet another step in the Bay Village-based art center’s massive growth. A dozen years ago, a new crew of volunteers including Nancy Heaton and Karen Petkovic (now Executive Director and Artistic Director, respectively) took over the organization formerly known as Baycrafters and re-engineered its programming to show its suburban audience some of the most exciting and current artists on the Cleveland scene.  The transformed theater space–under guidance of Cleveland Arts Prize-winning architect John Williams–means continued growth and capacity. For 2019: Have you bought your tickets to Moondance yet?


Nikki Delamotte


The art world lost a great main stream media ally with the killing of cleveland.com reporter Nikki Delamotte, who wrote frequently and generously about  artists, as well as people and events that contribute to regional culture and nightlife.  For 2019: considering the way things are going at the Plain Dealer, and considering how difficult it would be to fill those shoes, don’t expect a replacement. 




The opinions expressed on CAN Blog are those of the individual writers. Art is somewhat subjective. Well, somewhat. But yes, everybody's a critic.

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