Spring 2024: Infrastructure Repair

Spring 2024 cover image: Amy Casey, Clear Light of Day, (detail), acrylic on panel, 12 X 12 inches, 2020. Design by JoAnn Dickey.

The early February news that neither FRONT International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art, nor CAN Triennial will take place in 2025 marks the end of an era. From 2016 (when FRONT began planning, and visions of CAN Triennial began to percolate) to January 2024 (when both organizations were still making plans for their third exhibitions), Cleveland had a place in the national and international contemporary art calendar, and Northeast Ohio artists had a wave of energy to ride and amplify—a spotlight to share.

It’s certainly a loss: Both exhibitions were the result of massive cooperation between organizations, and together they succeeded at showing off the strength of both Cleveland’s world-class institutions, and its substantial range of galleries and studios that support the regional scene. FRONT alone counted 24 community and grassroots partnerships, and more than twenty venues. CAN Triennial, counting its venues, exhibition prize partners, and other programming collaborations, worked with 25 entirely different organizations. FRONT, based on a study by Cleveland State University, claimed $31 million in economic impact. In their announcements, both organizations cited a funding landscape that had changed significantly since the exhibitions were first conceived.

It’s also a lost opportunity for four Cleveland artists—the FRONT Art Futures Fellows. Antwoine Washington, Amanda King, Erykah Townsend, and Charmaine Spencer were each awarded $25,000 cash fellowships, in addition to facilitated domestic and international travel, and an invitation to participate in the FRONT exhibitions in 2025. Writer Vince Robinson had interviewed the fellows for a forward-looking feature that was to appear in this issue of CAN Journal. In light of the news, however, that story will appear at a later date, with additional insight and reflection from the artists. In it’s place, we’re publishing FRONT’s and CAN’s announcements of cancellation.

The decision to not present CAN Triennial was the most difficult in this organization’s history. In twelve years, CAN has done almost nothing but grow. In the early days, one of Cleveland’s most visionary leaders described CAN Journal as “Infrastructure.” In the same way communities build bridges and roads for the common good, Collective Arts Network is a group of galleries, studios and museums that joined forces to produce a guide to the region’s art scene. CAN Triennial and FRONT Triennial were infrastructure, too.

But as our Board President John Farina said, “losing two major art events may seem like a painful blow to our community, but I hope artists, creatives, supporters and especially funders will use this as an opportunity to seek out new and innovative ways to promote the visual arts in Cleveland—especially the work of the dozens and dozens of incredible artists right here in Northeast Ohio.”

Infrastructure repair is a constant in Northeast Ohio, and we expect artists and organizations to regroup and eventually try another strategy to elevate local artists and the city in general. Some of the reasons are to be found in this issue of CAN Journal—not least of which is the incredible roster of galleries, studios and museums that fill these pages. The stories that follow offer more evidence. Not only does the City of Cleveland now have, for the first time ever, a cabinet level position in the mayor’s office focused on the arts (Senior Strategist for the Arts, Culture, and Creative Economy Rhonda Brown), but the first major initiative from that office has just gone live: the $3 million Transformative Art Fund, offering grants of $250,000 to $500,000 for artist-led projects in the city. Meanwhile, Jo Steigerwald tells of University Hospitals doing something completely normal—buying a quantity of art for a new facility—but doing so in a way that, as far as we know, has not happened here before: purchasing through a Black-owned art gallery, Deep Roots Experience, and ensuring that all the art was created by Black artists who live in the community. In this entrenched, long-segregated art sector, that’s one step toward repairing the inequity in this system in which we all have a part. And in our Members Report section, you will find a story by Case Western Reserve University professor Henry Adams about changes at the organization formerly known as artNEO—which, at least for now, is re-claiming its birth name, the Cleveland Artists Foundation, and re-booting its founding mission as a museum of Cleveland art.

It’s always orange barrel season around here. We look forward to seeing you.

Michael Gill

Editor / Publisher

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