CLEVELAND - Cleveland boasts a rich, diverse community of local and international artists who come to the city to further their artistic endeavors in an environment that celebrates creativity and new ways of thinking.
In its 28th year, Parade the Circle, put on by Cleveland Museum of Art, is a parade almost like any other in the country. It celebrates the talent of local artists while welcoming visiting international artists.
Parade by the numbers
40 national and regional artists participating in the parade
Three visiting artists and three visiting interns from out of state and the country
Between 1200-1500 participants
Approximately 70 ensembles appearing in the parade
In a makeshift workspace tent across from the Cleveland Museum of Art, a chaotic, methodically laid out space is filled with busy artists finishing up last minute details. Life-size, abstract pieces made from every material imaginable—recycled beer cartons, trash bags, tissue paper, and old scrap metal— are under the tent waiting for their debut in front of thousands of parade-goers.
Reflecting on the first parade, Artistic Director of Community Arts Robin VanLear was living in Santa Barbara at the time and was attending an art conference where the staff of the Cleveland Museum of Art was also attending.
She got the idea of Parade the Circle from a project she was working on with a group of first-graders about how to make art projects for the community. In 1989, she came back to Cleveland, after debating if working at a museum was right for her, to coordinate a trial run of the parade in 1990 for the museum's 75th anniversary.
"I just felt it was such a new type of an idea to be doing in Cleveland that would be nice have a practice run," said VanLear.
Above: Robin VanLear working on her opening and closing pieces for the parade.
She admits there weren't many people at first — maybe around 125 people — but the following year more than 600 participated.
Every year, VanLear and her team scope out international artists to participate in the parade. In previous years, Parade the Circle has attracted artists from Puerto Rico, India and Brazil, to name a few.
"I try to think about different aspects of our collection especially aspects of our collection with a strong community presence in Cleveland that are from that same nationality or cultural group," VanLear said. "And then we will try to emphasize that collection between the museum, our collection and this community."
VanLear chooses a theme that provokes an idea of a way of working. This year the theme is collage, based off of the 1912 French term "to glue".
"Artists come in here and they see how others are working and then are inspired. Then we weave it into this one final vision. I find that a lot of people have been thinking about it [the theme] in the materials they use or the way they are working," VanLear said.
Artists who choose to work in the tent have about six weeks to complete their projects. The space is occupied by artists who are visiting Cleveland for the parade and who have primarily larger projects.
Cubberly remembers clinging to VanLear when she came to Hartford, Connecticut because nobody was doing anything like Parade the Circle. In 1999, she came to Cleveland for her first parade. Since then, she has been coming back for 15 years.
"Parade the Circle is a wonderful community of people. I love working with all the different artists. It's incredible in just terms of the layers of community of artists," said Cubberly. "The day of the parade, it's incredible to walk around to see things you haven't been able to see being created for a month."
Cubberly isn't just a visitor for a month at a time. Her father and grandmother were born in Cleveland. A master of puppets, Cubberly is making mother earth in response to President Trump and her concerns for the environment.
Originally from Ecuador, he moved to Cleveland 22 years ago. Troja has been coming back to Parade the Circle for 14 years. Artists working side-by-side Troja have come to recognize his work as bigger than life-size. Most of his pieces require a ladder at all times.
"I like to experiment, to learn, to search for ideas, that's why I come back every year because it is a celebration of life, friendship," he said.
He is a man with a vision. Spencer has been participating in Parade the Circle for a number of years. A trained engineer who retired ten years ago finds his creativity pulling him into the parade every year. Because he went legally blind a little over five years ago, Spencer now recruits a group of helpers who share his vision. This year, his float is an Alice in Wonderland theme.
"If you notice, most floats they are incredibly beautiful and imaginative but they're passive. This is one where there is a story. There's action that takes about a minute," explained Spencer.