Get a Full Dose of Amazing Art in Cleveland
By Keith Gribbins
We feel the need to warn you: Cleveland has a crazy amount of great art options, and we honestly worry about your stamina. So take your time, find hearty walking shoes, and get physically prepared to gaze unblinkingly into the souls of world-famous artists.
There's an easy way to get smarter - visit University Circle. This eastside neighborhood is where Cleveland's brainiest gather, discussing art, education, music, history, business, and botany in famous intuitions ranging from the Western Reserve Historical Society's Cleveland History Center to the Cleveland Institute of Music. Luckily, all levels of intelligence are welcome, and they've made it real easy for us average folk. At the heart of University Circle is the very walk-able, seven-acre Wade Oval. Its concrete paths, easy-to-read signage, and lush greenery lead to many of these houses of higher learning.
Find the Cleveland Museum of Art, home to more than 45,000 masterworks, and the Cleveland Botanical Garden, a 10-acre complex dedicated to natural beauty. If you see a metal stegosaurus covered in kids, you've reached the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. Keep jogging south on East Boulevard and find the Cleveland Institute of Art and Severance Hall (home of the Cleveland Orchestra). Eventually, you'll end up at the gorgeous Wade Park lagoon, inhabited with ducks, koi, and the occasional wedding photo shoot. Rest both body and brain at this little oasis.
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Gaze upon the 20-foot tall, 8,500-pound crystal chandelier hovering above Cleveland's theater district like a planetoid. Not only is it vying for the Guinness World Record for largest outdoor chandelier, but it's a beacon for Playhouse Square, celebrating the largest theater district in America outside of New York. Beneath it, fans of the stage buzz between beautifully-renovated theaters, fine dining, posh hotels, and Playhouse Square's alarmingly-good alfresco entertainment options.
Specifically, Star Plaza Park is Playhouse Square's open-air art garden. Renovated with a permanent stage, cozy fire pit, and new sound and lighting, the park hosts everything from the U.S. Bank Summer Garden Music Series to Tai Chi classes. Before or after, indulge in excellent eats and drinks at places like Zack Bruell's fast casual Dynomite Burgers or his modern French bistro Cowell and Hubbard. It's (of course) all just a prelude to the stagecraft you'll experience at the district's famous theaters like the Hanna, Palace, State, Ohio, and Allen.
Maverick art is remaking Cleveland too, but again, when progress and creativity collide, it can have face-melting results. So take precautions when visiting the 78th Street Studios in Ohio City. It's an old warehouse that formerly housed the Baker Electric Motor Vehicle Company that still showcases original hardwood floors, metal track doors and old freight elevators. Each month, Third Fridays is an event held at 78th Street Studios that includes more than 80 gallerists, artists and designers. Avant-garde attractions are even invading whole neighborhoods - like the Cleveland Public Theatre - which has helped revitalize the Gordon Square Arts District with adventurous and experimental stage productions ranging from abstract expressionist dramas to rib-tickling comedies. This style of unconventional art is especially souvenir-worthy. For instance, artists at the Glass Bubble Project in Ohio City specialize in teaching and selling their creations (crazy, creative, hand-blown, industrial glass art). We say buy at your own risk!
We hear it a lot: What's up with that strange giant Free Stamp sculpture in downtown? Well, that's called public art (okay!), and equally curious and cool monuments are all around Cleveland. The giant sandstone Guardians of Traffic (carved into the Hope Memorial Bridge) inspired an album cover by Cleveland art rockers Pere Ubu. Even the U.S. federal courthouse has that cool Cleveland Venus statue outside, so while you may be off to jail, public art will still be there as an esthetically-pleasing backdrop.