Cleveland’s Public Art Scene

June 9, 2014
Stumbling Into Cleveland’s Public Art Scene

Free Art Experiences Around Downtown Cleveland

It’s not unusual for us to hear first-time visitors of Cleveland walking though downtown, stopping dead in their tracks and saying, “Oh cool! What is that?!”

That, my friend, is public art. And, Cleveland’s got more of it than you can imagine.

Here are some of our faves:

1. Free Stamp

Probably the most famous of public art in Cleveland, “Free Stamp” is one of those structures that consistently draws groups of visitors and clusters of bridal parties seeking quintessential Cleveland pictures. Located at the corner of Lakeside Ave. and East 9th Street near the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the iconic piece is a 50-foot-tall, 75,000-pound replica of a giant rubber stamp with the word “FREE” written backwards.

So, what’s the story? In 1982, artists Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen were commissioned by Standard Oil Company of Ohio to create a piece of outdoor art to enhance its company’s headquarters located at 200 Public Square.

The artists chose the word “FREE” in an effort to create a contemporary take on the concept of liberty, which was juxtaposed with a more traditional take on that same ideal at the nearby Soldiers & Sailors Monument (dedicated to the veterans of the Civil War). However, the word “FREE” was to be placed upside down – perhaps in an attempt to make a statement to the oil-company big wigs who could read it correctly when they looked down from their skyscraper offices.

Shortly thereafter, however, Standard Oil of Ohio was acquired by BP America. And, as it turned out, BP America didn’t care much for the art (many believe the company thought the word “FREE” seen upside down was insulting to a large corporation) and opted to not display the huge stamp. A bit of a local controversy ensued while the piece sat in storage, so BP America gifted “Free Stamp” to the City of Cleveland.

As a result, “Free Stamp” now sits in Willard Park next to Cleveland City Hall. However, the stamp rests on its side, creating the metaphor that the sculpture had been haphazardly flung across the city.

2. Fountain of Eternal Life

If there’s ever been an Instagram-worthy image, the Fountain of Eternal Life takes the cake. Located adjacent to the FirstMerit Convention Center of Cleveland and Cleveland Marriott Downtown at Key Center, the fountain features a 35-foot-tall bronze statue depicting a man reaching to the sky from a fury of flames.

Put on display in 1964, the monument was created by Cleveland Institute of Art grad Marshall Fredericks to honor local veterans of the Korean War and World War II.

Like many pieces of Cleveland public art, the Fountain of Eternal Life saw its share of controversy. Many people at the time opposed the idea of the statue being nude. That said, Fredericks ensured that the flame elements surrounding the statue were strategically placed around the figure’s body.

3. Sports Stacks

What are those things? Do they do something? Many a question arises when spotting the “Sports Stacks” located smack dab between Progressive Field and Quicken Loans Arena. These huge stainless steel sculptures stand ominously at 80 and 92 feet tall and are a cool feature for those folks heading to a Cleveland Cavaliers or Cleveland Indians game.

What appears to be just a cool piece of public art is more than meets the eye. The structures actually serve as ventilators and emergency exits for the underground service areas of the sports venues. But the artist did an incredible job of artfully showcasing Cleveland’s industrial past while bringing some pizzazz to the sports plaza with brilliant lights and unique shapes.

Oh, There’s Plenty More

Here are some other pieces of public art we think you ought to check out:

Why Cleveland?

Cleveland’s a hot bed of free public art. And, that’s no accident.

Cleveland is fortunate to have LAND Studio, which, among other things, is dedicated to the creation of public art. Check out their completed and ongoing projects to get learned on what else you can find during your Cleveland visit.

Cleveland also is home to ICA-Art Conservation, which provides art conservation services to worldwide clients. They know the public art scene because they’ve helped to maintain hundreds of pieces to their original beauty and, as a result, keeping them in existence.

Additionally, the City of Cleveland is deeply committed to the creation of public art. In 2004, city legislation was enacted requiring that capital improvement projects within city limits that cost more than $350,000 are required to designate at least 1.5% of the total budget toward the creation of new public art.

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