This is the Modern World
MOCA Cleveland deputy director Megan Reich reveals why she loves working at the city's contemporary art mecca
By Annie Zaleski
Cleveland is full of artists, art experts and art admirers. Megan Reich, deputy director of Cleveland's Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), is all three.
Reich originally came to Cleveland for an internship and, later, attended graduate school at Case Western Reserve University and had a fellowship at the Cleveland Museum of Art. After being offered a fellowship at MOCA in 2004, she had found her home.
"There was never a point at MOCA or in Cleveland when I didn't feel like I had a new growth opportunity, where I wasn't being fulfilled in my personal, cultural and intellectual life," she says. "I met my husband here, we now have three children. So we are deeply rooted."
Reich spoke about her pathway into art, what drew her to Cleveland why the city's arts scene is so distinctive.
When did you know that art was what you wanted to do for a living?
I was an artist as a child and as a young adult. When I was little, I was always constantly drawing. My brother, who is significantly older than me, would say every Saturday morning I would wake up, I'd get my markers and my paper, and I'd sit down in front of TV for, like, four hours and draw pictures. My love of art comes from my personal interest in making art.
And then when I went to college, I was going to get a BFA in fine art and be an artist. To be completely honest, I had a boyfriend in college, and we broke up. I was heartbroken and very mopey, and I didn't want to be in the studio. At all. I couldn't drag myself to the studio to finish the paintings I needed to do.
I was taking a lot of art history classes, and something clicked in my head where I realized, "I might be good at art but I'm not going to be an artist, because I don't have the perseverance and the drive."
But I loved art, and I loved the ability to write about art and to talk about art with audiences, and so I realized art history was the right track. And then I had an internship at the Guggenheim in Venice the summer after I graduated. You worked in every department. You would have to sell tickets one day; one day you would have to guard.
And [from] guarding—and watching people move through the museum and listening to their comments and talking with them—I realized I really want to be in museums. I really want to be within the space where the art and the audience intersect. And I want to do something that's about making that moment of connection matter.
What makes Cleveland's arts scene and culture so distinctive?
It's more than just the art scene. I also think it's the people: It's a very warm, welcoming, diverse city. [There's] the history of the city, being a very thriving metropolitan city in the early 20th century, and the huge immigrant population having moved in. You have these really exciting, diverse populations that have been here forever. You also have these new, emerging, diverse populations so the city feels very culturally rich.
And I think that reflects a cosmopolitan sensibility that artists who are living in places like New York aren't expecting. And then when they come here they're like, "Oh, wow. I thought it was going to be a homogenous, Midwestern town." And it's actually got an incredible degree of diversity.
The artists who work here are really a wonderful community unto themselves. They're very supportive of one another. They're collaborative. They try as much as possible to connect and push everyone forward in these really interesting ways. There's not a lot of elitism. That's very refreshing. I think artists feel free to pursue creative ideas in ways that they maybe can't do elsewhere, because there's an openness here.
We worked with an artist a long time ago I love. She had lived in New York for years and then she moved to Central Ohio. She was a painter in New York, but when she moved to Ohio, she switched her practice to ceramics, which is a pretty substantial shift. We were talking to her about what it was about Ohio that inspired her to make that change.
And she's like, "In New York, everything is frontal. You never see around anything; you only see the front of buildings. Everything's sort of on top of each other, and it's sort of a vertical experience. And then when you come to a place like Cleveland, or Ohio, everything is dimensional. You can see around things. And you get a better sense of an object's entire body. You really can see spaces in a horizontal way."
There's a metaphor there. It's something about that in Cleveland, you can get around everything. There's some beauty to being able to see something in the round, to see all of its sides—good side, bad side, beautiful side, dirty side. And there's a rawness that's there, and that appeals to artists who are looking for something more than just like a façade, who want to get into the grit.
Want to see some of what Reich is talking about? Come see MOCA's upcoming exhibitions including one featuring photographer Lisa Oppenheim and one showcasing the work of Adam Pendleton.