transformer station set to energize near-west side's booming art scene

Nationally-known art collectors and Akron residents Fred and Laura Bidwell were attracted to Ohio City by its industrial architecture and edgy arts scene. Now they've launched an ambitious new project to help power the neighborhood's continued revival.

This weekend, the Bidwells are inviting Clevelanders to celebrate the opening of their dream project -- an 8,000-square-foot museum in a building that once housed the power station for the west side's trolley cars. The Transformer Station will showcase contemporary art from around the world.

"Although there are great things happening in University Circle, the east side is no longer seen as the hub for culture," says Fred Bidwell of their decision to open an arts outpost west of the Cuyahoga River. "There's a bit of the center of gravity moving to the west side. That's where the younger, hotter contemporary art is."

The Transformer Station was developed by the Bidwell Foundation. It will be jointly curated by the Bidwells and the Cleveland Museum of Art, which is seeking to gain a toehold on the west side and expand its reach into contemporary art.

The stunning building, which includes an addition designed by architect John Williams, features soaring ceilings, clerestory windows and a weighty dangling crane once used to move the transformer into place.

And then there's the artwork. The recently installed show "Light of Day" features work from the Bidwells' long-buried collection (it has been in storage for years), including work by internationally-known artists Hiroshi Sugomoto and Adam Fuss as well as relative newcomers like Lydia Anne McCarthy and Matthew Brandt.

"It's a very high-level overview of our collection as well as a personal statement on where contemporary photo-based art is today," says Bidwell. "There's a lot of visual diversity, and some of the photographs almost read as paintings."

The second show, "Bridging Cleveland," features photographs of Cleveland bridges taken with handmade pinhole cameras by Youngstown native Vaughn Wascovich. The photos look a bit like grainy old postcards touched up by Jackson Pollock.

"We didn't want this to be a look at old-timey bridges," says Bidwell. "It's a statement on where we are today and where we're going as a city."

The celebration of this $3 million project and new arts treasure begins this Friday, when the doors will be open from noon until 9 p.m. with live electronic music from 6-9 p.m. The festivities continue through the weekend. Rising Star Coffee across the street will also be open late, and Touch Supper Club's food truck will be there.

The Transformer Station is located at West 29th Street and Church Avenue.

Source: Fred Bidwell
Writer: Lee Chilcote
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