summer arts fest preview: the must-hit events of the season

Each summer, throngs of people flock to streets in and around Cleveland to partake in arts festivals, art walks and marquee arts events. Attendees encompass a broad range of folks, from city dwellers to suburbanites, from young couples pushing baby strollers to grandparents pushing walkers. Some are bona fide art aficionados, while others simply want to purchase some unique souvenirs, listen to live entertainment or snack on some local food.
Apart from serving as a welcome opportunity to escape the confines of a long winter spent indoors, these colorful community art celebrations have blossomed into key links between attendees and artists. Unlike a museum trip, these outings engage visitors by bringing artists and their wide range of artistic styles directly to the people, challenging them to expand their definition of what art is and what it can be.
Many are free and no two are exactly alike. With art mediums that include paintings, sculpture, glassware, photography, leather, jewelry and performance art, there’s something for everyone.
A Whimsical Affair
Looking for a quirky, vibrant art celebration with a grassroots feel? The 12th annual Waterloo Arts Fest in Cleveland’s North Collinwood neighborhood offers an eclectic mix of visual and performing artists, live music, hands-on activities and more. Held June 28 from noon to 7 p.m., it attracts approximately 5,000 attendees annually.
The festival has a true community atmosphere and highlights the neighborhood’s ethnic diversity, says Amy Callahan, executive director of Waterloo Arts, the nonprofit organization that coordinates the event.
“There are people that have lived here for many years,” she adds. “It’s definitely an urban festival, but we also have lots of people coming in from suburbs, and we have the indie crowd going to the Beachland Ballroom. It’s a fabulous mix that really represents our community.”
Part of the festival’s appeal is its encouragement of attendee participation, Callahan says.
“Because we’re a community arts organization, we’re all about the creative process of art and everybody jumping in at whatever level they can,” she explains. “We have many galleries that are showcasing and there are professional artists involved in the festival, but there are also a lot of participatory activities that are great for adults and kids.”
Visitors can unleash their inner Picasso with projects that include D-I-Y button making, back sack decorating and mini canvas art. Through the festival’s Arts Alive program, local art organizations, such as the Cleveland Museum of Art, Zygote Press and Cleveland Print Room, will demonstrate their missions through hands-on activities such as weaving, throwing pottery, paper making, screen printing, handling ancient art objects and making sun prints.
Where East Meets West
Some events even bridge communities on opposite sides of town. The pARTy in Gordon Square (formerly Gordon Square Arts District Day) is once again partnering with organizers of Parade the Circle on Wade Oval in University Circle to offer free trolley rides between both events on June 14.
Presented by the Cleveland Museum of Art and University Circle Inc., the annual day-long Parade the Circle multicultural celebration is highlighted by a festive parade of floats, citizens in bright costumes, giant puppets and stilt dancers.
PARTy in Gordon Square visitors can enjoy live music and impressive art displays, some of which will be located at the nearby 78th Street Studios. Additional attractions include theater troupe performances from Cleveland Public and Near West theatres, which lend an interactive thespian flavor to the celebration.
Popular activities include a massive haiku, in which visitors compose brief free-verse poems using chalk on and around the main outside stage.
The celebration also offers an opportunity to raise social awareness, says Chad Jones of Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization, which coordinates the event. This year, it features poignant sculptures of homeless youth on park benches – presented in conjunction with Bellefaire JCB Homeless and Missing Youth program -- depicting messages such as "I am hungry" and "I left home because I was scared to stay there."
“A true cultural fest exposes people to the arts and social issues in a way that’s not confrontational,” Jones explains. Last year, the event attracted 10,000 visitors.
Grooming the Next Generation
Some festivals are mission-driven, such as the Lakewood Arts Festival. Now in its 37th year, the event – held August 2 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Detroit Avenue – takes pride in supporting future artists.
The juried show is coordinated by The Lakewood Downtown Arts Festival, Inc., a nonprofit that raises scholarship funds that are awarded annually to high school seniors in Lakewood pursuing a college degree in the arts.
Attracting some 12,000 annual visitors, it offers a potpourri of art genres from roughly 160 artists, musical performances and unique acts, including jugglers from the St. Ignatius High School Circus Company.
Celebrations like these serve as important ways to support current and future artists, notes Lisa Metro, the festival’s promotions director.
“Every time you buy something, even if it’s something small, you’re supporting the arts,” she says. “That is of great value, and you get to take home a little piece of art, whether you hang it on a wall or wear it on your finger.”
It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
These events help support artists year round.
The 27th annual Clifton Arts and Musicfest – held June 21 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Clifton Boulevard between W. 112 and W. 117 streets – has a special Facebook page highlighting artists and their work for one year, allowing them to enjoy post-festival repeat business.
The juried show attracts nearly 40,000 people annually, including visitors from outside of Ohio. Family friendly entertainment abounds with hands-on art projects and musical performances. This year will feature creative artwork from artists with developmental disabilities courtesy of HeARTworks.
Art celebrations enhance the community’s image, says Anita Brindza, executive director of Cudell Improvement, Inc., the festival’s organizer.
Attendees witness firsthand the neighborhood’s amenities, such as charming century homes and tree lined streets with wide sidewalks, she explains. "Once you draw people in, there are ripple effects. It’s a venue where people come to shop from the artists but also patronize the local stores. There’s a lot for people to do in those eight hours and we found that people stay for the day."
A Party in the Park
The quality of participating artists adds to the appeal of these events.
The Cain Park Arts Festival prides itself on the caliber of its artists, says George Kozmon, director and acclaimed artist.
Now in its 38th year, the juried show has a record of attracting talent not only from Northeast Ohio, but from across the U.S. and as far away as Canada, Israel and Argentina, who engage between 20,000 and 50,000 annual visitors at the scenic Cleveland Heights venue. This year’s show is scheduled July 11-13 and features some 150 artists.
Throughout the years it has even achieved national recognition as one of the best art festivals in the country, says Kozmon.
Its blend of top notch artists and Cain Park’s ambiance creates a special experience for all involved, he explains. “We treat our artists with great respect because the show is about them and our patrons. We have this phenomenal location and this proprietary feel like we’re inviting guests into our home and we want that feeling to permeate our event.”
The synergy produced through this interaction between artists and visitors is something that lures attendees each year.
“It’s like the bond of a shared experience between 30,000 people,” Kozmon adds.
More Must-See Summer Art Happenings
Every month: 78th Street Studios Third Fridays - Gordon Square
5/17-18: Hessler Street Fair - University Circle
6/6-8: Little Italy Venetian Carnival Art Walk - Little Italy
6/14: Parade the Circle - University Circle
6/21: Clifton Arts & Musicfest - Edgewater/Cuddell
6/21-22: Shaker Heights Arts & Music Festival - Shaker Heights
6/28: Waterloo Arts Festival - North Collinwood
7/11-13: Cain Park Arts Festival - Cleveland Heights
7/20: Taste of Tremont - Tremont
8/2: Lakewood Arts Festival - Lakewood
8/15-17: Weapons of Mass Creation - Gordon Square
9/20-21: Cleveland Museum of Art Chalk Festival - Cleveland Museum of Art, University Circle
9/20-21: Tremont Arts & Cultural Festival - Tremont
Late Sept.:  IngenuityFest - Dock 30 & 32, Downtown

Photos Bob Perkoski
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