CIA celebrates campus unification in vibrant Uptown district

With flags, banners, stilt walkers and one giant inflatable sculpture parading through the streets of University Circle, the Cleveland Institute of Art ceremoniously closed the doors of the George Gund Building at 11141 East Boulevard on August 28th and started its new chapter as a unified campus in Uptown. CIA had operated solely at the Gund building beginning in 1956, until the purchase of a former Ford Motors factory at 11610 Euclid Ave., renamed the McCullough Center for the Visual Arts, in 1981. From that time on, CIA operated as a split campus.

This weekend’s celebration, including the annual PRISM convocation ceremony welcoming new students, marks the completion of the $75 million dollar unification project begun in 1999. The fall semester will be the inaugural session in the new campus building, thanks to the addition of the new 80,000 square-foot George Gund Building.

“You have the honor of being the very first class to begin your studies in our new facility,” President Grafton Nunes addressed the incoming freshmen at convocation, held for the last time at the Russell B. Aitken Auditorium. “And while I could go on and on about how incredible our new campus is, CIA is much more than an architectural structure. CIA is a community. What is learned inside our walls, and who is inside our walls, that is the real Cleveland Institute of Art.”

<span class="content-image-text">Chris Whittey, CIA Vice President of Faculty Affairs</span>Chris Whittey, CIA Vice President of Faculty Affairs

Nunes had previously expressed that the move would be beneficial to embedding students in the urban environment of the growing Uptown neighborhood, which also includes the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). Architecturally, the new Gund building was constructed to align its entrance in view of the museum.

During convocation, the neighboring MOCA was even referenced by Chris Whittey, Vice President of Faculty Affairs, in his speech. Whittey alluded to their current exhibit, How to Remain Human, a display of regional artists that takes its title from a poem by Cleveland author d.a. levy.

“I ask that we expand our learning environment to the outside, with others less fortunate in mind. To find ways to make ourselves available to these places and people as we open our own home at CIA to them,” said Whittey. “Their lives can be improved immeasurably and ours too through these interactions -- a metamorphosis from being a human being to being truly human.”

Following convocation, incoming students joined faculty, staff and supporters in the courtyard for a final closing of the doors while the Revolution Brass Band provided morose New Orleans-style jazz. Mayor Frank Jackson offered a proclamation and spoke to the importance of the unification project.

“Art and culture go together,” said Mayor Jackson. “It helps to define us as who we are as a city, community and people.”

After shutting the doors, the band picked up the pace as the swarm of attendees took to the streets of University Circle for a celebratory procession along Bellflower Rd., up Ford Dr. and past MOCA to Toby’s Plaza, where stilt walkers and musicians gathered.

Throughout the march, Jimmy Kuehnle, an assistant professor at CIA, traversed the crowd inside of his giant inflatable sculpture, Walking Fish. Anyone who may have recently ducked into MOCA for How to Remain Human likely saw his piece, Please, no smash, a flickering neon pink installation that inflates and deflates like a beating heart.

A group of students marched holding fabric banners from Praxis Fiber Workshop, Jessica Pinsky’s non-profit fiber arts center newly opened in the Waterloo Arts District in collaboration with CIA. When changes at CIA resulted in a downsizing of the fiber arts program, Pinsky created the co-op to offer access to valuable, much-needed equipment.

<span class="content-image-text">A group of students marched holding fabric banners from Praxis Fiber Workshop, Jessica Pinsky’s non-profit fiber arts center</span>A group of students marched holding fabric banners from Praxis Fiber Workshop, Jessica Pinsky’s non-profit fiber arts center

“Praxis grew from the changes made to CIA's main campus and it is so important to us to remain rooted and connected to CIA in every way,” she said. “The parade was symbolic of all the new and great things to come from our partnership, for our students and the entire Cleveland community.”

The procession led directly to the new Gund building entrance, situated below a 35 by 50 foot high-definition video mesh that displays still and moving images visible to eastbound traffic. Art fills the lobby, from work by previous Cuban residency students to a dress sculpture with ceramic attachments crafted by Valerie Grossman, who recently founded the ceramics open studio Brick not far from Praxis.

The first thing greeting patrons in the sleek new lobby is the transplanted Reinberger Gallery, which debuted its annual faculty show after the ceremony.

“It’s a beautiful space for exhibiting all sorts of artwork, from sculptural objects on pedestals and two-dimensional objects on the wall, to digital projections in our new Fran and Jules Belkin Media Gallery, and installations throughout the space,” says gallery directory Bruce Checefsky. “For the first time, we now have a terrific audio system, which will be ideal for contemporary artists who incorporate sound into their work. The space is also conducive to performance art.”

Works on display spanned the various disciplines taught at CIA. Jared Bendis, known for his interactive art often seen throughout the city, created a piece made of bold, geometrical shapes. Maggie Denk-Leigh, associate professor and chair of printmaking, contributed A Brief History 1: Doomed to Repeat, an etching of a sea of protestors holding signs that read “Black lives matter.” The work of Thomas Nowacki, associate professor and chair of biomedical art, depicted a microchannel device for predicting sickle cell.

Three studies that are the focus of the school’s annual Spring Design Show – industrial design, interior architecture and graphic design – were all represented. Mari Hulick, associate professor of graphic design, displayed a poster created for the Fix 216 civic hackathon that used tech and open data to examine the consent decree on police use-of-force. Industrial design professor Haishan Deng paid tribute to CIA’s strong industrial design program, of which the school is one of the top three in the nation, with his XF Concept mock-up of the sports car. Interior architecture associate professor and chair Michael Gollini offered his renderings of the HunterDouglas Gallery interiors.

Another new addition, the Fran and Jules Belkin Media Gallery, a black box theater dedicated to video installations, was transformed by biomedical art lecturer Hal Lewis’ work.

“Our first exhibit in the new space is a true showcase of the educators who will take our students into this next chapter of CIA’s history,” said Checefsky.

The new library sits just across the border of the new CIA building, adjoined by the sunlit Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel atrium.

Also moving from its former residence is the new home of the beloved year-round Cleveland Cinematheque film program, the Peter B. Lewis Theater. The theater was debuted to the public on Aug. 1 with its first film, Listen to Me Marlon. Its new amenities boast 4K digital projection and stunning surround sound.

On the second floor, industrial design chair Dan Cuffaro has expanded his “Hive” workstations that once lived on the former building’s lower level. The individual nooks create flexible learning spaces that can be configured so that multiple classes can be held simultaneously. They mirror the open, modern offices now found in many creative industries.

For the first time in four decades, CIA is united under one roof. As sure as one door has closed, the doors of Euclid Ave. have opened to a whole new set of possibilities for CIA. And as Nunes spoke before the incoming class, “The more we know, the more we see. The more we see, the better we imagine. The better we imagine, the better we create.”

For a look at the cutting-edge work of CIA staff, the faculty exhibition is on display until Oct. 17.

Photos Bob Perkoski

Nikki Delamotte
Nikki Delamotte

About the Author: Nikki Delamotte

Nikki Delamotte is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Diffuser.FM, The Grammys, Cleveland Magazine, Cleveland Scene and others.