FRONT Triennial makes bold strokes to draw in diverse Northeast Ohio artists

For FRONT Triennial, it's the fourth year that's sure to be a charm.

The second installment of the thrice-yearly citywide art celebration was originally set to take place last year but was postponed due to COVID-19. However, all signs point to this year's event being more than worth the wait—with more than 70 artists from around the world coming together to interpret the Langston Hughes-inspired theme "Oh, Gods of Dust and Rainbows" at 20-plus sites across Cleveland, Akron, and Oberlin.

FRONT executive director Fred Bidwell“Biennials and triennials are common in Europe, but nothing quite compares to the breadth of this collaboration, and that’s something Cleveland should be incredibly proud of,” FRONT executive director Fred Bidwell told the crowd at a kickoff gathering held last Thursday, March 31 at moCa.

Along with nearly three months worth of programming, public art installations, and exhibitions (starting in July), the FRONT team plans to sweeten the deal by not only partnering with world-renowned artist Julie Mehretu to create a definitive mural on Public Square, but also pledging to further our city’s own diverse community of creators with three $25,000 Arts Futures Fellowships

“Our goal is to help our region's arts ecosystem be more reflective of the region’s diversity,” explains Deidre McPherson, FRONT director of artistic and community initiatives.

The fellowships will do just that by awarding $25,000 to three BIPOC artists from Northeast Ohio, providing access to support and career development from FRONT and its partners, and the chance to develop work and serve on the artistic team for FRONT 2025.

Additionally, each fellowship recipient will be invited to participate in one domestic and one international research trip organized by FRONT.

For McPherson, who came aboard in August 2021 after more than six years of leading public programs initiatives at moCa and Cleveland Museum of Art, the opportunity to bring more inclusivity to FRONT via the Arts Futures Fellowships is an important continuation of her work to date. 

"Working in museums as a Black woman at predominantly white institutions—and being in a leadership role to be able to open the door for more Black and Brown artists and creatives in our region—really meant a lot to me,” McPherson shared at moCa. "One of the reasons I was excited to work with FRONT is that, for 2022, FRONT was already thinking about what we could do to connect this citywide art festival with more communities of color and more artists based here in Northeast Ohio."

McPherson points to artist Honey Pierre—whose work is currently on exhibition at moCa—as an example of the creativity and conversations sparked when diverse voices come to the forefront. And those conversations are sure to continue with artists like mixed-media collage artist Dexter Davis and Blakk Jakk Dance Collective founder Ron'Dale Simpson in the mix for the Triennial.

The Arts Futures fellows will join the fold at the FRONT Gala on Thursday, July 14. FRONT opens to the public on Monday, July 18.

Read more articles by Jen Jones Donatelli.

As an enthusiastic CLE-vangelist, Jen Jones Donatelli enjoys diving headfirst into her work with FreshWater Cleveland. Upon moving back to Cleveland after 16 years in Los Angeles, Jen served as FreshWater's managing editor for two years (2017-2019) and continues her work with the publication as a contributing editor and host of the FreshFaces podcast. When not typing the day away at her laptop, she teaches writing and creativity classes through her small business Creative Groove, as well as Literary Cleveland, Cleveland State University, and more. Jen is a proud graduate of Ohio University's E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.