Irish poet Jonathan Swift wrote: “Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.” Indeed, Cleveland industrialists John Huntington, Horace Kelley and Hinman Hurlbut, along with Jeptha Wade, saw something others did not. Collectively, they laid the groundwork that would fill a blank canvas in University Circle with a profound legacy: a public art museum for the benefit of all the people forever.
Perhaps like Auguste Rodin’s iconic “Thinker,” who sits outside the Cleveland Museum of Art’s south entrance, today’s visionaries also ponder what the next 100 years will hold and see what is invisible to others.
“Art inspires,” says Dr. William M. Griswold, director and president of the museum, as he ponders his own vision of the museum’s purpose. “It is an expression of faith; it is a window on history and culture. Art teaches us to see the world differently and to experience it through the eyes of others, thereby offering a path to tolerance and understanding.”
Soon to wrap up its 100th anniversary year, the Cleveland Museum of Art shined a bright light on the founders’ gift to the city with a year of special exhibits, events and programs designed to engage the entire community.
“Relatively few museums can afford to offer free admission,” says Griswold. “We are lucky to serve a community that has made it possible for us to do so...We are one of the largest comprehensive art museums in the world that does not charge for general admission.”
The museum’s world-class collection is well-known, boasting 4,369 works of art on display with more than 45,000 in its permanent collection.
In addition, the board recently completed a $320 million multi-phase capital campaign to fund many upgrades including a new glass-enclosed atrium, increased gallery spaces and restorations to existing buildings, all designed by renowned architect Rafael Vinoly. The museum’s innovative “Gallery One” combines art and technology for a fun, interactive experience and is a unique model for other museums across the country.
This year’s blockbuster special exhibits, “Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse” and “Pharaoh: King of Ancient Egypt,” brought sell-out crowds into the museum.
But the Cleveland Museum of Art serves the community in many less-expected and less-known ways as well. Museum leaders are looking far beyond its hallowed walls to advance the founders’ mission of having a museum for “the benefit of all the people forever.” In 2012, they formed the task force, Community 360, to advance new ways to engage the community. The progress is detailed in an annual report displayed on the museum’s website.
Yet their claim of serving all the people has had its critics over the decades, as well. Some complain that the museum is elitist, only serving the affluent. August A. Napoli, the former deputy director and chief advancement officer, would disagree and makes a fervent case for the museum’s progress with underserved groups.
“The museum is indeed affecting change in the community,” says Napoli, who recently left the museum to lead United Way of Cleveland. “We have been listening with big ears and developing new methods of interacting with the community.”
To that end, museum representatives have been holding dialogues about how arts and culture can help address community needs. They are developing relationships, asking for input and listening to people’s ideas about how to best serve the community.
The museum has even crossed the Cuyahoga River. Its new Transformer Station, a West Side satellite in Ohio City, opened in 2013. It is a collaboration with nationally respected art collectors Fred and Laura Bidwell of Peninsula. This gateway to new audiences is housed in what was originally a 1924 station that converted power for the old Detroit Avenue streetcar line. Additional programs have included Ohio City Stages, a series of global music summer block parties that attracted more than 10,000 attendees in 2015, as well as several cutting-edge art exhibitions.
Collaborating with other nonprofit organizations is another way the museum is reaching outward. The most recent collaboration was the spectacular centennial celebration concert by its world-famous neighbor, the Cleveland Orchestra, held on the museum’s stunning south terrace on June 26. The joint venture between the two arts powerhouses marked the grand finale of a weekend of centennial festivities. It also was free to the public.
With educational roots that date back to its founding days, it is no surprise that the museum collaborates with other academic organizations, as well. One longstanding partnership with Case Western Reserve University offers an art history and museum studies program that prepares future curators, scholars and museum directors.
Funding all these activities is a powerful collaboration fueled by a range of individuals, foundations and 97 corporate partners throughout Northeast Ohio. It also is supported by Cuyahoga County residents through Cuyahoga Arts and Culture. Additional support comes from the Ohio Arts Council, which helps fund the museum with state tax dollars.
What will the next 100 years bring? As one of the museum’s earliest acquisitions, Rodin’s great “Thinker” has seen it all, sitting pensively at his post since 1917. Perhaps he already knows. As for Griswold, he stays true to the founders’ vision.
“Our aspirations won’t change,” he says. “We will redouble our efforts to engage the entire community, so that everyone understands that this institution belongs to them, and that art can be an important part of their lives.”
Philanthropy in Cleveland: A primer
The Cleveland Museum of Art, like all of Cleveland’s nonprofit organizations, relies heavily on those who love mankind: foundations and corporations, but mainly individuals — some known, some anonymous. In honor of these benefactors, the museum dedicated an essay to them. It is a love letter, of sorts, about philanthropy in America and, particularly, in Cleveland. It reminds us not only of Cleveland’s rich history of giving, but the significance of this great generosity.
Below are excerpts and highlights from a draft of the essay obtained exclusively by Community Leader.
“Filed away in the archives of the Cleveland Museum of Art is a Rockwell Kent lithograph of Prometheus. It is in Aeschylus’ play ‘Prometheus Unbound’ that we see the first known use of the word ‘philanthropy’ — literally, a love of humanity. Aeschylus used the term to describe the great gift Prometheus gave mankind: the gift of fire, and, with it, the ability to create light.
Ever since, human beings have sought to enlighten their communities through philanthropy. And nowhere is that philanthropic heritage stronger than in the United States and, in particular, here in Cleveland.”
First, a brief history: The essay travels back to the 1830s when French historian Alexis de Tocqueville visited the new America. He was amazed how liberally the Americans formed voluntary associations.
“The Americans make associations to give entertainments, to found seminaries, to build inns, to construct churches, to diffuse books, to send missionaries to the antipodes; in this manner they found hospitals, prisons and schools.”
He found this widespread private giving novel. However, philanthropy was already commonplace for early Americans like the Puritans, who settled in New England. Their stewardship would lay the groundwork for such prestigious institutions as Harvard, Yale and Dartmouth, among others.
Following the Civil War, the growing manufacturing industry was creating new wealth and new needs. The philanthropists responded again. New institutions were formed, primarily based in ethnic and religious roots. Many of them would evolve into our modern-day health and human services. And, after the turn of the century, Greater Clevelanders continued to create new ways to meet community needs.
“In an effort to coordinate the city’s growing array of benevolent groups, the chamber of commerce (in Cleveland) created a Federation of Charity and Philanthropy, which initiated the nation’s first secular charity drive…The drive was such a success that, when the United States entered WWI it was the template for the Red Cross and Victory Chest drives that sprang up across the nation.”
“After WWI, the Community Chest of Cleveland continued to run large-scale fundraising drives. The Community Chest later changed its name to the United Way — the first chapter of what would become one of the nation’s most prominent philanthropic groups.”
During this period, the Cleveland Foundation, the nation’s oldest community foundation, also was established. This innovative foundation was devoted to an entire city, rather than a single cause. And, of course, the cornerstones were laid for the many cultural and educational institutions in University Circle, including the Cleveland Museum of Art.
The essay concludes by honoring the museum’s donors for the gifts they have made possible and looking toward a future filled with “the light of knowledge and beauty.”