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Parade the Circle: In the Beginning
The first Parade the Circle event, 1990.
This year marks the Cleveland Museum of Art's 25th Parade the Circle event. Since 1990, the Cleveland Museum of Art has been bringing this FREE signature summer event to Greater Cleveland. University Circle comes alive with color, music, and art for all ages. International and national guest artists join Greater Cleveland artists, families, schools, and community groups in a spectacular display of bright costumes, giant puppets, stilt-dancers, handmade masks, and colorful floats. Circle Village, which includes activities, entertainment, and food, is presented by University Circle Inc. Leading up to the June 14, 2014 event, we feature some of the stories that make up the last 25 years of Parade the Circle.
Today, it takes a team of 50 artists to put on Parade the Circle. In the beginning we barely numbered ten. Nonetheless, the artists and community members formed a close-knit team that produced far more than their numbers would suggest. A few of these individuals share their stories here.
Jesse Rhinehart, my husband, has been part of the Parade team every year since the beginning. I never could have accomplished this without him. Nan Eisenberg, now Community Arts Coordinator, has also been part of every Parade and transitioned to museum staff member 20 years ago. Robyn Einhorn and I were hired by CMA at the same time and were office mates until she moved west in 1993. Kathy Colquhoun had recently joined the CMA staff when I arrived in Cleveland. She eagerly joined the Parade team and for 15 years was one of the pivotal organizers of the annual Education Department Parade ensemble. Mary Duhigg, like Nan, came to Parade as a participant in our public workshops. Since her first Parade year in 1991, only one year, because she was in the hospital, did Mary miss participating in parade. Read their stories below of how they became involved with Parade the Circle in the beginning.
A Parade? What kind of a PARADE? Around the Circle? What for? An ART PARADE to celebrate creativity and community? Oh, now I get it-OK, let's give it a try and see what happens. That very first year members of CMA's Education and Public Programs Department enthusiastically rolled up their sleeves and pitched in to create Dancing Water Lilies out of chicken wire, foam, papier-mâché and lots of green paint. It was new, experimental and turned out to be the beginning of 25 years of artistic growth and creativity in the community.
In ensuing years CMA staff from many departments became The Marilyns (dripping in diamonds), Gauguin's South Seas Ladies (in hand batiked sarongs with a 30-foot batiked silk ocean), Flamingo Fandango (with lovely long pool noodle necks), Painted Paper Doll, Old Fashioned Bathing Beauties, Zulu Zebra Warriors, Picasso's Bulls, "Ride Em Cowboys", etc, etc. What fun! My, how things have grown!
It all began with Nancy Roy in the art therapy room at Abington Arms explaining Parade the Circle. We were all different musical instruments in our first year, which was the second Parade. I was a baby grand piano (pictured above). I did a pillow keyboard and papier-mâché for the rest. We worked in the old classrooms downstairs.
This was before I got my power wheelchair and I had to be pushed manually. By my third year in the parade I had my first power wheelchair. That changed everything. It broadened the horizons for what could be done!
In the first years our costumes were made with wood frames and bolted onto our wheels chairs. I remember being stuck in my Jack in the Box costume in 90 degree heat waiting for one of the guys to come and unbolt me. Then we got coaxial cable. Zip ties replaced the bolts and we could be snipped out quickly. Now, I even bring my own scissors.
I was fresh from graduate school and starting my first real job as an art educator for the Cleveland Museum of Art. At the museum I immediately met my office mate and partner in crime, Robin VanLear. In time I learned my new name, the other Robyn. The first Parade the Circle was our first venture together. I had no idea the parade would become the mega extravaganza it is today, or Robin VanLear, the parade trailblazer, grand organizer, and artistic genius she is today. I knew then that it was really fun and I was getting paid to play with groups of people, be creative, and make art. That first parade my team made an entry about the Egyptian galleries. We built a mummy case and Canopic jar costumes (pictured below). At this Parade performance was as important as our sculpture. We created street theater, and stopped walking along the parade route intermittently, to perform. I remember the parade day was fabulous, but the workshops, camaraderie, and artistic spirit in the weeks that lead up to the parade were priceless and have remained with me as one of the highlights in my life for the last 25 years.
I wasn’t interested in Parade. I went to the first Parade workshop because I liked doing papier-mâché and no longer remembered how. I was the only person there who wasn’t a hired artist or part of a Tri-C class. I decided to make a frog as I had in sixth grade. Robin suggested using a balloon base for an oversize head. I read about frogs and learned leopard frogs aren’t the only kind. I used foam for popping out eyes and big funny feet. I made tadpoles with eyes from my father’s old Norelco razors to carry on my back like rainforest frogs.
I decided to Parade. Why not? To get ready we worked through the night after the museum was officially closed. My tongue was a party blow-out toy. When it shot out to catch a fly, people along the parade route laughed, except a few young children who cried. To paraphrase Basho: New pond/frog jumps/plop. If there had been only one parade I would have counted it as one of the best things in my life. Now it’s the 25th parade and I’m still swimming in that pond.
I was brought in from Southern California to work on the parade the very first year and I have been here ever since. I believe it was because of my knowledge, expertise and skill sets, and/or the possibility that I was married to Robin VanLear.
The museum’s plan for the parade was to last for two years. The first was a trial run and the second was for the 75th anniversary. By the third year the general public had a different plan.
The funding for the parade by today’s standards, and even then, was nonexistent. What few paid positions there were, were predicated on one’s ability to scavenge. It was said that if one could not scrounge his weight in dry wall screws and 2x4’s by the end of the month they were not going to receive their $30 paycheck.
We have come a long way by now, however there are still a couple of budgetary shortfalls. One is the woeful lack of funding for staff luxury yacht cruises and the other is that I have only been given 100 words or so to express my 25-year involvement with the parade. I am sure neither will change but I am still secretly pulling for the luxury cruises.
Do you have an early memory of Parade the Circle? Share it in the comments below!