Parade the Circle: Engaging the Community

Karamu House paraders partake in the 2011 Parade the Circle event. 

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. 

From its inception, Parade the Circle and "community" have been inextricably linked.  The mission behind Parade has one pre-eminent principal:  everyone is creative; professional artists and their community have more in common than is often accounted for; and that artists and community members working side by side will engender a mutual respect, inspiring both.

The five artists contributing to this blog have all played a major roll in artistically energizing the greater Cleveland community. Buff was part of the creative team for the first Parade the Circle, when that team numbered less than 10.  Most recently he has guided dozens of pre-school children and their families as they take their first steps as paraders. Hector, who never stops giving of himself, was just named Ohio’s Distinguished Citizen for Arts Education.  His work for the past decade with Parade has proved him more than worthy of this honor. Each year Ian works tirelessly as the coordinator for the Abington Arms ensemble, while simultaneously leading the Urban Community School outreach ensemble and inspiring us all with a Parade ensemble of his own.  Wendy moved to the Cleveland area from her home country of Trinidad and Tobago.  A lover of Carnival, Wendy has warmed the hearts and enlivened the spirits of school children and parents all over greater Cleveland with her enthusiasm, vibrant color palette, and dynamic sense of design.  Last but definitely not least, Debbie, our Parade Outreach Coordinator, is organized and pragmatic yet empathetic, inspired and ingenious in her ability to make fabulous creations out of most any material she finds at hand.

Without their tireless energy and vision Parade the Circle would not be such an integral part of so many lives in such a variety of places throughout our city. Read on for their perspective of what community means to each of them.

Debbie Apple-Presser

I began as an outreach artist, with Parade the Circle, 17 years ago at Coventry Elementary School, Cleveland Heights, where my children attended. We were known as the large group (pictured at right), totaling 100 participants. Lake View Cemetery was our sponsor, and cemetery was always our theme. Despite the hot weather at times and heavy costumes, participants came back year after year to get up and do it again. Amen.

Through the years I have worked in schools, church basements, libraries, homeless shelters, community centers, anywhere we could make costumes with the kids. When meeting for the first time, it was hard to explain the thrill and magic of Parade. I always told them that they would never ever forget their day in the Parade. The smiles on their faces have never proven me wrong.

We bring in international artists that at times the students get to work with. One of my fondest memories is when a dancer from Burkina Faso was doing his native dance in his ceremonial dress at a workshop at Shaw High. A student came in from the hall hearing the music. The student locked eyes with this performer, jumped in, and responded with his hip hop style of dance, to the music. Two cultures, one music. It was magic. That is Parade the Circle.

Hector Castellanos Lara

It’s here now, the Parade the Circle 25th anniversary. Artists aim to make the most interesting and creative ensembles, to produce enchanted floats that bring together visual artists, dancers, musicians, and the whole community. Parade the Circle, such a remarkable and unique event, enriches our lives. Each year it has been a big pleasure to be part of this event with countless opportunities to work with the community and with national and international artists. We all come together to bring skills and a new vision to this magical circle and to celebrate life. It is an honor to be part of those special moments, to see familiar faces as we welcome everyone with open arms, mind, and soul. Together with the new participants and their amazing ideas we will come to share our art and support them to make their dreams come true.

Buff Jozsa

Twenty-five years ago, I was fortunate enough to become part of the beginning of a wonderful Cleveland tradition.  Robin VanLear developed the idea of creating a community project to bring together all those want-to be circus performers and march around University Circle for a day of artistic exuberance. All that was needed to join in was a willingness to release an inner want to create something wonderful, something wonderful that could be pulled, worn or dragged around the circle in front of thousands of cheering revelers.  Who could have known that first Saturday in 1990, that today's celebration of spirit could result from Robin's inkling of "what if?" to the full day of happiness that we now know. Children of all ages gather and are welcomed to become silly for awhile  and to show that art, just as a smile and laughter, are a universal language. 

Wendy Mahon

I found a home! I am a native Trinidadian and had lived in this new culture for 17 years and then I found the Parade. Here was a place for me to meet, connect to, and work with people from Cleveland, my native country, to other parts of the world. This personal and powerful experience was a first step for me in my work as an outreach artist of the past 18 years in providing that same opportunity to others through the Parade. To me the Parade is an opportunity to overcome the isolation of location, language, and culture. My first outreach experience was in engaging young people from the rural community of Hiram. They were so excited and enthusiastic that they worked for weeks making their costumes and finally made the hour drive to participate in the Parade. As one student said, “When you're 10 years old and there are giant puppets, dancers, and musicians everywhere, it's the most fun and most fantastical experience you can have. You remember it forever."

The Parade has also enabled me to reach out to a variety of cultures. Involvement in the Parade has enabled Spanish speaking seniors to overcome language barriers through the universal language of art. It has allowed them to become more visible in the community, to connect with others who share their heritage and to feel more a part of the Cleveland community - to feel this is home.

Ian Petroni

Over my years working on Parade the Circle, I have taught many outreach sites at after school programs (pictured at left). The progress on our pieces inevitably seems to hit a wall on the third or fourth visit when the newness of the project gives way to the tedium of a process like papier-mâché. Tired from a long day and sick of sitting in a classroom, the children don’t seem to find the same meditative beauty that I enjoy in repetitive tasks. They become unfocused, messy, loud, disrespectful, and unproductive. It takes all my effort to keep them moving forward on the project. Out of my whole Parade experience, these times are the most challenging. However, when l see these same school groups after the Parade, without fail the students who were grumpy and ornery are now beaming, grinning ear to ear, so eager to tell me how everyone loved their work and cheered them on. That moment is precious, because I can see how proud the students are of all their hard work. And if I return to that same school the next year: while the first time students are grumbling and complaining, those students who were in the Parade before will grit their teeth and silently papier-mâché with determination. Even if they’re not enjoying it, they know it is only through such hard work that they can achieve that blissful feeling on Parade day.


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