Behind the Scenes of Parade the Circle
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.
For most Clevelanders who think about the individual artists behind Parade the Circle, I am the public face, the person upon whom they heap all of the credit. It has always been sad to me that our city doesn’t focus enough on the dozens of incredibly talented artists, technicians and organizers who bring the event to life. It is these artists who guide members of families, church groups, school groups, neighborhood centers and random individuals through the creation of their wildest dreams.
If you come to our public workshops it all starts with Donna. She is our registrar, workshop accounts manager, and concierge. She greets you with warmth and guides you to your jumping off point. If that point is in our costume shop you will be in the capable hands of Sue Berry. Skilled beyond belief in the fine art of sewing, and garment restoration, Sue is also wise in the ways of figuring out quickly how much experience you have and how much time you want to put into sewing up your costume. She will find the perfect balance to bring your costume to reality without wearing you out. Should you arrive at the Parade tent you will meet the Tent Tsar himself. Chuck has that uncanny ability to keep everyone in line, cleaning up and smiling at the same time. He is a master of mache and personality. Mark will be there too and he is the quickest, cleverest construction artist I have ever met. Your dream will become his command to get your construction off to the perfect start. And then there is Scott. Way behind the scenes, Scott now lives in San Francisco and yet still sources materials for us throughout the year and then arrives in Cleveland one to two weeks before parade day to save our souls and keep us fed. Scott travels from tent, to studio and back with just the perfect solution to that last minute need and most always with food in hand.
It is these artists and many more that you should thank in your hearts each year when you share the joy that is Parade the Circle.
Parade guideline #1 - Everyone must be in costume. Sometimes this is the focus of an ensemble, sometimes it is an afterthought. The costume room has everything participants need: fabric, patterns, tools, equipment instruction, and encouragement.
One Parade season, a woman came into the workshop and wanted to do something with her grandchildren. We threw out ideas, picked fabric, and talked about construction. Then she asked when things would be done and when she could pick them up. I explained Parade participants created their own costumes with the guidance of the Parade staff. Needless to say, this woman was not happy.
But then she came back with a friend and they quietly worked away on their costumes. There were several snags, but as she worked through them she became more passionate about her project. As she worked, I learned she had cancer and that this would probably be her only parade.
Parade day came and I saw them waiting in the lineup. Grandmother and grandchildren: all were beaming with happiness! The kids were so proud of their grandmother -- this gift of time, energy, creativity, and most of all, love that she gave them. And the woman? She was so proud to have pulled it off for them. She created a memory that they’ll never forget. I hope they have many more parades.
Being part of the Parade staff for 20 years, I spent most of those years searching for cheap bamboo, three-pound buckets of wheat paste, dumpster diving for coaxial cable, scouring Pat Catan’s for art supplies, and at times cursing the gods, asking why the hell do I do this year in and year out?
On Parade day I am usually one of the first to arrive. I spend the morning getting the floats lined up, assembling the giant puppets and getting myself prepared to perform. After moving to San Francisco in 2010, I was invited back as a guest artist. For the first time in almost 16 years, I was able to see the Parade from beginning to end. I finally got to see why I spent all those years running my butt off searching for materials. It was so all the artists, community groups, families and brave individuals had what they needed to create their parade ensemble. Seeing all those wonderfully creative floats, the joy on the kids’ faces, and families enjoying this amazing event, brought tears to my eyes. I felt so honored to be part of something so magical, to see the Cleveland community coming together in a celebration of art.
The circus is in town! The art gypsies have arrived! The parade tent is up! One of my favorite behind the scenes memories is a conversation that happened a number of years ago when we had the privilege of working with a group of French and African guest artists. After the parade had run we sat talking, and they related to me that in all of their travels at venues around the world never had they experienced such openness and an atmosphere of sharing...sharing of ideas, both technical and aesthetic. And, at all of the other festivals they have worked at the artists set up camps and work in secrecy. But, here in Cleveland they found a caring communal collaboration of creativity.
This philosophy comes from the parade’s artistic director, Robin VanLear. She believes that sharing technique, insights and ideas is how it should be. They belong to all of us. And, this philosophy has been embraced by the entire staff, making Parade the Circle unique.
I’m the Parade registrar for Parade the Circle. I’m there to sign-up workshop participants and also to introduce new participants to our artists so they can get started on their Parade idea. I also have some “other duties as assigned,” which are always fun.
If you’ve visited the museum during Parade season, you may have seen my “desk.” It’s a fun and colorful wooden cart covered in vintage Parade posters that sits at the intersection of the mask and sewing rooms on the lower level of the museum. It’s a little welcome wagon with information about workshops and the Parade itself.
My favorite is a new parade participant. “I’ve watched the Parade many times. Now I want to be in it,” is the comment I hear. With a “deer in the headlights” look, he/she proceeds cautiously. For me, it’s gratifying to watch this person over the course of our workshops, create, build up confidence, and become part of the Parade family. There is always at least one person or group each year that fits this description.
My reign began 23 years ago. After my first week in the Parade production tent, I realized order was needed. Let's face it, creative people can be messy. And creative they were. That's when I was anointed Tent Czar (properly, Tsar). My duties evolved; organizing work areas and supplies, sweeping (unheard of), encouraging creators to keep work surfaces clean, and discouraging the practice of "air drying" paint brushes after use. Water is plentiful in my realm. Not an easy task!
Along the way, I became an expert at papier-mâché, volunteer coordinator, outreach artist, and, oh yes, cook - preparing brunch for our weekly Sunday meetings. All this because Robin VanLear said, "Join us."
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> BLOG: Parade the Circle: 25 Years Later and Looking Forward
> BLOG: Parade the Circle: In the Beginning
> Learn more about Parade the Circle
> Participate in Parade