Parade the Circle, 2012
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.
It is hard to remember now what I thought might happen – the results of a casual conversation with members of the museum’s education department at a College Art Association convention in San Francisco in early spring 1989 – or why even I brought those snapshots with me, in my purse, of an ensemble I had lead for the Summer Solstice Celebration in Santa Barbara in June 1988. Was something like this possible in Cleveland? Everyone wanted to know. Yes, I was sure. It would only be important to get to know the community, the individual needs and desires of each neighborhood. Then five months later I was here with my husband, daughter, cat, dog, and the charge to bring Parade the Circle to life in time for the museum’s 75th anniversary in June, 1991.
The first Parade the Circle (Robin VanLear pictured in the foreground).
Luckily, we all agreed that it would be important to create a trial Parade in 1990. As small as we were in that first year, 125 paraders enjoyed by only a few hundred spectators, we were an inspired team full of spirit and the stamina to work straight through those last few nights before Parade day, a day that dawned full of rain and then burst into sunshine an hour before Parade time. We were united in the belief that the efforts of artists committed to sharing their artistic vision and techniques with equally engaged community members would not only lead to the creation of ingenious art but inspire a mutual respect.
Believing that to appreciate the fabulous works of art in the museum collection it is helpful to engage in the creative process for oneself and that working side by side with professional artists will provide the opportunity to take pride in ones own creativity while simultaneously developing an appreciation for the skill and dedication it takes to bring the initial idea to fruition. The nice thing is that this collaboration is a two way street and the inspiration and respect that develops goes both ways.
VanLear pictured on stilts at the Parade the circle grand finale in 1999.
Does it work? Today, Parade the Circle engages well over 1,000 community members annually working side by side with dozens of artists to create the works that become the annual Parade the Circle. Their efforts are appreciated by tens of thousands of Clevelanders.
What do I wish for the future of Parade and its life in Cleveland? I hope that Parade will continue as long as it doesn’t compromise the beliefs that it started with. Parade must continue to utilize the skills of the most talented local, national and international artists who have a passion for working with community. Parade must engage community members fully by offering them the opportunity to challenge themselves to create at the highest level. Parade must remain true to the vision that it is a program and not an event, a tool for artistic community collaboration and not a corporate enterprise. How long will Parade last? It is hard to tell. Hopefully it will be here to celebrate with the museum as it enters its next century of community service.
What ever follows, Parade will have helped community members representing a variety of greater Cleveland neighborhoods and occupations, to appreciate art, artists and each other, as well as take ownership of this amazing museum that is part of our legacy.