CMA’s Parade the Circle Returns for 30th Anniversary

Photo by David Brichford

Sat 6/8 @ 10AM-4PM

The closest thing Cleveland has to a truly magical New Orleans-style Mardi Gras celebration parading on the street takes place every spring around Wade Oval.

Of course, we’re referring to the Parade the Circle, the Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) affair where local, national and international artists show off bright costumes, giant puppets, stilt dancers, handmade masks, colorful floats and more. This year’s parade steps off at noon on June 8 from CMA going counterclockwise around Wade Oval.

Parade the Circle’s first event took place in 1990 with roughly 125 participants and 500 people in attendance. A year later there were 600 artists and more than 10,000 visitors. Today, Parade the Circle includes more than 1,500 people in the parade with an estimated crowd of 75,000 visitors taking in the magical experience.

CoolCleveland talked to Parade the Circle director Robin VanLear, who is also the CMA Department of Community Arts director, about this year’s 30thannual event and its “Mythology of Illusion” theme.

CoolCleveland: Let’s look back 30 years and talk about the origin of Parade the Circle.

Robin VanLear: At the time, the museum was coming up to its 75thanniversary. I happened to be in San Francisco and met some members of the (CMA) education staff. We started talking about outreach and ways of involving the community. I showed them pictures of events that I was directing in Santa Barbara called “Summer Solstice Celebration.” I was talking about this outreach experiment I was doing there because it’s similar to Parade the Circle. The people from [CMA] got really excited and wanted to know about possibly making something like that in Cleveland. The next thing I knew they were inviting me to move to Cleveland to do this.

CC: Early on how was Parade the Circle received?

RV: The original plan from the museum’s point of view was we would do it the year before the 75thanniversary as a trial and then for the anniversary, but everybody was so in love with it that we decided to keep doing it.

CC: What is it about Parade the Circle that has lasted three decades?

RV: I think it’s lasted because it gives people an opportunity to be artists themselves who might not normally get that chance or have that time. I think we’re all artists, but we don’t all have the training to be artists. So it’s kind of like if we could all become plumbers because we all got that training and then none of us would have to worry when our pipes burst. This is a chance for people who have an idea to come and work with professional artists and learn some of the techniques of art to make whatever they want to imagine making. That’s why it’s lasted. It’s also a part of knowing the community and the professional artist who lives here.

CC: This year’s theme is “Mythology of Illusion.” Can you elaborate on that concept?

RV: Part of the reason we chose it is because it’s our 30thyear. We were thinking the mythology comes from mythos the Greeks. It basically means the telling of true stories of the people. And illusion is what all art is about. You’re always creating an illusion. Maybe it looks realistic but you’re creating an illusion of, say, a tree, but it’s a painting. Or you create something that’s maybe more abstract. So this is kind of for us like a celebration of this collection of mythology and collection of stories that we as artists and the community have been telling for the past 30 years.

CC: Considering all of the momentum, do you think Parade the Circle can last for another 30 years?

RV: I don’t know, we’ll see. We think it’s already a part of Cleveland’s mythology.

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