Photos: Voix de Ville

My Response to Steve Litt’s Article

On October 13th, Steven Litt published Grand Rapids’ wildly successful ArtPrize event offers lessons for Cleveland’s Ingenuity Fest“.  In it, he sets up ArtPrize as a competitor to IngenuityFest, and profiles its founder, the festival model, and its success.  In his praise for ArtPrize, Litt heavily criticizes Ingenuity for its venue, presentation of art, and the quality of the art itself.

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Akimitsu Sadoi’s animated LED piece Rainfall which sat just to the left of Litt’s photo of Ingenuity featured in the October 13 Plain Dealer Article.  Photo courtesy of the Plain Dealer.

It’s bewildering and confusing as to why Litt would go out of his way to make such a lopsided argument against an organization that is striving to do the very things that he cites as positive attributes of the Grand Rapids event.  In addition, it is baffling as to why he doesn’t compare budgets.  ArtPrize has a $3.5 million budget while Ingenuity’s is approximately $400,000.

The article underscores its point by using a poorly framed photo of Ingenuity that deliberately shows no art.  Meanwhile he featured an entire gallery of work from Grand Rapids.  Litt could argue that he was simply recording what he saw, but The Plain Dealer itself featured a slide show showing similar happy crowds of people interacting with art at Ingenuity.

It’s also confusing as to why the ArtPrize founder Rick DeVos was given plenty of quotes, while Ingenuity was only asked about attendance a few hours before deadline.  If the article is going to compare two organizations then both should be given the chance to respond.  We’re happy to talk about the festival, its goals, its success, economic impact, and why it’s important to Cleveland.  We’d also be happy to outline why IngenuityFest is actually achieving more impact dollar for dollar than its supposed competitor.

ArtPrize also gets a free ride when it comes to the quality of the artwork itself.

To be sure, the event is artistically mixed. That’s to be expected, given the open, bottom-up nature of the collaborations among artists and venues.

George Kozmon creates his epic 80-foot mural at IngenuityFest. His work is featured in collections at the Cleveland Museum of Art, Hyatt Regency Cologne, The Progressive Collection, IBM, The Butler Institute of American Art, and The Cleveland Clinic Foundation.

Meanwhile, Ingenuity artwork is dismissed as “poorly installed, B-grade art.”  Litt spends a few paragraphs discussing the merits and problems of several ArtPrize pieces but doesn’t give the artists at Ingenuity even the courtesy of a critique.  Many of the artists at Ingenuity have work installed in major museums, have received praise for their work around the world, and created insightful work for Ingenuity that will have lasting impact.  They deserve well thought out, insightful criticism, not a few sentences dismissing their work.

Tesla Orchestra lights up the lakefront with a dazzling display of light and sound.

Litt also disparages Ingenuity’s location as “two grimy lakefront warehouses.”  (How dare you call them warehouses, sir!)  Look, of course they’re grimy.  But if you can’t see past that, then you’re missing what Cleveland seems to have missed for decades:  A BIG BEAUTIFUL LAKE!  Ingenuity has created a minor miracle by doing what this city has yearned for: an urban lakefront filled with bustling activity during the day and at night.  Anyone who witnessed the Tesla Orchestra’s amazing display of lighting over Lake Erie on Saturday of the fest could not describe this festival as ‘small bore’ in any sense.  The location allows us to do projects that are large scale and transformative.  Sometimes you make a trade-off for grime. It seems like Grand Rapids had another problem: renovation and revitalization with no street-life.   Most Clevelanders would agree that our major problem is not pristine but bland spaces.  Rather we have a city that is reinventing itself on top of an industrial past that, in many ways, is still our future.

Also, the warehouses, while grimy, allow art to appear that wouldn’t be possible in other venues.  George Kozmon’s epic painting was 80 feet long and was created on site over the course of the weekend.  The Voix De Ville was a circus tent pitched inside along with two shipping containers from Cleveland Container Systems.  These types of installations take advantage of large space and are responding to it.  They would not work in a pristine environment.  It’s a whole narrative that goes beyond grime and is about reinvention and renaissance.

Cleveland Container Systems help transform two grimy warehouses into a vibrant space for art, performance, culture, food, and more.

And then there’s the budget.  Why Litt makes no comparison is beyond reason.  Ingenuity’s operating budget is tiny compared to ArtPrize.  In fact, if you did the numbers, we would scale up nicely against them. Better even. Ingenuity’s spends about $10 per attendee while ArtPrize spends about $15.  That means that if you scaled us up, Ingenuity would potentially reach nearly a 1/3 more people.

Comparing an organization with$3.5 million to one with $400,000 without acknowledging that fact is ludicrous.  Where is the lesson here for Ingenuity?  We need to drum up more financial support?   If that’s the lesson, it seems misdirected.

Ingenuity has a very lean budget, spends comparatively little on marketing and overhead, and still produces year-round events like Maker Faire, the Bal Ingénieux and other educational/outreach activities.

Digital art from Michael Nekic, whose work is featured in local and international collections.

It’s no secret that some Clevelanders are sometimes their own worst enemies and this article appears to be an addition to that sad, tired narrative.  In this storyline, Cleveland is a place where, either nothing is happening or all the wrong things are.  This is a world where even success is a failure because it doesn’t live up to another city’s activities.  This is only my opinion, but I believe that there are dozens of artists that were presented at Ingenuity whose work would compete very well in the context of ArtPrize.  Their only sin was to appear in Cleveland.

Pinch and Squeal outside the Voix du Ville. The mobile vaudville theatre premiered at Ingenuity and will pop up all over the region. Several performers also participated in ArtPrize in previous years.

Thankfully I think this attitude is changing. A new group of innovators, creators, artists, musicians and passionate change-makers are seeing potential in this city.  These are people who encounter two grimy warehouses on a lake and see only possibilities.  It’s also an energy that is catching on as Ingenuity’s curatorial process attracts artists from all over the world.  (If you missed Akimitsu Sadoi’s piece Rainfall you can view it at the Cleveland Public Library on the lower floor).

Jeff Chiplis’ work greets visitors at the entrance to IngenuityFest. After displays in galleries in Cleveland and New York City, this was the first fully-realized version of the piece.

You can see this movement happening all over the city with events like Brite Winter, Weapons of Mass Creation, the Cleveland Flea and many, many others in addition to Ingenuity.  The sooner we stop wishing we were somewhere else, and start investing in what we have, the sooner these passions can ignite true change in the city.

The sad part here is that Litt missed an opportunity to make a great point and offer a truly valuable lesson.  $3.5 million invested in a festival can do fantastic things for a city.  It will be a happy day in Cleveland when we can say that an event funded to that calibre exists here.  Let’s just hope that funders see the real story here: Cleveland’s IngenuityFest is gaining momentum and could have a larger impact with a larger budget.    In other words, the model is working here.  Full scale it is working in other cities.  Now it’s time to double-down and scale up.

2013 Images: Visual Art


First of many pics from Frank Lanza of Ingenuity 2013

Terrific IngenuityFest 2013 Video from CIA

The Cleveland Institute of Art is a terrific partner and sponsor of Ingenuity.  From a great industrial design exhibit (featuring the newly redesigned Viper) to Bio-mimicry to a curated film fest in a shipping container to a whole slew of artists on site that are faculty, alum, and student, the Cleveland Institute of Art continues to be an asset to Ingenuity and to the entire community.  Enjoy the video!