Sneak peek: Cleveland claims its position FRONT and center in the international art world

Nov. 01, 2021

Sneak peek: Cleveland claims its position FRONT and center in the international art world


Painting by Dexter Davis.Textiles by Loraine Lynn. Furniture by SO-IL.
Painting by Dexter Davis.Textiles by Loraine Lynn. Furniture by SO-IL. Courtesy of FRONT Triennial

A lot can happen in four years, and for many of us, 2018—the year that FRONT Triennial made its colorful debut across Cleveland—feels like a lifetime ago. As the triennial event prepares to yet again position The Land at the epicenter of the global art world next summer, FRONT plans to explore much-needed themes of healing and transformation.

“Believe it or not, this idea of art as a mode of therapy and agent of healing was developed even before the pandemic,” says Fred Bidwell, owner of Transformer Station and executive director for FRONT Triennial. “But COVID and all of the social unrest that has happened has made it even more relevant. We firmly believe art can be an agent for change because it’s a safe place to have difficult conversations and bring people together.”

A rendering of the exterior community plaza that will surround Transformer Station during FRONT 2022

FRONT will bring that to life through the theme “Oh, Gods of Dust and Rainbows,” a nod to a 1957-written Langston Hughes couplet: Oh, Gods of Dust and Rainbows, help us to see that without the dust the rainbow would not be. That theme will guide the 2022 rendition (postponed from its original 2021 date)—slated to take place from July 16-October 2, 2022 with a compelling array of programming, performances, and artwork across Cleveland, Akron, and Oberlin.

The return of FRONT is an exciting prospect—especially in light of the 90,000 visitors from 25 countries and $31 million in economic impact generated by the first installment. And for those who can’t wait until next summer, Bidwell and his colleagues have a sneak peek in store. This Friday, October 8, a ribbon-cutting ceremony and free opening reception will be held at Transformer Station to kick off the FRONT festivities and the preview exhibition, “Grand Prototypes, Humble Tools” (a title also inspired by Langston Hughes).

“The show opening this weekend will be a really unusual exhibition,” says Bidwell. “We don’t see it as a finished, polished presentation—it’s really a peek into the process of making a show. What you’ll see are works by artists who are developing new commissions for next summer, and you’ll be able to get a feel for what kinds of artists they are.”

Blue wall sculpture by Paul O'Keeffe and furniture by SO-IL

According to Bidwell, the preview showcases an eclectic mix of media from virtual reality video to textile art to hard-edged sculpture to art furniture. Locally-focused works include Jacolby Satterwhite’s Dawn (a CGI fantasy film created in tandem with Fairfax residents and the Cleveland Clinic) and seating prototypes by SO-IL (the architecture firm designing Martin Luther King, Jr. Library on Euclid Avenue).

While the exhibition and triennial event will feature artists from around the world, Bidwell is energized by the prospect of raising the profile of local artists such as Dexter Davis and Paul O’Keeffe. “FRONT positions Cleveland as a player in the international art world,” says Bidwell. “We’re bringing renowned artists to Cleveland, but also putting local artists on the same level. Ultimately, our dream is that one or two local artists will gain the attention of the international art world and build careers around that. “

The Grand Prototypes, Humble Tools preview exhibition runs from October 8 – January 2, 2022 at Transformer Station (1460 W. 29th St., Cleveland). The opening reception is from 6-9 p.m. on October 8, featuring music by DJ Red-I and live screen printing of artist-designed t-shirts from nyceCO Prints. Refreshments will be available. For more information, email