Robin VanLear, Arts Outreach Innovator


Asked to link their first encounter with community-based art to a person, most Clevelanders would come up with one name: Robin VanLear. The Cleveland Museum of Art's coordinator of community arts has led hundreds of adults and children into making art with their friends and families. She has shown them the connections between the art in the museum's galleries and what they can make at home. She has helped them to see art not only as relevant to today's world, but as something important in their lives.

Since 1990 VanLear has lured people to the arts with a yearly series of sparkling and exciting events at the Cleveland Museum of Art, such as the Chalk Festival, Circlefest and Parade the Circle. In addition, she produced the gala parade that opened Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and has worked with Cleveland Opera, Young Audiences and other groups to engage new audiences. In turn, these organizations and others have joined VanLear and her volunteers to create costumes, performances and artwork that have brightened the walls—and streets—of northeastern Ohio. In the process many a budding artist has discovered the joy of his or her own creativity.

VanLear’s greatest contribution to the regional arts scene is Parade the Circle, the extravaganza that each June attracts more than 30,000 participants and spectators. Produced in collaboration with University Circle, Incorporated and its member organizations, the parade is a colorful, musical, non-commercial celebration of grassroots creativity with child-centered activities and performances throughout the day. And, if anecdotal evidence—and ancillary attendance figures—can be credited, Parade the Circle has transformed many a casual parade-goer into a new art lover. VanLear, who holds a master of fine arts in sculpture from the University of California Santa Barbara, found the key to people's minds and hearts in the parade's fantastic ensembles, dozens of costumed stilt walkers and as many as 70 colorful puppet figures, some of them up to 18 feet tall. No wonder Parade the Circle, which won the coveted Governor’s Award for Outreach in 2001, has become the area's most successful outreach event.

Besides running training sessions for the parade's group leaders, VanLear imports parade artists from Trinidad, South America, Jamaica and Mexico to share their skills and ideas in art-making workshops open to anyone. The informal atmosphere and hands-on character of the experience allows members of the community to rub elbows with creative people while gaining confidence in their own abilities. Displaying—indeed, parading—their work in and around Wade Oval before an appreciative audience links Clevelanders to the creative act in the most rewarding and public way possible.

Robin VanLear's tireless crusade has brought art into the lives of toddlers, grandparents, teens and a broad range of adults. The highly imaginative, often inspired creations they produce testify to the excitement and new sense of commitment engendered by this charismatic and visionary woman.


Cleveland Arts Prize
P.O. Box 21126 • Cleveland, OH 44121 • 440-523-9889 •