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Installation view of “Martine Syms” at the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland. Photo: Field Studio.

Inaugural FRONT International Generates $31 Million in Northeast Ohio, Report Finds

The first edition of FRONT International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art, the regional exhibition that closed after a more than two-month run in September, boosted the economy in northeast Ohio, helping to bring in $31 million from cultural tourism. According to an impact study by Cleveland State University’s Center for Economic Development, the numerous sites activated by the presentation welcomed 227,000 visitors, garnered $115 million in sales, and generated more than $8 million in state and local taxes.

FRONT’s executive director, Fred Bidwell, attributed the exhibition’s success to the strength of its artistic program, which was led by curator Michelle Grabner and featured work by more than 114 artists, and its participating partners. “We were very pleased to see that 34 percent of visitors to FRONT exhibitions came from outside of Northeast Ohio, and during our opening week, over 50 percent were from out of town,” Bidwell said.

While the triennial brought in more money to the region than the $5 million it cost to stage the exhibition—the majority of which was raised from private institutions, private donors, and foundations—and made national headlines, Bidwell told Cleveland.com that it did not drum up as much awareness locally. “I thought all the Uber drivers are going to know about this,” he said. “No. It did not nearly penetrate as deeply as I wanted with the general public. That’s a learning I want to take into the next edition. How do we improve on that?” 

In the year leading up to the event, FRONT mounted nearly three hundred programs, including films, lectures, conversations, performances, and tours. Among the institutions that hosted events were the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Akron Art Museum, the Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin College, the Cleveland Institute of Art, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland, SPACES Gallery, Case Western Reserve University, and Transformer Station.

“We are pleased that the grand collaboration between Northeast Ohio’s extraordinary arts and culture institutions will continue,” said Bill Griswold, director of the Cleveland Museum of Art. “We fully expect that the FRONT Triennial has the potential to become a lasting arts institution for the region that increases in equity and impact over time, further enhancing the prosperity and reputation of the participating institutions and the region as a whole.” Planning for the second edition of FRONT, which will take place in 2021, is already underway.

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