By Emily Hirsch, Kress Interpretive Fellow, Public and Academic Engagement
“I know of no other city in which so beautiful a development is located exactly where it can be seen by such large numbers of its population as they pass by in pursuit of their regular daily vocations.” — Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. on the CMA’s Fine Arts Garden, 1927
Public greenspaces benefit city life in many ways, from providing a place to interact with nature to serving as a community gathering site. Here at the Cleveland Museum of Art, our greenspaces are activated with art, programming, and pleasing landscaping for public enjoyment. All these efforts are designed to encourage visitors to explore the museum beyond the building’s limits, a tradition that began nearly a century ago with the creation of the Fine Arts Garden.
When the CMA opened in 1916, it was situated within 63 acres of land donated to the city by the industrialist Jeptha Homer Wade II. Construction left the surrounding landscape in poor condition, untended and unbefitting for the new museum. The solution was to create the Fine Arts Garden, located between the south entrance of the museum and Euclid Avenue. The CMA, in collaboration with the city of Cleveland and the Garden Club of Cleveland, hired the landscape architecture firm of Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. to helm the project.
Between 1925 and 1928, the Fine Arts Garden took the shape many Clevelanders are still familiar with: a suite of sculpture designed by Chester A. Beach that forms the Court of Nature, a formal garden with specially selected plants leading to Wade Lagoon, and the weeping Japanese cherry trees in a variety of pink and white blossoms.
Today, we are still expanding and developing the landscape in keeping with Olmsted’s declaration that the CMA’s grounds be a place for members of the community to enjoy as they pass through every day. These developments include the Nord Family Greenway, which created a promenade across the Fine Arts Garden connecting Case Western Reserve University’s main and west campuses, and East Bell Commons, a new park in the space once occupied by the Cleveland Institute of Art. This spring, the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District restored the banks of Doan Brook along its west side in preparation for the museum to develop a new green space for the community. Most recently, we unveiled the landscape master plan that outlines the museum’s vision for the future of the 42.5 acres of land it owns or manages in University Circle.
As summer begins, we invite you to explore and learn about the landscape and art that animate the outdoor spaces here at the CMA. The “Explore the Outdoors! at CMA” self-guided landscape tour (available mid-June) draws attention to features in four zones of the museum’s campus: the North Lawn and North Sculpture Garden, the South Terraces, Doan Brook/West Border, and the Fine Arts Garden and Wade Lagoon. Highlights include the installation of contemporary sculpture in the North Sculpture Garden, Auguste Rodin’s Thinker on the South Terraces, and the Court of Nature in the Fine Arts Garden. In addition, docent-guided tours covering different points of focus on the CMA’s grounds will be offered every other Wednesday through September 18 at 3:00 p.m.; meet in the Ames Family Atrium.
The CMA is also participating in Cleveland’s Cuyahoga50 celebration, honoring the 50th anniversary of the 1966 Cuyahoga River fire, with two free exhibitions: Water: Edward Burtynsky (June 8–September 22, Mark Schwartz and Bettina Katz Photography Gallery) and Cai Guo-Qiang: Cuyahoga River Lightning (May 25–September 22, Larry and Julia Pollock Focus Gallery).
The Water Lounge in the Parker Hannifin Corporation Donor Gallery supplements the exhibitions with a timeline of the fire and subsequent environmental reforms, reading materials, and a space to respond to the question “How might we use the grounds around the CMA to make it a welcoming outdoor destination for museum visitors and area residents?” We hope the responses will provide meaningful feedback as we work toward implementing the landscape master plan. Visit, explore, and learn this summer at the CMA!