Cleveland, once a major industrial hub with smoke-belching steel mills darkening its skyline, changed considerably. Just 115 miles (185 km) from Toledo, OH, the city became a major American manufacturing center. Many car companies set up their factories here. Today, remnants of this era stand out in the form of warehouses, railroad tracks and vertical lift bridges on Lake Erie. Later, these warehouses became state-of-the-art galleries and some of the best art museums in Cleveland. They make for an interesting visit.
The city also experienced the era of the ‘City Beautiful Movement’. At the time, many institutions such as the ‘A Christmas Story and the Cleveland Orchestra were born. Probably, this set the trend for the growing cultural scene in the city. Eventually, it grew to huge proportions. Today, plenty of art museums in Cleveland abound, as well as a number of cutting-edge museums. We’ve picked out what we think makes for some of the best art galleries and museums in Cleveland.
Cleveland Museum of Art
The Cleveland Museum of Art features as one of the most visited art museums in the world. Known for a fantastic collection of Asian and Egyptian art, it offers plenty to keep the art-lovers hooked. Since opening in 1916, the museum went through several expansions until it reached its present state. Now, it covers an area of 55,000 square meters.
When founded, the museum’s original collection was housed in the Beaux-Arts building. Currently, the museum divides its collection into 16 departments. These include Modern European Art, Chinese Art, Greek and Roman Art, Medieval Art, and African Art, to name a few. Sculpture, photography, and decorative art and design deserve a mention as well.
One of the most popular sections of this art museum in Cleveland includes the interactive ARTLENS Gallery. This section is divided into four areas:
- A wall that carries a huge display that rotates through artworks in groups.
- Exhibition that showcases artworks through digital gestures.
- Studio for visitors to try their hand at creating their own digital artwork, and
- A mobile app that allows users to connect to various sections of the museum.
Location: 11150 East Boulevard, University Circle, Cleveland
Hours: Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, Sundays 10:00 am – 5:00 pm Wednesday, Friday 10:00 am – 9:00 pm. Closed on Mondays.
Christmas Story House
Located in the Tremont neighborhood of Cleveland, this museum and attraction excites fans of the 1983 film, ‘A Christmas Story.’ Actually, the 19th-century Victorian house, one of the key locations for the film, got used extensively. Additionally, a few interior scenes ended up filmed as well. In 2004, a private developer bought the property on eBay and restored it to the days of the film. He also bought the house across the street to showcase props from the movie. The Christmas Story House museum opened to the public in 2006. In fact, the original cast of the movie attended the grand opening.
Four buildings make up this museum dedicated entirely to the film. That makes it of wider interest than other art museums in Cleveland. Before this house was chosen as the location for the film, scouts went to at least twenty cities. These were selected by the film’s director Bob Clark. Eventually, Cleveland was chosen because of Higbee’s Department Store which featured in three scenes. Selected for its proximity to downtown, it also bordered the Cuyahoga River Valley. Visitors may plan an overnight stay at the property if they’re interested in reliving the entire movie.
Location: 3159W 11th Street.
Hours: 7 days a week 10:00 am to 5:00 pm.
Great Lakes Science Center
Located on the shore of Lake Erie, the Great Lakes Science Center museum is only one of 10 museums in the United States affiliated to NASA. Within the complex, visitors find the NASA Glenn Visitor Center which features galleries. Plus, NASA media, artifacts, and interactive exhibits fascinate visitors. Monthly Space programs hosted at the center provide interesting information. However, this museum also educates on the natural environment of the Great Lakes region. Here, permanent and temporary exhibitions support STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) and the environment. There, look out for the IMAX Dome theater.
Additionally, the highly popular center attracts schools and students who visit regularly on field trips. Classes, workshops, scout programs, sleepovers, and various events feature throughout the year for adults, families, and children. Ideal accommodation nearby includes the Drury Plaza Hotel, one of the 11 Best Hotels in Cleveland.
Location: 601 Erieside Avenue, Cleveland
Hours: Mon – Sat, 10:00 am – 5:00 pm Sun, 12:00 pm – 5:00 pm.
78th Street Studios
Spread over a massive area of 51,816 square meters, this former warehouse is a hub of creativity. 78th Street Studios brings everything you would expect from a creative space. The largest art and design complex in Northeast Ohio features art galleries, performance spaces, recording studios, and artists’ studios. Constructed in 1905 for the Baker Electric Motor Vehicle Company, the complex buzzed with the production of automobiles. Much later, it became the home of American Greetings’ Creative Studios before transformation into its current state.
The best time to visit is on the third Friday of every month when over 50 venues open to the public between 5-9 pm. Browse through the galleries spread over four stories. Or, select and make purchases. Since its inception, the festival-like atmosphere grew into a district-wide event. Visitors can explore the open galleries every Friday between 11 am – 4 pm. However, on these Fridays, only a few galleries open but it’s still worth the visit to one of the best art museums in Cleveland.
Location: 1300 West 78th Street, Cleveland
Hours: Third Fridays between 5:00 pm – 9:00 pm Every Friday 11:00 am – 4:00 pm. Private Tours can also be arranged throughout the week.
Museum of Contemporary Art
Better known as MOCA, the Museum of Contemporary Art is the top venue for contemporary art in Cleveland. The museum was first established in 1968 as ‘The New Gallery.’ Later, it was renamed the Cleveland Center for Contemporary Art. Next, the museum moved to a bigger location in 1990. However, it only took on its current name in 2002. In 2012, the Museum of Contemporary Art moved to a new home designed by world-famous architect Farshid Moussavi. Now, the new building is visually stunning and practical.
Iconic artists such as Andy Warhol, Cristo, and Jim Hodges featured in the museum’s exhibitions. MOCA is part of a very small group of non-collecting contemporary art museums in the country. That means that it does not have a permanent exhibition. Overall, the museum embraces conceptual and cultural diversity and aesthetics to showcase works in various genres and media.
Location: 11400 Euclid Avenue, University Circle, Cleveland.
Hours: Closed until January 31, 2020, for the installation of the Winter Exhibition.
The Contessa Gallery is collector-oriented. Over the years, this art gallery gained a national and international reputation in the art scene. In fact, it really should go on your list of must-visit art galleries in Cleveland. Founded in 1999 by Tom Hartman, an avid collector, he worked towards its establishment. While it offers artworks of exceedingly high quality, it also counsels collectors, institutions, and museums on art acquisition. Firmly, the gallery believes in three main principles; passion, integrity, and education. Additionally, Contessa Gallery is also a member of the Fine Arts Dealer Association (FADA).
It showcases a variety of artworks which include pre-20th century pieces, paintings, and photos as well as modern and contemporary sculpture. Participation in various art fairs resulted in a growing clientele and enhanced the gallery’s reputation.
Location: 24667 Cedar Road, Cleveland.
Hours: Monday – Saturday 10:00 am – 8:00 pm. Sundays 12:00 pm – 6:00 pm.
Buckland Museum of Witchcraft and Magick
Initially located in a basement in Bay Shore, in the mid-1960s this grew into a fairly large collection of artifacts of the occult and the supernatural. Raymond Buckland, leader of the Long Island Coven had a fascination for collecting objects and oddities associated with witchcraft and the occult. In fact, his inspiration came from the collection of Gerald Gardner on the Isle of Man. After a visit to Gardner’s collection, Buckland began his own collection.
Fortunately for him, his job with British Airways took him all over the world. So, he could add to his collection. Initially, his collection was displayed on shelves in his basement but it soon outgrew the space. Finally, it had to be moved to a new location. Then, it became the first museum of its kind in the United States and was housed in New York for ten years.
By then, the Buckland’s collection got a large following. In fact, some artifacts were featured in a special exhibition by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. As a writer and lecturer, Buckland moved a lot and his collection went everywhere with him; from New Hampshire to New Orleans. Eventually, it ended up in storage. Of interest, this collection includes items from the Salem Witch Trials and Egyptian funerary figurines. Finally, it got a gallery of its own in Cleveland with a new curator.
Location: 2155 Broadview Road, Cleveland.
Hours: Tuesday – Saturday 12:00 pm – 7:00 pm.
Cleveland Museum of Natural History
For those fascinated by dinosaurs, fossils, and gemstones, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History is where you should head. Established in 1920, the natural history museum has a huge collection of over four million specimens. It’s where you’ll get to see a large collection of skeletons of prehistoric species. Plus, they feature the taxidermy remains of Balto, the sled dog.
Visitors to the museum, especially children, are fascinated by the full-scale model of the Stegosaurus on the lawn. Notably, other exhibits include an extensive mineralogy collection. Plus, there’s the Hamann-Todd Collection. Over 3,100 human skeletons and more than 900 primate skeletons make up this collection that began in 1893. Later, in 2002 a new planetarium containing displays of the solar system and historical instruments appeared near the entrance.
Location: 1 Wade Oval Dr, Cleveland.
Hours: Mon-Sat 10:00 am – 5:00 pm Sun Noon- 5:00 pm.
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
If you’re a music buff and appreciate the history of ‘Rock and Roll,’ Cleveland’s top attraction should satisfy you. Enjoy a journey of discovery through this music wonderland. There, stumble upon iconic memorabilia that belonged to the legends of yesteryears. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation, established in 1983 by Ahmet Ertegun, began inducting artists in 1986. This, however, proved an exercise in futility as the foundation didn’t possess a home for showcasing them. Several cities, including New York and Philadelphia considered for the project, failed. And, Cleveland pipped everyone to the finish line.
The RRHOF museum opened in 1995. Celebrities, Yoko Ono (John Lennon’s widow) and Little Richard were part of the ensemble that cut the ribbon before a crowd of over 10,000 people. One of the special museums in Cleveland, it’s divided into seven levels. In fact, these include the main gallery, an exhibition hall, and the Hall of Fame. Additionally, there’s a stage used for special performances and several other interesting features. There, find exhibitions dedicated to the King of Pop, Elvis Presley. Others include U2, John Lennon, the Rolling Stones, and more.
Additionally, The RRHOF and Museum also produce a host of public programs. These include film screenings, concerts, and lectures that add to the rock and roll story. Nearby, the 2-star Comfort Inn of Downtown Cleveland offers conveniently affordable accommodation.
Location: 1100 East 9th Street, Cleveland
Hours: Mon-Tue 10 am-5:30 pm. Wed 10 am- 9 pm. Thur-Sun 10 am-5:30 pm.
The Bonfoey Gallery
Another staple art gallery on the Cleveland regional art scene is the Bonfoey Galler, established in 1893. Sadly, a series of fires caused the gallery to move several times. Currently located in downtown Cleveland, the 4,267 square meter facility became renowned for its displays. But more so, for restoration and framing facilities. Now, the framing facility in one of the best art museums in Cleveland occupies 60 percent of the 3rd floor.
Initially, a framing hobby, the Bonfoeys later began their framing business. However, their clientele grew to include notable personalities such as John D. Rockefeller and Henry Ford. Later, the company’s activities expanded under George Moore into the sale of artwork in the early 1950s. Eventually, his son Richard Moore added more services to the already long list when he took over in the 1970s.
Art restoration, showcasing paintings and art appraisals were just some of the new additions. Today, the gallery specializes in showcasing drawings, paintings, photographs, signed limited edition prints and sculptures. Additionally, It displays glassworks by prominent artists from the area. Plus, it boasts a roster of about 100 artists with over 2,000 works, making it one of the better museums in Cleveland.
Location: 1710 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland.
Hours: Mon-Thu 8:30 am – 5:30 pm. Sat 12 noon – 6 pm.
Interestingly, this art gallery sits in a landmark historic building built in 1924. Previously, the Transformer Station, owned by the Cleveland Railway Company once held the role of a vital transformer station until 1949. Auctioned off, it served as an artist’s foundry from the 1980s until 2010. Finally, the current owners bought the building in 2011. Eventually, they converted it into the current 1,066 square meter gallery. Actually, that came with the help of Process Creative Studio. Nowadays, the studio specializes in architecture creative re-use and restoration.
Paintings, photography, sculpture, video, and more from established and upcoming artists proudly line the display areas of the gallery. In fact, the gallery also tied up with the Cleveland Museum of Art to enhance its contemporary art offerings and provide art to Cleveland’s west side. For half the year, the Bidwell Foundation which owns the art gallery in Cleveland showcases its line up of artists. Six months are given to the Cleveland Museum of Art for contemporary art projects. Actually, the Transformer Station features in an interesting art tour of the city.
Location: 1460 W 29th St, Cleveland
Hours: Wednesday: 11:00 am to 5:00 pm. Thursday: 11:00 am to 8:00 pm. Fri-Sat-Sun: 11:00 am to 5:00 pm.
Steamship William G Mather Maritime Museum
This restored Great Lakes bulk freighter, referred to as the ‘Ship that Built Cleveland,’ definitely deserves a visit by those interested in the maritime history of the region. The steamship, William G Mather, earned the name because of frequent visits to Cleveland’s steel mills. Built in 1925, the 618-foot-long ship’s honored the president of the Cleveland Cliffs Iron company. In fact, it remained active in the fleet until the end of 1980.
During her sailing years, the ship set a speed record. For instance, in early 1941 when she led a convoy of 13 freighters through ice-choked waters of the Great Lakes to Minnesota. Often, she delivered much-needed iron to the steel mills of Duluth in record time. Additionally, she boasted a first, being equipped with radar in 1946.
Actually, William G Mather earned another first as an American vessel with an automated boiler system in 1964. Today, the ship forms an important part of the Great Lakes Science Center. Now, the maritime museum helps us better understand how history, technology, commerce, and the environment link together. In fact, visitors may walk the lengthy deck and explore the ship.
Location: Dock 32, west of East Ninth Street Pier.
Hours: Mon – Sat 10:00 am – 5:00 pm. Sun 12:00 pm – 5:00 pm.
Just So You Know:
- Cleveland celebrated the honor of the first American city lit up in 1879. Additionally, it boasted the first electric traffic signal.
- Lake Erie shores teem with life, considered as the most biologically productive of the Great Lakes.
- World-famous, the athlete and four-time Olympic Gold medalist, Jesse Owens grew up in Cleveland. Incidentally, he moved here at age nine.
- With the completion of the Terminal Tower ranked as the second tallest building in the world.
- In Cleveland, you actually need a hunting license for mouse-catching.