Lack of Funding Forces Front Triennial to Fold

One of the Midwest’s most notable art exhibitions is no more. The organizers have pulled the plug on Front International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art, which was founded by Cleveland philanthropist Fred Bidwell in 2016 and has taken place since 2018 in that Ohio city as well as Akron and Oberlin. The planned 2025 edition is canceled and the organization will be dissolved.

“When I developed this idea, it was a lot easier to raise the money,” Bidwell told Artnet News. “Times have changed, and priorities have changed. Covid, the murder of George Floyd, and international and domestic political turmoil have changed the atmosphere for philanthropy.” The show’s budget was $5.5 million, he said.

Front announced the cancellation in a statement on its website that explains that, with public and private funding sources having dried up, the organization would be unable to maintain its “high standards.” This decision was reached before inking agreements with artists and partners, according to the statement, and Front will return all contributions and satisfy all business agreements. 

Sponsors of past editions included individuals, organizations like the VIA Art Fund and the Louise H. and David S. Ingalls Foundation, and corporate sponsors including PNC Bank, CrossCountry Mortgage, and the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. Front did not have a gallery space, and projects were presented at partner institutions like the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA) Cleveland, the Cleveland Public Library, the Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin, and the Akron Art Museum. 

Fred Bidwell. Photo: Courtesy of the Front International Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art.

Asad Raza, a participating artist in the 2022 edition, was to be artistic director for the 2025 edition. Curator Prem Krishnamurthy oversaw the 2022 edition. A study found that the inaugural 2018 edition, organized by artist-curator Michelle Grabner, generated an estimated $31 million for the region.

“It’s a disappointment and a lost opportunity for all the artists Asad and I were in conversation with,” said Magdalena Moskalewicz, the organization’s chief curator, in a phone conversation. “We had developed a very ambitious concept and method, and it’s a great loss that it can’t be realized. 

Moskalewicz added that she is also disheartened for the Front Art Futures Fellows, who are “brilliant artists from Northeast Ohio whom we were supporting with funds and mentorship, including their presence in Front 2025 and a now-canceled exhibition I was curating in Chicago this spring.”

Bidwell and his wife Laura previously operated an art venue, the Transformer Station, in Cleveland’s Hingetown neighborhood, for 10 years, during which they alternated organizing exhibitions with the Cleveland Museum of Art. They donated the facility to the museum in 2023. The duo have been collecting photography and contemporary art since 1991, and own more than 1,300 works. Bidwell was previously president of Malone Advertising, in Akron, which he sold in 2005 for an undisclosed amount.

“We did something quite cool,” said Bidwell, “but times change and we all need to change with them.”

 

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