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A Taste of Parade The Circle


Every Saturday of April, Big Parade brings in special guests to run workshops to help students build their floats for the May 5th parade. This year, these guests include Cleveland-based artists Ian Petroni and Claudio Orso, as well as Director of Parade the Circle, Robin VanLear.

Parade the Circle, which is happening on June 9th this year, is an annual Cleveland Museum of Art event. For an afternoon, University Circle is filled with live music, bright colors, floats, costumes, puppets, and stilt dancers. Over 80,000 people attended last year. Parade the Circle is in its 29th year and is an exciting companion to Big Parade. While Big Parade has some funding from the school, one can imagine the grandiosity of a parade that has the support of the CMA.

Not to mention the CMA’s endowment is the fourth wealthiest art museum in the nation.  At the helm of Parade the Circle is Robin VanLear. VanLear is a sculptor, mask maker, performer, and celebration artist. She has been involved in community art since the late ‘70s and has traveled the world studying the celebrations of various cultures.

Robin VanLear oversaw her first Parade the Circle in 1990. She also started I Madonnari, a Chalk Festival similar to Oberlin’s summer Chalk Walk. In 1994, she founded Winter Lights, a festival of lanterns that happens during the holiday season.

This previous Saturday, VanLear led a “dry mache” workshop in Warner Studio 3. According to VanLear, “Dry Mache [is a] technique that enables the creator to create a paper mache object while bridging gaps in structure and creating lighter, more organic forms.” This manner of paper mache is especially useful for parades, as the objects are easier to hold and manage.

The second workshop artist is Ian Petroni. Much of Petroni’s work is inspired from found objects and recycled materials. “I enjoy the challenge of conceiving of unexpected ways to use found objects, and I enjoy surprising the viewer with how something can be used,” he says.  Petroni is a “tent rat,” says Sally Slade, Oberlin’s Big Parade director. Petroni can often be found working in the community spaces on his floats and assisting with the builds of others people’s floats. Petroni will be hosting workshops on April 14th and April 28th, assisting students in their own builds and sharing knowledge from his many parade and installation experiences.  


Claudio Orso will be leading workshops on the 21st. An extremely talented Wood Block artist and mask maker, Orso started the Big Parade in 2001 . His pieces are featured in art rental, often being among the first to be rented each year. His woodcuts communicate a sense of celebration, exhibiting bold words and many different characters parading around. Orso is also at the head of the Apollo Outreach Initiative, an Oberlin Cinema Studies program that seeks to educate people in the community about how to tell their stories through film.  It’s clear that community outreach is central to Orso’s artistic practice. His workshop will be about mask making. “The Mask is your parade face,” says Orso. “Parade has a longstanding tradition for people once a year to ‘go crazy’ and access parts of themselves they normally don’t. I am here to encourage people to bring their inner selves out.”

Parade is at the center of each of these artists’ energy and mentality. It takes a certain enthusiasm and dedication to prepare and create such animated and lifelike pieces to be witnessed by thousands.  Recounting his second Big Parade, Claudio remembers how he made two hundred masks for every student of Eastwood Elementary so each student could be a part of the parade. “The magic of the parade is that one can put aside their own ‘self-centeredness’ and participate in something larger,” Orso says, “ a shared moment with your community, something way bigger than the sum of its parts.”

A Quick 1, 2, 3 with Robin VanLear

How long have you been involved with Oberlin and Oberlin Big Parade?

I have known about the Big Parade since your second year.  Unfortunately the only time I have been able to attend was last year since normally the Big Parade falls on the first weekend of our pre-Parade the Circle Public workshops.  I taught some workshops for Big Parade participants on a few occasions. They were held at FAVA. Sometimes I taught on my own and sometimes with Ian Petroni or Lizzie Roche. It was through these workshops that I first met Claudio Orso.

In 1978 I graduated from Art School and moved back to Santa Barbara, where I had been living before I moved to Canada to attend the Emily Carr College of Art. In Santa Barbara they had started a community arts parade called the Summer Solstice Celebration. I became part of the artist team for this event just in its 4th season. A couple of years later, the director, Michael Gonzalez, was moving to LA because of health problems and he asked if I would take over as the event’s artistic director. Already a sculptor and performance artist, I became enamored with the community inclusiveness of Art for Parade (The Solstice Celebration). This was also a people powered art parade like Parade the Circle with no written words, no live animals and no motorized vehicles (except working animals and wheelchairs).  I directed this Parade until June 1989 when I moved in August of 1989 to Cleveland to start Parade the Circle for the Cleveland Museum of Art (in celebration of the museum's 75th year).


What got you interested in parade in general?


I think this is also answered above. I will add that upon moving to Cleveland I felt it was my responsibility to study the field of celebration art and began traveling to Trinidad & Tobago, Brazil, England, Mexico, New Orleans, anywhere there was a strong tradition in the celebration arts, especially where there was a Parade style format.

Why have you chosen parade as a medium that you work within?


Probably also somewhat answered above. To add to that, I have always been both a visual and a performance artist. I am a sculptor, costume designer, installation artist, mask maker, etc. Additionally, I am passionate about artist/viewer interaction with the works I create. I enjoy collaborations between professional artists of varying disciplines as well as collaborations between professional artists and community members and avocational artists. Parade allows room for all of these collaborations and interactions. The audience can be huge - 80,000 audience members for Parade the Circle. In Trinidad & Tobago, parts of Brazil, and New Orleans the numbers can reach 100's of thousands.