University Circle was named best arts district in the country in the 2021 USA Today “10Best Readers’ Choice” travel award contest, selected by USA Today and 10Best’s expert panel and voted on by the public.
Of 20 nominated districts, University Circle received the most love over four weeks of voting, earning it the No. 1 spot, followed by districts in Minneapolis, Dallas, Houston, Baltimore, Milwaukee, Miami, Chicago, Santa Fe, N.M., and Tucson, Ariz.
Leaders from institutions within University Circle, including The Cleveland Orchestra, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, Case Western Reserve University and University Circle, Inc., said this boosts the exposure and potentially highlights new tourism opportunities.
Chris Ronayne, president of University Circle Inc., said the distinction is “everyone’s distinction.”
“It’s everyone’s point of pride, knowing we are the best arts district,” he said. “While it’s a square mile, a spectacular square mile at that, we like to say that University Circle is everybody’s. Regionally, University Circle is a point of pride. And to have been awarded this distinction this is now everyone’s opportunity to take it in as their own because so many people interact with University Circle in so many different ways.”
Ronayne added this also shows that the community’s marketing initiatives do pay off.
“The value return for a visitor to Cleveland and University Circle is extraordinary,” he said. “Often, the response from visitors out of town is ‘who knew about this wonderful, free art museum,’ or this renowned orchestra or these gems around Wade Oval like the Cleveland Botanical Garden, the Cleveland History Center or the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. The who knew takeaway is wonderful.”
André Gremillet, president and CEO of The Cleveland Orchestra, said in an emailed statement to the Cleveland Jewish News The Cleveland Orchestra is glad to call University Circle home, noting the honor is “much deserved.” With the national recognition, he hopes more attention will be called to the community.
“We hope that this attention will raise awareness far and wide, drawing even more people to Severance Hall as well as to the other world-class cultural institutions that we are honored to have as our neighbors and partners,” Gremillet wrote.
Meenakshi Sharma, chief strategy officer at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, said distinctions like this also call attention to institutions that Clevelanders and tourists alike might not even consider as artistic, like the natural history museum.
“This is another unique experience someone could have when visiting,” she said. “Whether they’re looking at fossils or our live animals, it’s the experience. It’s the curiosity that generates when they visit the museum. I think this also helps us shine a light on how many other cultural institutions are in the area, like the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. In addition to being excellent at what they do, they’re also big economic drivers.”
And Case Western Reserve University, though not inherently an arts institution, boasts a connection to the artistic pulse of University Circle through its more than a half-century old joint program with the Cleveland Museum of Art, which Elizabeth Bolman, the Elsie B. Smith professor in the liberal arts, chair of the department of art history and art and interim chair of the department of political science in the College of Arts and Sciences at CWRU, said it “contributes to the artistic richness of the area.” The school also has a partnership with the Cleveland Institute of Art, “through which students can take classes at both institutions, while being registered at one, without extra fees and red tape.”
“Recognitions like this one help raise our profile as well as those of University Circle and Cleveland more broadly,” she said. “Everyone likes to back a winner, and this distinguished designation confirms our importance. It generates excitement about the stimulating and profoundly innovative work that we are doing, and that, of course, attracts philanthropy and community support.”
Jason Gray, vice president for school and college development at CWRU, said the university can also use the recognition to continue utilizing its partnerships within University Circle to provide better research.
“We play into the artistic nature of the area through collaborations and partnerships,” he said. “As a major research university, Case Western Reserve University has also looked at how to apply science, research and imaging expertise to tell us more about paintings, sculpture and manuscripts in nearby collections.”
And with the distinction, Ronayne said this just confirms what Clevelanders already knew – that it’s a great resource.
“It shows that we are a combination of quality institutions with enduring and engaging cultural offerings through exhibits, architecture and programming, especially in a district that has been around for over a century,” he said. “It makes you feel like you’re part of something exciting and that behind every door and every corner, there’s something new to experience.”