Over the past quarter century, the Tremont Art Walk has come to be one of the most visible and imitated cultural experiences in Northeast Ohio. Regardless of snow or swelter, a half-dozen galleries open their doors to foot traffic the second Friday of every month, boosting not only local art, but indie restaurants, bars and boutiques. In recent years, aesthetes in Ohio City, Little Italy, Waterloo and Lakewood have followed Tremont's lead with their own open houses.
It's hard to imagine all the newcomers achieving the longevity of the original. That's largely due to the startling dedication of the Tremont Art Walk's co-founder, Jean Brandt. For 24 years, she's hosted innumerable exhibitions and poetry readings in the 23-by-16-foot lobby of her law office. She's only now winding down. Although Brandt will continue to organize the Art Walk with photographer Steven Mastroianni, she recently ended her run as proprietor of the Brandt Gallery.
When she first started exhibiting, Brandt never knew how long her curatorship would last. Up until her decision to make her June 2014 closing her final one, she still didn't know.
"I've thought countless times over the past 24 years, 'How long am I going to do this?' Because as rewarding as it is, it's very time consuming," Brandt says.
During her tenure, Brandt's understanding of the arts was informed by equal parts idealism and savvy realism.
She wanted to make a space for any artist who could engage audiences, whether they're recent Cleveland Institute of Art grads or established careerists. But taking in the big picture of the art scene, Brandt also recognizes that artists have to be conscious of numbers, and that the best way to support creators isn't to raise them up on a pedestal, but to pay them for their work.
"One aspect that people don't talk about — because it's not glamorous — is the fact that [art] is a business and it needs to be. If you want to support local art, buy it," Brandt says.
Despite art's struggles to be recognized as the industry it is, Brandt says there are things happening in Cleveland now that weren't possible when she started out. Still, it takes constant work to remind people of those possibilities.
"If we aren't open to the notion that there are things happening all around us, we're going to miss so many things," Brandt says.
Now in a somewhat quieter role, she'll make sure that doesn't happen.