Cleveland Performance Art Festival Closes

By Kinsey, T. A. | Afterimage, July-August 1999 | Go to article overview

Cleveland Performance Art Festival Closes


Kinsey, T. A., Afterimage


Cleveland's 12-year-old Performance Art Festival (PAF), once a flourishing arts gathering, is no more. On April 16-25, 1999, the Cleveland Public Theater hosted its final annual festival, The Last Performance Art Festival. Since its founding in 1987, the festival (the largest of its kind in the country) has presented more than 1000 performance artists from several countries, including such controversial and important artists as Karen Finley, Guillermo Gomez-Pena, Tim Miller, Holly Hughes, John Fleck, Rachel Rosenthal, Annie Sprinkle, Linda Montano, Ping Chong and Seiji Shimoda. The PAF was rare in its vehement stance on freedom of expression.

The festival began with a budget of a few thousand dollars and peaked at $100,000 in the mid-1990s. The Ohio Arts Council (OAC), enthusiastic about the idea of an interdisciplinary performance festival that combined visual arts and dance, was a contributor from the beginning. The Cleveland Public Theater made the PAF a part of its programming budget in 1987, providing the additional support needed to launch the new festival. The next year, the Progressive Corporation provided about $20,000 in support. At the same time, the OAC began funding proposals in a new "interdisciplinary" category under which the PAF received about half of the allotted money for the next five years. As support grew, the festival was able to host internationally known artists and the PAF was able to form a 501(c)(3) organization separate from the Cleveland Public Theater. By the late 1980s, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) was contributing about: $15,000 per year to the PAF. This trend continued into the mid-1990s as the NEA and other state and local entities contributed support to fund the festival at their highest levels. In 1996, however, NEA funding was discontinued for the PAR Between the 1998 and 1999 festivals, the OAC changed its guidelines so that it was no longer possible to apply for both presenting and operating assistance. These events were both factors in the festival's ultimate demise. Founding Director Thomas Mulready is quick to insist that the PAF always broke even, an impressive feat given "the risk we incurred with the type of art we were presenting. …

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