Build it and they will come. This seems to be the mantra of University Circle, a neighborhood in Cleveland that is experiencing a cultural renaissance. The revival, anchored by the refurbished galleries and stunning atrium of the Cleveland Museum of Art, includes the new home of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA).
More art-centric expansion is to come, with the Cleveland Institute of Art breaking ground last month on a 80,000-square-foot George Gund Building, which will house the Cinematheque art-house film theater as well as galleries and classrooms.
University Circle, one of only two Cleveland neighborhoods with both job and population growth of late, has long been home to many of the city's cultural gems. Planners, in fact, developed the area on the city's east side in the mid-1800s as a cultural counterpoint to the thriving downtown business district, setting aside land for institutions that would merge into Case Western Reserve University.
By the 1980s, dilapidated Gilded Age mansions had been replaced by, among other buildings, the sprawling Cleveland Clinic, the renowned hospital complex covering 10 city blocks along Euclid Avenue. However, cultural institutions like the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Cleveland Botanical Garden and Severance Hall, home to the Cleveland Orchestra, remain around the campuslike parkland of Wade Oval.
On a Friday evening last winter, the atrium at the Cleveland Museum of Art (11150 East Boulevard; 216-421-7350; clevelandart.org) pulsed with life. The soaring glass-and-steel structure, which opened last October, links the institution's two buildings -- one neo-Classical and the other modern -- creating a vast enclosed public space; a kind of town square for the arts.
The museum had more than a half million visitors during the past year. On this evening, it attracted an eclectic crowd of art aficionados, some enticed, perhaps, by the free general admission.
"This is so cool," one young woman was overheard telling her date near a Caravaggio as she surveyed the lofty, luminous Baroque gallery, which used to be an indoor garden. A mother and a wide-eyed toddler emerged from Martin Creed's temporary installation, "Work No. 956: Half the air in a given space," after wading through a gallery stuffed with 20,000 purple helium-filled balloons.
Elizabeth Denton Spencer, an event planner who moved to Cleveland from Boston, perhaps put it best: "I used to think the museum was a mini-Metropolitan but now, with the renovations, it's in a class of its own."
The same thing could be said about the museum's stylish new atrium restaurant and lounge, Provenance (216-707-2600). Douglas Katz, one of the region's most respected chefs, finds inspiration for his locally sourced seasonal menu selections from museum objects and exhibitions. A Peruvian menu, for example, accompanied an Andean textile exhibit.
The museum's atrium scene heats up with younger-oriented programming on the first Friday of each month, called Mix at CMA. The August Mix, called "Caliente," will feature Latin music and dance. Mix evenings regularly draw more than a thousand revelers for art, wine and fun, said the museum's communications manager, Caroline Guscott.
The neighborhood's Uptown district, along a once dilapidated stretch of Euclid Avenue, also has been revitalized. The main draw here, MOCA Cleveland (11400 Euclid Avenue; 216-421-8671; mocacleveland.org), reopened last October, a startling new sight on Euclid Avenue and Mayfield Road. Jutting up from the busy corner like a massive mirrored steel jewel, it reflects both the urban landscape and changing sky. The first commission in the United States for Farshid Moussavi, an Iranian-born architect who works in London, the building has four stories of galleries anchored by a monumental central staircase.
On summer evenings, patrons of new food spots and bars between MOCA and the soon-to-be-expanded Cleveland Institute of Art spill outside onto the sidewalk cafe area across from Toby's Plaza, inaugurated last fall and named after Toby Lewis, a local philanthropist.
With all the cultural ferment, a T-shirt for sale at the homey Coffee House on the Case Western campus didn't seem as far-fetched as it once might have. Emblazoned across it: Cleveland Is My Paris.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.