Art Escape: Family-Friendly Northeast Ohio Spots for Art

Art Escape: Family-Friendly Northeast Ohio Spots for Art

Photo by Kim Stahnke; mural by Justin Michael Will

The idea of spending the day enjoying art with the family might conjure images of echoey museum hallways and teens rolling their eyes instead of appreciating gilded masterpieces. However, there’s plenty of opportunities in Northeast Ohio to enjoy art that can captivate kids of all  ages. As a result, families can explore the wide variety of art styles the region has to offer — a few places are free, while others require admission. Here are seven ways your family can escape into art. 


Plenty of Public Art

Cleveland is filled with enticing examples of public art — large murals, side-of-building art displays and street art — where families can visit and discuss the value of art. 

“There is a growing community of public art in Cleveland,” said artist Justin Michael Will, a resident of Cleveland Heights and a lifelong resident of Northeast Ohio. “Cleveland is not huge, it’s not overly saturated and there are lots of people in lots of different walks of life with different budgets but still needing art in their life. The best thing about public art is being able to reach a lot of people and reaching them for free. It’s part of their neighborhood.”

Will has works of arts on the streets of Cleveland, including the untitled piece on the side of the Love Threading Bar building in the Gordon Square Arts District and another on an apartment building on the east bank of the Flats.

“That one was supposed to be temporary for a festival,” Will says about the apartment building mural. “I painted it live, during the Flats Festival of the Arts. But then the building liked it, and they’ve left it up.” 

Will’s typical pieces are not soaring skyward: he also does gallery shows, loves to paint, works with ink and makes decorative furniture pieces. However, he loves the immediacy and accuracy of public art. 

That doesn’t mean the labor of love isn’t still labor. The Gordon Square mural took four 12-hour days, for example. 

“My dream job would be a nice interior wall in a cafe and I could knock it out in a day,” he says. “But that wall (in Gordon Square) is very large and the brick is deep and I’m a sucker for detail, so…yeah, that was a lot of work.”

Will grew up liking graffiti art, though he never practiced it himself. He does see some clear differences between his work and the kind that crops up in dark alleys and unattended lots, but sees the value in both.  

“That’s the big question: the difference between mural art and traditional graffiti — and I guess my mind goes to it being commissioned,” he says. “Someone is paying you or asking you to donate your time to do this. But I guess if it is not derogatory or violent or a turf thing, that’s a mural. That’s public art and it’s great.”

Increasingly, Cleveland is embracing public art. 

The Gordon Square Arts District commissioned eight large murals to be done by 10 artists. Will’s mural on the side of 6805 Detroit Ave. is at the same place — but on an opposite wall from — a work by another local artist, Lisa Quine. 

The Cleveland Foundation in 2016 sponsored an international group of artists to work with local artists to create murals in the Ohio City/Hingetown neighborhoods. Now a gigantic mural stretches along Washington Avenue from West 25th to West 28th streets. And just last month, city officials announced artist Wyland — famous for his underwater life art — would refurbish his mural “Song of the Whales” that has graced the Cleveland Public Power plant along the East Shoreway since 1997. (Find other murals at, or

In the Playlist studio, children can listen to different genres of music and act it out using shadow animation. (PHOTO SUBMITTED BY CHILDREN’S MUSEUM OF CLEVELAND)

Tiny Worlds

Few things resonate more with kids than a world of tiny replicas of everyday life that can make even the smallest little one feel big in comparison. The top floor of the Children’s Museum of Cleveland is dedicated to miniatures and dollhouses — a wonderland of the tiny. 

Even the lavish old Stager Beckwith mansion, which is the new home of the museum, is replicated in miniature. Children can learn how miniaturists create these Lilliputian worlds though hands-on play, searching for hidden logos and designing their own tiny world in Brick Works, where children ages 3 and older can build their own creations.

Other features of the museum include:

Arts & Parts: Combine science and art in open-ended craft spaces focused on blending the creative process and tinkering with tools and raw materials.

Theater: Learn about different cultures and explore imagination with storytelling. This area provides props, costumes and even technical aspects like lighting to create a stage play.

Playlist: Kids listen to various musical genres and display how it makes them feel on specially lit walls. They can mix music and shadow theater animations to “perform” songs.  (Children’s Museum of Cleveland,  3813 Euclid Ave.,

All Hands on Art

If you’d prefer to go off the beaten track and try your hand at making art of your own, visit the Firelands Association for the Visual Arts in Oberlin. Located in the New Union Center for the Arts, an old schoolhouse right off the charming town square, FAVA is a small art gallery that also hosts Art Labs, workshops for toddlers, children and parents. Children ages 5 to 12 can join Clay for Kids, a four-week course on Wednesday afternoons starting Nov. 27 to create their own functional pieces. Just a block or so down the street, you can visit the Allen Memorial Art Museum, founded in 1917 and run by Oberlin College, with more than 15,000 works on display. (FAVA, 39 S. Main Street,

Families view the exhibits at the Cleveland Museum of Art. (PHOTO BY SCOTT SHAW/PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY OF THE CLEVELAND MUSEUM OF ART)

Exhibits to Visit 

A list of cultural activities in Northeast Ohio wouldn’t be complete without the region’s art museums, as families can visit art exhibits at places such as the Cleveland Museum of Art and Akron Art Museum. 

The Cleveland Museum of Art opened in 1913 and is free for patrons to visit its standing exhibits. The museum offers a variety of family programs and experiences and activities include Sunday Open Studios, Play Days and Saturday Art Stories. 

The Cleveland Museum of Art is at (11150 East Blvd.,

The Akron Art Museum is free for children age 17 and younger. Also, the museum has free admission on Thursdays.  (Akron Art Museum, One South High,

First Fridays

Looking to explore somewhere new? Many smaller towns pick a day of the month to draw visitors to their downtown areas with the lure of free music and celebrations. For example, Medina, Canton and Wadsworth will be marking their “First Fridays” with a host of cultural activities aimed at families.

Medina Historic District will kick off its party at 5 p.m. Nov. 1, with live music, pop-up art shows and performances throughout downtown Medina. Most local shops are open until 8 p.m. (Visit or

Wadsworth will mark its First Friday from 5-9 p.m. Nov. 1 at Main Street Wadsworth, 102 Main St., Ste. 20. History and hauntings will be discussed during the Downtown Wadsworth Ghost Walk. Catch rarely seen architecture during its Upper Floor Tour, which includes glimpses of area buildings, presented by the group’s Economic Vitality Committee. (Visit

Canton will mark its First Friday with LegoMania from 6-10 p.m. Nov. 1 at the intersection of Cleveland Avenue NW and 4th Street NW. (Visit

Art activities abound at Beck Center for the Arts. (PHOTO BY BECK CENTER FOR THE ARTS AND WETZLER PHOTOGRAPHY)

Dive into Art

The region is filled with ways children, adults and families can dive into an art interest — whether it’s taking classes at places such as Beck Center for the Arts (, Fine Arts Association ( and Fairmount Center for the Arts (; or traveling to a local park system’s nature center, many of which provide nature art exhibits and classes. 

The Art of the CLE

This month features the chance to take in an art exhibit dedicated to the art and artists of the region. BAYarts will open “The HeART of Cleveland” exhibition by curator and local artist Scott Kraynak at the end of this month.

The exhibit is based loosely on Kraynak’s book of the same name, released in 2018. The exhibit will celebrate the diversity of talent from Northeast Ohio, highlighting artists and their works, and exploring what makes Cleveland such a vibrant region for art.

Presented by Baycrafters Center for Fine Art and Education, the exhibit will be shown from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. on Nov. 23 and 25 at Baycrafters Art Studio and Gallery, located at 28795 Lake Road, Bay Village. (Visit


Eat S’mores & Support Art

Families can check out local bands and gather ‘round the fire at this year’s S’moresfest to help support local arts. The event benefits Brite Winter Festival, a music and arts festival planned for February. With a nod to Cleveland weather, organizers say the two events are planned knowing “it might be snowing, it might be 70 degrees,” but either way participants are invited to come and sit by the cozy fire pits and listen to live music — while eating s’mores, of course. General tickets are $20; $10 for ages 18 and younger; ages 5 and younger are free. S’moresfest 2019 is from 6-9 p.m. on Nov. 15 at Merwin’s Wharf, 1785 Merwin Ave., Cleveland. For information, visit or

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