Cuyahoga50 Celebration: Events And Art This Week Along The River

This aerial shot of the Cuyahoga River and Lake Erie by photographer William Rieter is part of "Crooked River Contrasts."
This aerial shot of the Cuyahoga River and Lake Erie by photographer William Rieter is part of "Crooked River Contrasts."
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Many arts and cultural activities tied to the 50th anniversary of the Cuyahoga River fire have been underway throughout the year. But now it is anniversary week—the infamous blaze burned on June 22, 1969. There are many events and exhibitions the public can engage with commemorating the fire and the environmental movements that followed. Multiple cities and organizations coordinated their efforts for the Cuyahoga50 Celebration.

Ojibwe water walker Sharon Day of Minnesota began leading a sacred river walk Monday. She is expected to finish by Wednesday evening or Thursday morning.

Sharon Day began her river walk Monday in Geuaga County [Dave DeOreo / ideastream]

Lake Erie Native American Council will lead a water blessing Wednesday to kick off Xtinguish Torch Fest, which takes place in communities along the river from the headwaters in Geauga County to the Flats in Cleveland. Torch bearers will travel to various locations for festivities with the public in Kent, Cuyahoga Falls, Akron, Peninsula, Cuyahoga Valley National Park and downtown Cleveland.

The conclusion of Torch Fest coincides with another event on the river, Blazing Paddles, which features races on standup paddleboards and in kayaks and canoes Saturday morning. Participants choose from race courses of 2, 5.7 or 13 miles on the river.

Motorized boaters plan to commemorate the anniversary through a lighted-boat parade Saturday at dusk.

The 2nd annual Blazing Paddles is set for Saturday. [Blazing Paddles]

Both local and international artists created numerous works relating to the river fire anniversary.

A handful of art exhibitions go on view this week featuring artists participating in the Cleveland Foundation’s Creative Fusion Waterways to Waterways program. That includes the UK-based arts group Squidsoup’s interactive light displays, which people can view at the streetcar level of Veterans Memorial Bridge — a spot the public normally can’t access. There’s a preview night Wednesday, and it’s on view Saturday as part of the annual Veterans Memorial Bridge and Subway tour.  

People can partake in a global conversation at PechaKucha Night at Jacob’s Pavilion at Nautica Thursday. The event features a variety of speakers, including some of the Creative Fusion artists and the sons of Carl and Louis Stokes. The elder Stokes were both known as advocates for the environment.

Cleveland Mayor Carl B. Stokes held a press conference along the river a day after the fire in 1969 to advocate for outside help with urban environmental problems. [City of Cleveland]

The annual Great Lakes Burning River Fest at Whiskey Island features music and, of course, beer Friday and Saturday nights.

Even if people don’t attend specific events tied to the river anniversary, there are other places to encounter the artwork connected to it. Several local photographers created work for “Crooked River Contrasts” on view around the region, including at Cleveland Hopkins Airport and MetroHealth’s main campus.

Sunrise on the Cuyahoga River captured by photographer Christina Sadowski as part of “Crooked River Contrasts.”

Exhibits at Cleveland Museum of Art also reflect the river. Cai Guo-Qiang’s “Cuyahoga River Lightning” consists of three works made using gunpowder and “Water: Edward Burtynsky” uses photography to draw attention to modern threats to water. 

Find more Cuyahoga50 celebration events online.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story erroneously reported Sharon Day would be a part of the water blessing on June 19. 

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