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Ingenuity gathers the family around

Ingenuity organizer James Levin predicted that Ian Charnas' production Boltz — a campy mix of musical theater, dance and electrical tinkering presented by Case Western Reserve University — would be the iconic event that people remembered from Ingenuity 2009. Hopefully that's not true. The production's music and dance weren't badly realized, and the sustainability message was just about right for an after-school special or a comic book, but the science failed to impress. The electrical spark that was to be the centerpiece just didn't measure up.

Nonetheless, this year's edition of Ingenuity — and even the anticlimactic Boltz — captured the spirit of the festival's name more than previous installments. Roaming the whole scene, Melissa Daubert's horse on wheels amused festgoers with its shaggy fur and whimsical gait as it rolled with electronic clippity-clop accompaniment. It wasn't high-tech but undeniably mixed imagination with mechanics more sensibly than the high-tech, high-concept installations that have attempted to capture audiences' attention in previous years.

The art and high-tech concept is traceable to Richard Florida's book The Creative Class, which argues that software engineers are artists too. But Florida was trying to attract people to cities, not build an arts festival to enhance a city. In that regard, this year's less glitzy, lower-tech Ingenuity Festival was more successful than previous ones.

Cleveland talent ruled. Local bands like the punk-, new wave-, and noise-influenced girl group Hot Cha Cha and the experimental pop trio Mystery of Two rocked the scene not as filler, but on the main stage during prime time Friday night. Original music is a kind of ingenuity Cleveland can understand. And who are we kidding if we're trying to promote Cleveland as an arts destination if we don't celebrate our own?

A festival highlight was Asterisk gallerist Dana Depew's exhibit of work by 50 regional artists, including Scene art critic Douglas Max Utter, Dan Tranberg, Amy Casey, Matt Dibble and many others who showed their work in a building slated for demolition. Depew's work isn't high-tech, but his adaptive re-use of light fixtures, door peepholes and other domestic gadgetry is not at all short on ingenuity.

Next to one of his pieces, Dibble left a handwritten note instructing festival organizers to leave one of the works hanging so it could be demolished with the building around it. There's something endearingly Cleveland about that.

In the All Go Signs Alley, Chuck Karnak featured a collection of Cleveland painters, including the Sign Guy, whose ingenuity is to make his mark on the city with goofy, hand-painted signs chained and bolted around town. If graffiti is like tattoos on the landscape, his work could be considered its jewelry.

Ingenuity doesn't have to go high-tech or import high-concept headliners to live up to its name. It's unfortunate that finances are what drove programming this way. But here's hoping that no matter how the money shakes out, the festival continues to show off Cleveland — and that crowds are interested enough to keep coming back.

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More by Michael Gill

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