A Contest to Design a New Flag for the City of Cleveland Launches Monday

CLE Flag welcomes all submissions, which will be judged and narrowed down to finalists and an eventual winner it'll eventually try to get the city to adopt

click to enlarge Is it time for a new flag? - City of Cleveland, Wikipedia
City of Cleveland, Wikipedia
Is it time for a new flag?
After months of planning, a volunteer group of Northeast Ohioans will on Monday launch a public contest to design and select a new flag for the city of Cleveland.

CLE Flag, started by a handful of friends and likewise interested folks, aims to find a new civic emblem, one that better represents Cleveland's current ethos, and one that might be more likely to be displayed outsides homes and businesses across town.

The public launch of the contest on Monday welcomes submissions from any and all Greater Clevelanders, and will run through July 19. Afterward, a committee of about a dozen local leaders and business owners will, with the help of the North American Vexillological Association and AIGA Cleveland, whittle the group down to a batch of finalists. A public vote will follow, with the finalists and winner receiving compensation for their efforts.

The group has met with city council, some members of which have voiced support for the effort to create something more universally embraced than the current design, while others (cough, Polensek, cough) have failed to see the appeal.

It will be back to that august body CLE Flag will return later this year once the final winner is selected, with the hopes of getting it adopted as the official flag of the city while showing support from residents from all Cleveland city council wards.

"It's better and more impactful if it comes from the community," Brian Lachman of CLE Flag told Scene.

The community-driven angle was one of the founding principles of the group, after all.

It was after a trip to Chicago that Lachman, Andrew Burkle and others started thinking in earnest about a piece of municipal art that few consider locally.

Noticing how Chicago is one of the few major cities that embraces its flag, they decided to do something.

"We were looking at designing the flag ourselves, and we went back and forth on a lot of options, like 50 designs, and we felt pretty good," said Burkle. "And then all of a sudden, it dawned on us: We're approaching this the wrong way. It's a symbol of a diverse city and here are three guys from Cleveland Heights designing a flag. That's not the best approach to this. So we shifted gears to be more shepherds of the project."

Similar efforts have been made in other cities, with mixed results.

"We stumbled across Milwaukee's People's Flag," Burkle told Scene. "It's a great website, and they had a similar process. But the one thing they didn't do was involve the city early on. So currently, Milwaukee has this terrible flag that the city hasn't embraced, but people fly the People's Flag."

And the lesson was to get city council involved early on, especially if actual change and something more than a fun art project were to be the end results.

The city of Cleveland's current official flag, approved by City Council in 1895 and by Mayor Robert McKisson in 1896, was designed by Susan Hepburn, an 18-year-old art school graduate whose submission to a contest sponsored by The Plain Dealer, quickly organized in advance of the city's centennial, gained the admiration of the selection committee, which praised its "power and simplicity."

Meant to capture stirring civic pride as the momentous date arrived, the design included symbolic nods to Cleveland's position as a shipping port and its status as an industrial center. The colors — red, white and blue — were used to mirror those of the American flag and assuage concerns a city banner would upstage the national one. (The motto of "Progress and Prosperity" wasn't included on the original design and was only added in the 1960s.)

More than a century later, the flag has endured, but not without complaint.

Now, a chance to replace it with something more civically suitable to Cleveland of today. The submission form includes survey responses the group has gathered with notes on what some residents have expressed wanting to see in terms of colors or symbols, but these are merely suggestions, not restrictive guidelines.

The next Susan Hepburn is out there somewhere. Starting Monday, the search is on to find them.

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Vince Grzegorek

Vince Grzegorek has been with Scene since 2007 and editor-in-chief since 2012. He previously worked at Discount Drug Mart and Texas Roadhouse.
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