City of Cleveland, Wikipedia
Is it time for a new flag?
The city of Cleveland's 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.)
Cleveland Public Library
Hepburn's original design
More than a century later, the flag has endured, but not without complaint.
As the folks behind the CLE Flag Project
, a volunteer group who are embarking on a mission to give the city a new version, are quick to point out, the design does little to stir the same civic pride in Clevelanders today. Residents either hardly know what it looks like, or look upon it with derision. City Hall, for example, is one of the few places you'll see it.
"We're a group of passionate Clevelanders," said Brian Lachman. "And our goal is to create a flag that's going to embody civic pride and embed itself in the culture of the city."
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.
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."
Drawing in others who had long thought the city too needed a modern flag upgrade, the group started conversations around town — with non-profits, artists, and the city itself.
"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. So we wanted to get the city involved in our process and not just blindside them."
The city, and just about everyone Cleveland Flag has talked to, has been receptive.
"Where we're currently at is research, communication and outreach," Lachman told Scene "A lot of what we're doing is engaging the community and we had a really productive meeting with City Hall. They gave us an unofficial blessing to say keep doing what you're doing. But they're not involved. They have other things going on."
That outreach includes a small survey that the group would like to get in front of as many Clevelanders as possible
, as the research phase continues to explore what, exactly, residents think should be featured on a new design.
"What colors would work, what basic symbols, disregarding sports and skylines and for all intents and purposes, the Rock Hall," Lachman said. "We're defining the things we want to include, the things that in those conversations and in the survey have endured and we can all kind of agree on. The lake being one. We talked to the city and Cleveland has its official colors, and we debated on whether to disseminate those or not in the survey, but it asks what colors represent Cleveland to you. We want to give guidelines, not restrictions. We don't want to lead too many conversations and we want a true representation of the city."
There will eventually be a graphic design competition with compensation for the winner, and they'll build a committee, again representing Cleveland, that would wade through the submissions and finalize a flag.
"Our end goal isn't to sell it, and if we're selling it, then it's going right back into the fund," said Burkle. "The cool thing about Milwaukee's People's Flag is that it's open-source, you can download it, the art is available. And we kind of landed on that's the right way to approach this."
City Council, of course, would have to undertake a legislative process to consider and approve a new official design. That mountain is a mountain, but it's one that waits down the road.
For now, there's much to be done, including collecting as many opinions as possible on the survey, which you can complete right here.
The next Susan Hepburn is out there somewhere.
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