Marilyn Gell Mason, Director, Cleveland Public Library


Marilyn Gell Mason’s bold and imaginative leadership of the new building and restoration project at the downtown campus of the Cleveland Public Library (CPL) set new standards for art and design patronage in Cleveland, and the country as well. As CPL director from September 1986 to July 1999, she lead the way in ensuring that the redesign of the Main Library incorporated art throughout—a tradition begun in 1925, when the building was constructed.

To that end, Mason made the recommendation to set aside the equivalent of 1 percent of the total construction budget to be used for the commissioning of new site-specific work under the aegis of the Committee for Public Art. Thirteen artists contributed work to the library’s public art collection, adding warmth and whimsy to the new Louis Stokes Wing and the redesigned Eastman Reading Garden.

Architecturally, the Stokes Wing is a welcome addition to the Mall Group, Cleveland's Beaux-Arts complex of civic buildings laid out according to a master plan designed by Chicago architect Daniel Burnham, a leader of the early 20th-century "City Beautiful" movement. Under Mason’s watchful eye, the Stokes Wing became a model of civic spiritedness. It respects its neighbors in its materials and scale, while its glass oval form serves as a contemporary beacon in the heart of downtown. From its exuberant lobby to its intimate tower reading rooms, the Stokes Wing is a celebratory experience. And its auditorium has become a center of civic discourse of all kinds.

Long one of the most beloved and frequented parks downtown (in spite of its formerly shabby appearance), the Eastman Reading Garden now offers everything one could want from a public space: lush plantings, plenty of seating, security, a high degree of maintenance and beautifully conceived artworks by such nationally renowned artists as Maya Lin and Tom Otterness. Otterness’s fanciful bronze figures that spill in and out of the garden and climb all over the artist’s handsome bronze garden gates contribute to the overall feeling of accessibility that was a hallmark of Mason’s vision for the library’s downtown capital projects. (Under Mason’s leadership, new branch libraries were also built in several Cleveland neighborhoods and others were refurbished—all with artworks carefully included.)

Treasuring what we have but aspiring to make it even better—this principle guided Mason’s oversight of the remodeling of the old Main Library building. When it reopened to the public in May 1999, patrons were awed by the use of high-quality materials and the restoration of architectural details that had been lost over generations of neglect.

In short, Marilyn Mason (along with her trustees and staff) set the highest standards for public art and architecture that Clevelanders had seen in 50 years—a legacy that will endure as long as the revitalized Main Library itself.

Cleveland Arts Prize
P.O. Box 21126 • Cleveland, OH 44121 • 440-523-9889 •