Nina Freedlander Gibans’ biography from her 2009 Cleveland Arts Prize Award as a Community Arts Leader.
Peruse Nina Freedlander Gibans’ résumé, and it’s fairly obvious that she was put on earth to raise everyone’s arts awareness. During the past several decades, this arts visionary and assiduous arts advocate has influenced many of northeastern Ohio’s cultural institutions or initiatives. Moreover, her comprehensive book, film and website projects represent a priceless archive that will inform generations to come.
Gibans first began to effect positive change in her hometown while majoring in art, literature and music at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York. She engaged the national leadership of Young Audiences to start a chapter in Cleveland.
That was just the beginning of an unprecedented career in strategic arts leadership characterized by her uncanny ability to marshal her multiple talents to maximize the impact of each project she develops. She especially likes to bring educational systems, artists, arts organizations and the public and private sector together to provide arts experiences to students of all ages—whether in universities, museums, schools or the community at large.
In other words, Gibans doesn’t just start projects: She builds the collaborations necessary to ensure their success and sustainability. Finally, she fully documents the effort, leaving a legacy for others to study and follow.
For example, in the ‘70s, she launched the Cleveland Area Arts Council and, as executive director, guided its pioneering efforts to enhance the city’s urban environment through a variety of public art initiatives, some of which can still be seen in today’s cityscape. In 1976, she received the National Arts Management Award from Arts Management magazine for this work. Her book, “The Community Arts Council Movement: History, Opinions and Issues”, remains the definitive study of the arts council movement in America.
Many consider her tour de force project to be her role as curator of a series of public forums entitled “Cleveland’s Creative Essence, 1900-2000, The Distinctive and the Distinguished,” which culminated in her book, “Creative Essence: Cleveland’s Sense of Place.” Gibans once received a 6 a.m. phone call from the Queen of Jordan inquiring about another of Gibans’ books, Children’s Museums: Bridges to the Future, based on her experiences as a founders and director of special programs of Cleveland’s Children’s Museum.
As a 25-plus-year board member and past president of the Cleveland Artists Foundation, she has worked diligently to help the organization achieve its goals of serving as an intellectual force in preserving and telling the remarkable story of the region’s artists, past and present.
Her work as a poet and with the community of poets is a major priority. To commemorate the life and contributions of Daniel Thompson (1935–2004), Cuyahoga County’s longtime poet laureate, she spearheaded a campaign that saw West Second Street renamed “Daniel’s Way.” With the support of a Martha Holden Jennings Foundation grant she directed the development of a website on the history of the region’s poetry to accompany her “Cleveland Poetry Scenes” project. She has also developed websites on regional architecture and art that feature history, units of curriculum, glossaries, bibliographies and links to other relevant websites.
Working with the Cleveland area schools is always a key component of any project Gibans undertakes. “Research should not just sit on the shelf,” Gibans observed. “It should become a vital part of learning for everyone, but specifically for schoolchildren.”
In 2008, Gibans received awards from the Cleveland Restoration Society/AIA Cleveland and from the preservation office of the Ohio Historical Society for her curatorial work on “Cleveland Goes Modern: Design for the Home 1930-1970,” an exhibition of mid-century modern residential architecture in northeastern Ohio.
One of her greatest influences and sources of inspiration has been her 50-plus-year marriage to architect James D. Gibans, FAIA, retired principal of Herman Gibans Fodor, Incorporated, whom she refers to as a “true ally.”