Cleveland arts and culture groups say next mayor should stand up for the arts | Arts & Culture



By Lee Chilcote, Earth

From Severance Music Center to Playhouse Square, 78th Street Studios to Beachland Ballroom, Cleveland has a rich arts scene that far exceeds its weight compared to other American cities of its size. Still, Cleveland artists and arts organizations say they haven’t always had the strong support of City Hall under Mayor Jackson, and they want that to change on November 2.

“Big cities have great town halls with people waking up every day thinking about how to support the arts,” said Jeremy Johnson, new president and CEO of Assembly for the Arts, a Cleveland-based nonprofit arts and culture organization. “I was impressed with how much we have accomplished without the town hall… think about what we could do [by] collaboration with the town hall.

Although Cleveland has a public art program that invests 1.5% of the city’s budget for public art investment projects, including murals that light up the city’s pristine walls, Johnson said that the city can and must do more. Last month, Assembly for the Arts partnered with the Journal of the Collective Arts Network (CAN) to ask for support for the seven mayoral candidates.

“Cleveland is one of the largest cities that does not fully integrate and promote the arts and culture into its government structure,” the two organizations said. wrote. This, despite the fact that creative work in Northeast Ohio generates an economic impact of $ 9.1 billion, supports 62,499 jobs and generates more than $ 3.3 billion in salaries and income from owner, according to an Ohio Citizens for the Arts study.

When asked if they would stand up for the arts at City Hall, the responses from all seven candidates were unanimous: let’s do this thing.

“Each candidate said they would establish a cabinet-level position in their administration to support the arts; work with the arts and culture community to create a cultural plan; and allocate a budget line in the city’s budget to support the arts ”, wrote Michael Gill, Director General of CAN, in the Journal. “Cleveland doesn’t have any of that right now, and it’s about time.”

Now, Assembly for the Arts and its artistic partners are stepping up their efforts by co-sponsoring a Bibb and Kelley debate with Ideastream and the City Club which airs Monday, October 11 at 7 p.m. In addition, Assembly for the Arts plans its own The Vote Arts program Monday, October 18 at 6:00 p.m. to feature “The Arts Sector as a Powerful Voting Force and Partner for Change in Cleveland”.

“We are inserting the arts into the mayoral election,” Johnson said. “There’s a lot of work to be done, but let’s start by being part of the conversation and not being left out of the table. “

Dayzwhun at Cleveland Walls in Midtown. [New Departure Films]

Scratch the surface

Earth contacted five diverse artistic leaders across Cleveland for their views on the city’s performance in supporting arts and culture. Their responses revealed their frustrations with the current administration but also their hopes for the next one.

Joyce Huang, vice president of community development at Midtown Cleveland, just completed the Cleveland Walls Project, a public art event that brought 19 new murals east of the city. She said it was frustrating that the city did not invest more in public art and that its only arts staff member, public art coordinator Tarra Petras, was “hidden” in the Cleveland Planning Commission. .

“From a neighborhood perspective, it’s important to have someone in town hall with more status and power,” Huang said.

Greater effort is needed to track the impact of the city’s public art program, create a public art registry and ensure opportunities for younger and diverse artists who are under-represented, she said. .

“There is so much talent here, we have to find a way to showcase it,” said Huang. “I feel like we are only scratching the surface.”

Daniel Gray-Kontar, executive director of Twelve Literary Arts, a nonprofit group that offers literary arts programs to young people of color, said the next mayor should lead efforts to create a cultural plan through meetings with residents. He cited Twelve’s work at Hough, where they led a grassroots engagement to get residents’ opinions on the E. 66th St. redevelopment project, as an example. Plus, he said, too many young people are leaving Cleveland for lack of opportunities.

Artist Keith Benford, Jr., who works with Twelve, agreed that Cleveland needs more opportunities for young artists to grow and develop there. “There are many artistic initiatives taking place at the local level,” he said. “Now we just have a lot of tall grass and no one can see what’s on the other side.”

Mordecai Cargill, of the racial equity and venue design consultancy Third Space Action Lab, lives and works in the Glenville neighborhood of Cleveland. He said artists and arts organizations can help change people’s perceptions of this historic East Side community.

“We need to build on the work of artists and creative professionals to challenge and recreate the narratives of these neighborhoods,” he said.

Ricky Watts in Cleveland Walls in Midtown

Ricky Watts at Cleveland Walls in Midtown. [New Departure Films]

Newark Arts Lessons

One city where mayors’ advocacy for the arts has made a difference is Newark, New Jersey. Regina Barboza, executive director of Newark Arts (a position previously held by Jeremy Johnson), said having the mayor on board has made a huge difference. The mayor of Newark since 2014 is Ras Baraka, son of the famous poet Amiri Baraka.

“Newark has an arts mayor,” she said. “Now it is becoming known as a city of art, which frankly it always has been.”

After being elected, Baraka led efforts to start a Creative Catalyst Fund at City Hall to support artists and small arts organizations which currently provides $ 750,000 to $ 800,000 in grants each year.

“Newark is a big city and not everyone can come and take art classes,” said Barboza. “It allows groups to take it to communities and keep it in communities.”

Additionally, Baraka has created a post of Director of Arts and Cultural Affairs at City Hall which is currently occupied by artist Fayemi Shakur. Currently, the city is trying to cut red tape to help artists access affordable housing and creative spaces, to combat the impacts of rising rents and global gentrification.

“Newark tries to be intentional in providing space for artists and keeping them in place,” Barboza said.

Fred Bidwell, president of Assembly for the Arts, said a new mayor could help Cleveland follow Newark’s lead. For too long, he said, the city has been a passive supporter of the arts. Instead, he said, he could be an active leader.

He hopes the next mayor will follow through on plans to elevate the arts in Cleveland. If he doesn’t, he and others plan to hold the mayor’s feet against the fire.

“It’s one thing for a politician to say he’s going to do something, and quite another to do it,” he said. “They have to put their money where their mouth is with real and substantial action.”

Lee Chilcote is editor-in-chief of The Land.


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