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Cleveland names Rhonda K. Brown its first arts czar

 Dancers on stilts dressed as butterflies dance in the Parade the Circle.
Jean-Marie Papoi
Ideastream Public Media
Artists in Cleveland celebrated the return of Parade the Circle last weekend. Now this week, Mayor Justin Bibb announced artists will for the first time have a point person at City Hall as Rhonda K. Brown has been appointed senior strategist for arts, culture and the creative economy.

Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb announced Thursday the city’s first senior strategist for arts, culture and the creative economy.

Shaker Heights native Rhonda K. Brown most recently served as president at the City Colleges of Chicago Foundation. The Ohio State University graduate previously held development roles at Chicago's Joffrey Ballet and Museum of Science and Industry. An artist herself, her parents founded the first for-profit, Black-owned fine art gallery in the country in 1980 in Shaker Heights.

Rhonda K. Brown headshot
City of Cleveland
Rhonda K. Brown

The Bibb administration said in a press release that Brown is tasked with developing "a sustainable infrastructure for the arts at City Hall in partnership with city leaders" and the city's creative community.

The position is funded by a two-year, $250,000 grant from the Cleveland Foundation, modeled after similar posts in cities such as Newark, New Jersey.

Brown left Northeast Ohio to attend Ohio State in 1987 - and returns for her new position next month. She said one of her first initiatives will be a listening tour "to understand the landscape, to really listen to what people want and interviewing stakeholders and funders and education supporters of the arts.

"The arts and culture offerings in the City of Cleveland are absolutely amazing," she said. "There's some cultural gems, both in the community and within large cultural institutions."

Last month, Cleveland Planning Director Joyce Pan Huang said the arts senior strategist needs to find “the North Star for where does the arts, culture and creative economy really fit within City Hall, and how does that role differentiate from many of the other arts organizations?”

Huang made the comments while discussing a recent Assembly for the Arts presentation on how artists can find affordable studio space in Cuyahoga County. Although the city is not ready to take on its own real estate portfolio, she said it’s one of many subjects which could be considered by the new arts strategist.

“I think the arts ecosystem has advocated for someone at City Hall for a very long time, so there's a lot of excitement,” she said. “How do they bring together all these goals of economic development, arts, creativity, innovation and integrate all of those ideas together into something very tangible? I think that is going to really differentiate Cleveland from other cities.”

Kabir Bhatia is a senior reporter for Ideastream Public Media's arts & culture team.