Local artists speak out about Cuyahoga County arts funding
Over the past three months, Cuyahoga County artists have participated in listening sessions with arts leaders to discuss the future – and past – of arts funding.
It’s been a contentious topic for years, amplified in recent months as advocates prepare to ask voters to renew a major source of revenue. Assembly for the Arts conducted four listening sessions in September and October. The agency awards funds to artists using money allocated by Cuyahoga Arts & Culture as CAC grants directly to nonprofits with cigarette tax revenues. Ideastream Public Media receives funds from CAC.
The results of the listening sessions and accompanying survey found that artists have several issues with grant applications and where dollars go in the county.
Jill Paulsen, head of CAC, said portions of the report were “difficult to read and to hear,” but that her staff has been listening. One change, which is expected to be approved at CAC’s Dec. 13 meeting, is how Support for Artists money is distributed. In the past, CAC has split the funds among several groups, which in turn grant money to individual artists. This year, in response to artist feedback, the entire $400,000 is slated to be administered by Assembly for the Arts.
“A lot of the frustrations that we hear routinely come at us because we're a public entity and that's our job - to listen,” she said. “But they're the frustrations they have with private philanthropy, with individual donors, with foundations of all types and just frankly being in this market where it's hard to be a creative.”
Some of those creatives expressed concern in the listening sessions that CAC is providing funds for educational and mental health nonprofits, as opposed to passing the money to Assembly for individual artists. Another recommendation from the report was the call for an apology from arts leaders about how individual artist funding has been handled. Deidre McPherson, chief community officer for Assembly for the Arts, said that “stems from the funding programs that have happened in the past- they have not been equitable and that needs to be addressed.”
McPherson said she hopes there will be a continuing dialogue with artists about funding issues going forward, such as grant application procedures. That was a frequent point in the listening sessions, and McPherson said Assembly plans to examine the entire process for ways to improve.
“If not everyone has access to the same info, it’s not equitable,” she said.