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Cleveland City Council approves $3 million in funding for artists

Joyce Pan Huang Rhonda K Brown Jeremy Johnson
Cleveland TV20
On Monday, Cleveland Planning Director Joyce Pan Huang (left), Senior Arts Strategist Rhonda K. Brown and Assembly for the Arts CEO Jeremy Johnson presented the plan to distribute close to $3 million to individual artists over the next year.

A plan to distribute close to $3 million in funding to artists was approved Monday by city council in Cleveland.

On Monday morning, Cleveland City Council’s Health, Human Services and the Arts Committee first heard details of the plan from Rhonda K. Brown, senior strategist for arts, culture and creative economy. She came aboard last summer as the city’s first “arts czar.”

The Transformative Arts Fund is for “Cleveland-centric” arts projects. Lead artists with a verifiable Cleveland address will have to submit a budget and select an institutional partner to administer the grants of up to $500,000 each. Artists will also need to submit Center for Community Solutions data on the neighborhood or ward where the project will take place.

“Special consideration will be given to project proposals that amplify and address the following: vacant land reutilization; the environment, food insecurity; violence prevention; matters of diversity, equity and inclusion; safe spaces in Cleveland and social determinants of health,” Brown said.

Black infant mortality, smoking and mental health challenges were some examples of the social determinants of health that projects could address.

Applications will be accepted through March 30, with three virtual and three in-person orientation sessions during that time. Finalists will be notified in late April, and projects are slated to begin in June.

The funding comes from $3 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds set aside in October 2022. Assembly for the Arts takes 3% from that pool to handle the application process using the Submittable software platform. Assembly CEO Jeremy Johnson said it's widely used by arts organizations and will enable artists to easily apply for other types of projects.

“Unlike some of our institutional partners, which can float their dollars for months or weeks or longer, complete a project and then wait to be reimbursed, unfortunately that is not the case with most creatives,” he said. “I do want to heartily endorse the fact that by being able to put these funds in the hands of the creatives… this will make this a successful program.”

This proposal for artist funding comes at a time when there has been raised attention to government support of artists awarded by Cuyahoga Arts & Culture. The agency charged with arts tax revenue distribution has had some contentious board meetings, where members of the public and even some board members have been critical of how individual artists are funded. CAC provides funding for arts nonprofits, including Ideastream Public Media. Separately, it also provides funding for Assembly for the Arts and several other groups to award grants to individual artists.

Updated: January 29, 2024 at 8:08 PM EST
This story was updated after council approved the plan.
Kabir Bhatia is a senior reporter for Ideastream Public Media's arts & culture team.