Planning Group Proposes Changes in Public Funding of Artists

About 60 members of the local arts and cultural community attended the planning meeting on public funding for individual artists [David C. Barnett / ideastream]
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Imagine the government paying you to be an artist.  Since 2009, dozens of individual painters, poets and playwrights in Cuyahoga County have created art with the help of revenues from a cigarette sales tax.  But, the process for distributing that funding has come under criticism.  

Over 150 local artists have received money from the cigarette tax as part of the Creative Workforce Fellowship. Graphic designer Gilberto Rivera wishes he had known about it.

Designer Gilberto Rivera expresses his concerns to Planning Team member Bryan Bowser.  [David C. Barnett / ideastream]

“I did not know until I got invited this year, I could have asked for money for something,” he says.  “I think the guardians at the gate thing is really the hardest part.  How does an individual know who to ask, and then what does he say when he gets there?” 

Cuyahoga Arts & Culture (CAC) was created to distribute the cigarette tax revenues, and in recent years the process for distributing funds to artists came under fire.  Some say people of color and other minority interests are underrepresented.  CAC says it’s trying to change that.

A planning team was created to address those issues.  The team is composed of a diverse group of artists, cultural leaders, and CAC representatives who spent the summer discussing and debating options.  The group debuted an outline of their ideas at a recent town hall meeting.  About 60 attendees spent a couple hours reacting to their recommendations.

One of the proposals is for the majority of funding for individual artists go to applicants who have been "historically excluded", such as people of color and people of different ages, education backgrounds and sexual orientations.  Poet R.A. Washington has mixed feelings.

“That’s awesome, but now you put us in opposition with people who are not,” he says.  “You just created a race conundrum in a process that truly wasn’t about it.” 

But, Washington says he like being part of the conversation and remains hopeful about the planning process. 

“I see people in the room that I don’t typically see,” he notes.

Another recommendation takes the original idea of one lump sum of money given to an individual and subdividing funding to meet artist needs for professional development and places to work.

The planning team will now take the feedback and work it into their proposal with the goal of having something for the CAC board to vote on at its December 11 meeting. 

Designer Kevin Harp, who is known professionally as “mr. soul”, says it’s going to be hard to hand the group’s work off to someone else.

“It’s like carrying a baby for nine months, and you give it to somebody else to take care of,” Harp says.  “These recommendations are our children.  And we have to let someone else decide whether those children live.”

Kevin "mr. soul" Harp and Liz Maugans  [David C. Barnett / ideastream]

Team member Liz Maugans says the group wants its oversight to continue.

“That’s why we included the recommendation that there can be a watchdog to be able to make sure that that the framework is going to be respected and in place and not evaporating,” she says. 

Donald Black Jr. was a vocal critic of how individual artist funds were distributed in the past.  He appreciates the fact that he was asked to be part of the team that is trying to revamp the process.

“It’s hard for a system that functions in a certain way to change itself,” he says.  “And I feel that some of the people who have been brought into the room in the Planning Team committee, represent the change.” 

Donald Black, Jr.: "I feel that some of the people who have been brought into the room in the Planning Team committee, represent the change.”  [David C. Barnett / ideastream]

Black says he still has some concerns about how this will all shake out, but he’s setting those aside for the time being.

If you'd like to weigh-in on the proposal:


ideastream receives funding from Cuyahoga Arts & Culture

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