In the Eyes of Prosperity

In the eyes of posterity, the success of the United States as a civilized society will be largely judged by the creative activities of its citizens in art, architecture, literature, music …”

This was a statement of the President’s Commission on National Goals, established by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1960. The Commission’s work eventually led to the creation of the National Endowment for the Arts, in 1965.

The report goes on to say some very lofty things about the place of the US in history and its role as a nation leading the world. Something it doesn’t say outright is that prior to the federal government’s investment through the NEA, there was a significant dearth of arts access between the coasts. Sure, New York, Cleveland and a handful of other wealthy industrial cities had art museums, orchestras and play houses. But beyond those, in terms of arts access for the vast majority of people, there wasn’t much.

In fact, much of the artistic energy that surrounds us now in Cleveland developed after a much more recent public investment—the voter-approved creation of Cuyahoga Arts and Culture. Since 2006, CAC has distributed more than $125 million to more than 300 organizations in Cuyahoga County (not CAN), which has made the region a national leader in local public support for the arts, and played a key role in the revival of neighborhoods and the national recognition of what a great place Cleveland is. The following pages are packed with details.

By now, anyone reading this knows that the cigarette tax that provides funding for CAC will be on the November ballot.

One of the most pervasive arguments against it is that the resultant funding benefits primarily the rich, the so-called “elite.” In reality the opposite is true.

In the past, prior to public, government investment—and with it the power to make public access and impact a part of funding criteria—art was available only to wealthy people. Kings and courtesans had their portrait artists and orchestras. Peasants could play drums as they marched off to war.

To say that public funding for the arts—specifically through CAC—benefits mostly the rich is not only to ignore the historic impact of public funding, but also the present day reality of arts access. It’s a shocking denial of the broad impact the arts have on children and in poor neighborhoods. Those of us who recognize artistic expression as a basic human need, who see arts programming steadily whittled away and cut entirely from city schools, who have watched children develop confidence as they have found their talents in any art form—we cannot stand in slack-jawed silence in the face of such ripe balderdash.

The proper response is to get involved, and ultimately to vote. Go to to volunteer with the campaign. Mark election day, November 3, 2015 on your calendar. Renewing the tax to support Cuyahoga Arts and Culture is the only county-wide issue on the ballot. In the mean time, I look forward to seeing you at the shows.

Michael Gill

Editor / Publisher