What do you want the world to know about Cleveland? And what do you think the world could learn from this place? Those questions are on a lot of Northeast Ohio minds as some 50,000 reporters and politically active people are soon to arrive here for the Republican National Convention. We wanted the world’s attention. We got it. Now what do we have to say for ourselves?
Of course a lot of the work in preparation for the RNC, and a lot of the people working on those answers, have to do with keeping people safe and comfortable, with moving them efficiently from here to there. But the question is just as relevant to those of us who think about art and culture, and those of us who make it. And not just because we want our place to look nice on TV.
What should visitors to Cleveland know about our culture?
It’s an especially good question in such a politically divided time. Artists are certainly taking up the cause. But one of the most important messages artists and cultural contributors can give a politically divided country has to do less with commentary in the moment than with the results of our actions over the long term. When artists and art organizations thrive, quality of life improves. When artists put their energy into neighborhoods, quality of life not only improves, but with that comes new life to the micro economy. Actions speak loud. Results speak louder
Cuyahoga County has seen this effect multiply with public support of artists. While asking whether public funds should be used to support the arts might seem like exactly the kind of question that divides us politically, the opposite proved true in Cuyahoga County last November. Voters not only renewed public support for the arts through Cuyahoga Arts and Culture, but did so in overwhelming numbers: More than 75 percent said yes.
That means public funding for artists here has bipartisan support. According to maps created by R Strategy Group and provided by the Community Partnership for the Arts and Culture, the areas of strongest support –where ninety to 100 percent of voters were in favor of the tax–were on the wealthy fringes of the county: Chagrin Township, Bay Village, Westlake. In Gates Mills, Hunting Valley, Moreland Hills, and Solon, support was above 80 percent. We like to think voters there saw what artists had done with the money for 10 years and considered it well-spent.
There is one reason the arts unite us rather than divide us. It’s the same reason that when we look back across the centuries, the arts are what we study for deeper understanding of values: The arts are who we are. And that’s a great thing for people from all over the country to know about Cleveland.