CAC to Individual Artists: Money in the Budget, No Program to Administer It

20161212_160751After two hours of public comment–which included impassioned statements from leaders of the arts policy community, as well as more than three-dozen artists and administrators–the Board of Cuyahoga Arts and Culture met Monday and listened as its staff outlined six elements they believe should be a part of the tax-funded agency’s individual artist grant program in the future.

Among the speakers were former George Gund Foundation executive director David Bergholz, who described the individual artist grant program as “in a way the most important program of CAC, and also the most difficult.” He added, “I don’t see any reason to mess with it. If the Board does [see such a need], then start another program.”

Tom Schorgl, president and CEO of the Community Partnership for the Arts and Culture, mercifully summarized four pages of prepared comments, which he delivered on paper to members of the Board. They included a description of CPAC’s Creative Workforce Fellowship program, noting elements CAC required and which the agency seems to be asking for in such a program going forward. Schorgl’s comments were underscored with specific examples of funded artists whose work engaged the community.

The direction of CAC’s individual artist funding has been the subject of controversy since CAC staff made known in November its intention to take the program in a different direction from the Creative Workforce Fellowships, which since 2008 have been administered by the Cleveland-based CPAC.

20161212_160759At that time, the different direction included a program administration by the Washington, DC-based nonprofit, National Arts Strategies. But after objections by artists over the design of the program (as well as the export of decision-making and tax dollars), National Arts Strategies withdrew itself from consideration last week. Nonetheless, the elements of a new program, as eventually laid out by CAC Staff Monday, would overwhelmingly reflect the elements of the program NAS proposed.

Cleveland Public Theatre and Ingenuity Festival founder James Levin noted that he had worked with National Arts Strategies in the past. He praised the organization for its work, and also for backing away from the controversy here. He encouraged CAC director Karen Gahl-Mills to do the same.

More than three-dozen more artists and administrators followed with additional comments. The overwhelming messages were to support individual artists for the quality of their work, and to find a way to reach more artists in minority communities.

As CAC trustees noted in discussion that followed, the organization is left now with money in the 2017 budget for individual artist grants, but no program in place, and no partner to administer them. By law, CAC cannot make grants to individuals, and therefore must engage a non-profit partner to fulfill the promise of support for individual artists.

Individual artist funding has amounted to approximately 2 percent of the organization’s annual grant making. The rest supports general operating and projects of nonprofit organizations.

The elements recommended by CAC staff for an individual artist grant program include;

  1. Providing unrestricted funds to individual artists
  2. Using a broad definition of the arts and culture, to include science, nature, and history
  3. Striving for equity, to support martinalized people and seek them out
  4. Support for excellent art that serves the community
  5. A supportive cohort model, wherein recipients of the grant work together or in some way engage as a group
  6. The opportunity for training and learning for grant recipients.

Some of those elements broadly reflect the prior program, but three specific points—the idea of the cohort model, the specific intent to seek out marginalized people (instead of simply a blind adjudication process open to all applicants), and the broad definition of individual artists to include scientists, naturalists, and historians–are new ideas. And assuming the Board chooses to accept those elements as described, the program that eventually results could differ significantly from the familiar Creative Workforce Fellowships, depending on degrees of emphasis and the ways in which each element is implemented.

In discussion that followed, CAC board member Mark Avsec asked what besides the issue of diversity wasn’t working in the Creative Workforce Fellowship. CAC staff responded that they have tried since 2012 to bring the organization’s program in line with CAC’s goals.

Schorgl interrupted the meeting at its most heated moment then to ask, “Then why did you fund us? If you are a funder and you don’t like the proposal, then why did you fund it?”

The question was not answered. Gahl-Mills noted respect for Schorgl’s work, and gratitude for getting public funding for the arts on the ballot three times. As president and CEO of CPAC, Schorgl came to Cleveland in the late 1990swith support from several foundations to do the organizing and research groundwork to build the case for public funding for the arts. His effort led to the cigarette tax which funds CAC, and which was renewed overwhelmingly by more than 75 percent of voters in November, 2015.

Gahl-Mills included in her comments to Schorgl an invitation to submit a proposal for a new individual artist grant program. .

In follow-up discussion, Avsec said “artists can’t be told how to create. “ I wince when I hear [that we want to fund] ‘artists who are going to change the community.’”

Steven Minter—CAC’s longest-tenured board member—noted the point made in public comment, that the program should strive for greater inclusion. He also noted that time is going by, and if the organization doesn’t act quickly, they will miss another year of individual artist funding.

The question now is how the program moves forward—an intention to fund individual artists, with no program or partner to administer it.


Cuyahoga Arts and Culture asked that the following be made clear:

·         There are no new guidelines for supporting individual artists under consideration by CAC’s Board.  Elements of future support for artists was discussed between staff and Board at its December 12, 2016 meeting are outlined here: CAC staff and Board will work together, with community input, to define a new program.

·         CAC’s street team conducted in-person surveys on Wade Oval at a Wade Oval Wednesday event. Parade the circle is in June, and CAC’s listening project events were July 5 through September 30.

·         The community listening project was designed to engage and connect CAC with residents who had not previously known about or engaged with CAC.  CAC also values input from the arts and cultural community, and kicked off our project with an event attended by 175 representatives of CAC-supported organizations on May 19, 2016, including CWF recipients and artists.  CAC’s survey was also distributed to more than 8,000 contacts and publicized widely (including online and on social media), giving Cuyahoga County residents an opportunity to participate.

·         The “familiar individual artist program” (CWF) did not emphasize or exist to support “excellent work.” In 2016, the goals of the program were to 1) create public benefit that builds connections between artists and residents, 2) support artistic and cultural vibrancy; and 3) ensure stewardship of taxpayer-provided funds.


Watch for additional reports on artists’ comments made at the meeting.

CAN is proud to have received (for the first time) a project grant from Cuyahoga Arts and Culture for $4,000 in support of a series of stories about efforts to expand the art market in Northeast Ohio. The series will begin with our Spring issue, which will be available at our launch party Friday, March 3, 2017, at MOCA Cleveland. 

The opinions expressed on CAN Blog are those of the individual writers. Art is somewhat subjective. Well, somewhat. But yes, everybody's a critic.

Leave a Reply