On Racial Equity and the Accuracy of Mirrors


We’ve said since the beginning that CAN Journal is a mirror of the art scene here. The truth of that, however, depends on who happens to be standing in front of it.  For the last two years, Cleveland artists have been talking about racial inequity in our art scene—a conversation pushed along by Cuyahoga Arts and Culture’s efforts to grapple with how it would more equitably support individual artists.

You could see the inequity any Friday night in the galleries. Cleveland’s art scene thrives in neighborhoods where space is cheap, and in practice that has meant that it thrives when  people who have enough money and connections to take advantage of cheap real estate use that position to build gallery careers within those inexpensive walls. The people we see strolling the galleries are overwhelmingly White. And so are the people who run the galleries. And with a few exceptions, so are the artists on the walls.

Most of our readers probably know that CAN was founded to facilitate collective communication on behalf of Cleveland galleries. Visual art took a particularly hard hit with the decline of arts coverage in mainstream media, and in 2012 a couple dozen galleries collectively realized a solution: They could create their own media outlet. So they pooled some money, gathered some support, and began to publish CAN Journal. The front half of each issue—the section we call “Members Report”—is a partially-subsidized opportunity for gallery directors and curators to reach the public, telling their own stories in their own words.

From the beginning, we invited any visual art organization with public programming to take advantage of this opportunity. The number of organizations began to climb immediately, from an initial 28 to nearly 100 in 2018. But a mirror doesn’t always capture the whole room. Cleveland is much more diverse than these pages have indicated. While CAN has made strides toward diversity, the organizations that stepped up to tell their own stories in our Members Report section have reflected the art scene’s racial imbalance.

The only way around this was to be more proactive than we had been. It was not enough to have an open call, or to say everyone is invited: we had to make a deliberate effort at inclusion. As result of having started that, we are thrilled to welcome a bunch of new organizations, some of them newly formed, which will make CAN a more accurate reflection of Cleveland than it ever has been before. In this and upcoming issues, watch for news from La Cosecha Galeria (which will host our summer issue launch party May 17), McDonough Museum of Art, Kings & Queens of Art/The Art Palace (which will host our fall issue launch party August 23), Cuyahoga Valley Art Center, Beth K. Stocker Art Gallery at Lorain County Community College, acerbic, Cleveland Skribe Tribe, Cain Park, the Edward E. Parker Museum, and Framed Gallery.

It’s a richer world than we knew. We look forward to seeing you in it.

Michael Gill, Editor / Publisher