Cleveland Mayoral Candidates and the Arts: Justin Bibb


Cleveland Mayoral Candidate Justin Bibb. Photo courtesy of the Justin Bibb campaign.

CAN Journal and Assembly for the Arts partnered to learn from the 2021 candidates for Mayor of the City of Cleveland about their perspectives and proposed policies related to Arts and Culture.

Arts and culture play a vital, often underrecognized role in driving Cleveland’s economy, workforce and communities forward. According to a study from Ohio Citizens for the Arts, the creative economy generates an economic impact of $9.1 billion in the Cleveland metropolitan area, supporting 62,499 jobs and supplying more than $3.3 billion in wages and proprietor income. The industry comprises nonprofits, for-profit businesses and individual artists.  Collectively, they stimulate innovation, strengthen regional competitiveness, enrich education, infuse creativity into other sectors and challenge us to become a more equitable society.

Ongoing research proves how investing in a strong arts and culture ecosystem is an investment in our community’s overall progress. Children who receive arts education have greater success in math, reading, critical thinking and social skills and are more likely to stay in school. In healthcare, the arts provide proven benefits to patient and caregiver support, public health outreach and community wellbeing.  The arts contribute to Cleveland’s national and international reputation. The creative economy boosts travel and tourism to our area, raises our national prominence and improves quality of life indicators.

Despite these facts, Cleveland is still one of the largest cities that does not fully embed and promote arts and culture into its government structure, even though the sector has one of the largest sources of local support in the country. During this critical moment, we ask Cleveland’s mayoral candidates to respond to a series of questions about their vision for arts and culture in Cleveland’s future.

The Cleveland Mayoral Primary is September 14.

Winners of the primary will face off in the general election November 2.



The Candidate’s Own Experience of the Arts

1) Please describe a memorable art experience you have had as an adult or child?

Justin Bibb: I remember visiting the Cleveland Museum of Art for the first time with my mother Charlene, when she was taking her “Introduction to Classical Art” class when she went back to college as an adult. Coming from a poor, Black neighborhood like mine, it opened our eyes to new world. We developed a bond over Renaissance and Classical art and love going to the museum together every year. We are blessed to have one of the best museums in the country right here in Cleveland and I am honored to serve on the African American Advisory Board, bringing Black artists from across the country to our city.

2) How are you connected to Cleveland’s art scene? Do you participate in local arts activities and events, such as art walks and festivals, rock shows, theatre, dance, film, orchestral concerts, art collecting, museum and gallery exhibitions, photography, writing, spoken word, design and architecture?

Justin Bibb: I am proud of Cleveland’s art scene and have served as Board member of LAND Studio Inc. for nearly 4 years, advocating for public art and installations to connect communities across the city. I live in the Playhouse Theatre District and regularly attended shows and concerts before COVID-19 hit. I have engaged with local artists during the campaign, attended Walk all Over Waterloo, hosted events at Crosslens in Collinwood and toured Worthington Yards, which is features more than one hundred works by prominent Cleveland artists in the building and hallways. I’m excited to share that photographs of my family will be featured in an upcoming exhibition in Cleveland this October – Mothers in Black and White, telling the story of what it’s like to raise Black men and boys through a mother’s eyes.


Arts and Neighborhoods

3) Cleveland has repeatedly seen artists invest in and revitalize neglected neighborhoods, and by their activity, attract additional investment. We’ve seen this in Little Italy, Tremont, North Collinwood, Gordon Square, and other places. How would your administration support development to ensure that artists, people of color and those who have been historically excluded can participate in neighborhood growth?

Justin Bibb: Everyone should be proud of where they live and local artists can play a major role in creating and fostering pride, showcasing the character of a neighborhood, and driving economic investment. Cleveland has a rich art, music and dance scene that is largely untapped. As mayor, I’ll serve as a vocal ambassador, appoint a Arts Czar and celebrate our rich tapestry by amplifying local artists displayed inside City Hall.


4) The arts have a profound social impact on other sectors according to researchers at Americans for the Arts.  How would you engage the arts in other sectors, such as health, or public safety, housing, or neighborhood development?

Justin Bibb: Art pays dividends to our community in many ways – it can be therapeutic and help individuals with trauma and divert people at risk. By appointing a cabinet-level position, the arts will be elevated in policy-making decisions.


Arts and Public Policy:

5) Would you establish a cabinet-level position that would support artists and arts activity in the city?

Justin Bibb: Yes.

6) Would you work with the arts and culture community to create a cultural plan to inform and guide progress of the arts sector?

Justin Bibb: Yes.

7)  Would you allocate a line item in your budget to support the arts and cultural industry?

Justin Bibb: Yes.

8) What kind of support structures would you see for the for-profit arts sector, such as music venues that are such an important part of our arts eco-system in the Rock and Roll capital?

Justin Bibb: Artists should be paid for their work and music venues like The Agora, where our campaign office is located, need continued support to fully recover the impact of COVID-19. My administration will establish an Office of Economic Recovery to strategically invest American Rescue Plan funds and identify investments in the arts eco-system.



Ballotopedia entry for Justin Bibb

Justin Bibb campaign website

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