Cleveland Mayoral Candidates and the Arts: Zack Reed

Cleveland Mayoral Candidate Zack Reed. Photo courtesy of the Zack Reed campaign. Mural by Glen Infante.

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?

Zack Reed: I traveled to Florence, Italy in 2004 after representing the United States in Switzerland as a Swiss American Foundation Young Leader.  While there, I viewed the stunning Statue of David.  As I witnessed this masterpiece, I learned the story of how Michelangelo had come to create it and was amazed at the beauty that arose out of his determination to bring his personal expression and love of art to the people.

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?

Zack Reed: For 14 years, I hosted Family Unity in The Park at Luke Easter Park in the heart of Mt. Pleasant.  The event, always hosted on the last Saturday in July drew upwards of 15,000-20,000 attendees to enjoy free music and exhibitions of art.  People danced.  Families mingled.  Thousands sang in unison to their favorite tunes and our local artists were able to display their talents to the community.  The impact of this event that I founded still gives me tremendous pride.  I’m proud of how much the community came together to support each other and express their love of all things art.  It shows that a foundational neighborhood like Mt. Pleasant has so much more to offer than what the media’s perception have been.  The southeast side of Cleveland embraces art across the spectrum and should be recognized as a pro-art destination


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?

Zack Reed: I don’t think we can have an exclusionary art scene in Cleveland.  When we imagine that only a certain demographic is able to enjoy the arts, we are placing negative connotations of those who’ve been absent from that conversation.  The disaffected communities are seen as “less than” by the city and sometimes this can lower self-esteem to the point that residents of these neighborhoods see themselves as less than.  We cannot allow this to continue.  When I become mayor, our local minority artists will find that their voices will be heard and respected in City Hall and these creatives will assist us in leading Cleveland’s cultural resurgence.

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?

Zack Reed: Art can certainly be an antidote to violence.  When you think about it, when a teenager is playing saxophone in his/her school marching band or singing in the choir or helping to beautify walls around the city, guess what they are NOT doing.  They are not wandering aimlessly, being influenced by the wrong types of individuals and engaging in crime.  Arts can be a pro-safety mechanism to not only decrease crime but also, poverty.  Young people involved in arts are more empathetic to others.  They are more comfortable expressing themselves in ways that do not involve violence.  They are deep thinkers and focused on their expression.  This is why my platform leans heavily on the idea that we should increase arts education in our school.  For our society and our children specifically, arts are not just an escape, they are a necessity and my administration will see to it that our young people receive this much needed exposure to this invaluable curriculum.


Arts and Public Policy:

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

Zack Reed: I’ve always thought that Cleveland should have an arts and entertainment director inside City Hall as a way to make it easier to bring impactful arts-centered activities to the neighborhoods and even cut some of the red tape that makes it difficult to stage large events downtown.

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

Zack Reed: Yes.

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

Zack Reed: 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?

Zack Reed:  I will use the recent experience that I’ve gained working as the Minority Affairs Coordinator for the Ohio Secretary of State’s office, working with small and minority businesses and develop methods to ensure that neighborhood-owned art and music venues are supported by city government.  I believe that neighborhood and civic organizations have an important role to play in this support system and I’m confident that through the enthusiasm of our residents and our determined efforts at the government level we can fortify these institutions for the benefit of the city at-large.



Ballotopedia Entry for Zack Reed

Zack Reed 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.