Assembly to Lead Grantmaking to Individual Artists

Jeremy Johnson speaks at Cuyahoga Arts and Culture’s board meeting in September.

Cuyahoga Arts and Culture’s entire budget for partner organizations making individual artist grants each year–$400,000 –is less than one percent of Deshaun Watson’s annual salary.  Indeed, the sum of all grants CAC’s board recently approved for all organizations combined amounts to less than 25 percent of that one football player’s annual salary. 

This tangential comparison doesn’t just highlight the difference between the market’s valuation of athletes and artists:  it also gives some context to what Cuyahoga Arts and Culture has attempted to take on in the way it has managed individual artist grants in recent years, especially in its attempt to rectify inequity.  Four hundred thousand dollars is not a lot of money to address the disadvantages faced by BIPOC artists after redlining and other structural disadvantages, let alone centuries of racism.

However, a decision to be made official at Wednesday’s meeting of the Cuyahoga Arts and Culture board of directors could be a step toward improving relationships between the public funder and the region’s Black and Brown artists, and also eventually, perhaps, increasing the amount of money offered them.

That anticipated decision is that CAC will award its full $400,000 budget for support for individual artists to one regranting partner—Assembly for the Arts.  UPDATE: After discussion during the Board meeting, CAC’s board increased the grant amount to Assembly for the Arts from the originally-budgeted $400,000 to $500,000. Assembly CEO Jeremy Johnson and Chief Community Officer Deidre McPherson spoke with CAN about the anticipated grant Friday. Johnson says Assembly plans to work with past regranting partners–along with administering its own program—to offer grants in 2024.

“We are given $400,000, and empowered to determine how best to support individual artists, Johnson said. “We have decided to make grants to 4 other organizations.”  The plan is to make grants of $70,000 each to Julia de Burgos Center for the Arts, SPACES Gallery, Karamu House, and Cleveland Public Theatre.

“I feel that each of the groups made a strong case that [awarding individual artist grants] is mission central for each of them.” He also expressed concern for the budgetary “cliff effect,” by which he means the financial impact on an organization when it suddenly loses a grant.

UPDATE: In public comment, Happy Dog proprietor Sean Watterson urged Assembly to consider musicians when considering how Assembly would award the additional $100,000. He specifically noted Cleveland Rocks Past Present and Future, and the Panza Foundation as potential re-granting sub-partners. In a text afterward, Johnson said “We will be sure that musicians are incorporated. We will reach out to those two organizations.”

Assembly will retain $120,000 for its Creative Impact Fund. While details are not entirely ironed out, Assembly and each of the other organizations would administer its own program. Assembly will coordinate communication and promotion in an attempt to make the range of those programs more clear and accessible to artists.

Each of those organizations will continue to have administrative costs associated with running those programs, averaging about 30 percent of the grant amount. That means any anticipated efficiency from CAC making its individual artist support grant to one regranting partner vs. several will not be realized—at least not yet.

Details of those relationships are still being worked out, Johnson and Deidre McPherson said.

“We have talked with re-grantors about increasing size of the awards which is difficult because they are getting a reduced amount” from their grants of past years, Johnson said. “We will all be awarding fewer grants in larger amounts.” He anticipates that the average individual artist grant will increase to $8,000.

He adds that conversations with those partners have also involved sharing recommendations from the 2023 Support for Artists: Community Engagement and Planning report, which was presented December 6 at Karamu.

Assembly may not abide all that is included in the report as it develops a new individual artist program. The report noted a “deep aversion to an artist advisory board,” for example.

McPherson says, “I think we DO need an artist advisory board. Our team has a lot of feedback from artists and others about how to structure that. We have to figure out the nuances about how much power to give that group of artists.”

It’s possible that the year of Assembly working with other regranting partners is a stepping stone to a single, Assembly-run individual artist program. “I can’t say at this moment,” McPherson says. “That is definitely on the table.”

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

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