Leadership and Change


Barry Underwood, Linear Construction 12 (Doan Creek), Pigment print, 40 X 40 inches, 2020

Just over a year ago, CAN Blog noted that no fewer than seven Northeast Ohio art organizations in the summer of 2020 had “room at the top.” At the same time as people were in the streets calling attention to the nation’s history of racism, seven of the region’s prominent art institutions had recently seen their executive directors resign. We made note not only because of job opportunities. One of the biggest obstacles to equity in the art world is not open access to exhibitions, or schools, or winning prizes, or landing commissions and sales: it’s leadership, and with it the power to make decisions and guide programming. So when top jobs become available, it’s not just a job opportunity for some individual. It’s an opportunity for the art world to make gains in racial equity.

“The intersection of circumstance creates an opportunity for those organizations to make historic impact with their eventual hires,” we wrote. “This is a moment when Cleveland art organizations could have much more Black and Brown leadership than they do now. Stay tuned.”

A year later, it’s worth asking how that went.

What is sure to be one of the region’s most visible and influential institutions was not on that list. Assembly for the Arts was created as an umbrella for three existing organizations that guide public funding and policy for the arts in the region: funder Cuyahoga Arts and Culture, policy think tank Arts Cleveland, and the political campaigning organization Arts and Culture Action Committee all stand now under that umbrella. In May the Assembly announced that Cleveland native Jeremy Johnson would return from Newark, New Jersey, to lead the organization, which promised that at least fifty percent of its board members will be women or non-binary people, and at least forty percent will be BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color)—a reflection of the population in Cuyahoga County.

Meanwhile, some of the organizations we included in our observation last summer have also hired diverse leadership. SPACES is now led by Tizziana Baldenebro. The Morgan Conservatory promoted Leonard Young from interim to permanent executive director. Some of the others are still seeking new leaders.

But this is important: progress does not mean the job is done. Just as the election of Barack Obama as president did not mean racism had ended in the US, a few Cleveland art organizations hiring Black and Brown leaders does not mean the region’s art world is suddenly equitable.

Progress is progress, though, and these changes are good news for us all. New leadership and better representation of the people who live here will open doors and bring new ideas, more new artists, and new inspiration. In this issue of CAN Journal, you’ll find many of our members are also presenting more diverse programming, from Akron Art Museum to moCa, from Valley Art Center to BAYarts, and more in between. It’s not time to let up: it’s time to keep going. We look forward to seeing you.

Michael Gill

Editor / Publisher