Cleveland Mayoral Candidates and the Arts: Basheer Jones
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?
Basheer Jones: Poetry has defined my life. I performed my first poem, “Islamic Boy” in either 3rd or 4th grade, at a Mosque in North Carolina. In it, I talked about what it was like to be a black Muslim boy. When my family moved to Cleveland and we lived in a shelter, it was my poetry that captured the attention of school and community leaders who in turn embraced and supported me and my family. Spoken word has sustained and shaped me into the man, the public servant I am today.
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?
Basheer Jones: I am an active, engaged member of Cleveland’s art scene. As a Spoken Word artist, I participate in it and as a councilman I’ve supported it financially. During my term, we have created public art around Ward 7 by installing murals and painting generators. I also funded the Hough Reads street light pole banner campaign that uses graphic arts to promote literacy. I’ve invested in the musical arts and artists by producing videos. I can go on and on. I am probably the most artistic candidate in this race.
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?
Basheer Jones: I’ve done it. Drive around Ward 7 to see the murals installed within the last few years. They were painted by a formerly incarcerated artist. We had a mural painted inside the Hough Multi-Purpose Center. I believe the arts not only beautify a community, it boosts the confidence and morale of those who consume it.
I believe City Hall should be an inviting and welcome place. One of the first things I plan to do to ensure this is displaying art on the walls. I will also duplicate what we did in Hough across the city. Cleveland has some amazing artists and it’s time we showcase their work.
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?
Basheer Jones: I believe all sectors of our community can work effectively alongside one another if we break down silos and identify synergies in our efforts. As mayor I will work with existing coalitions and collaboratives to encourage investment in the arts financially as well as displaying art within institutions. I will encourage cross-sector collaborations that will increase our awareness of resources and drive new investments
Arts and Public Policy:
5) Would you establish a cabinet-level position that would support artists and arts activity in the city?
Basheer Jones: 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?
Basheer Jones: Yes.
7) Would you allocate a line item in your budget to support the arts and cultural industry?
Basheer Jones: 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?
Basheer Jones: Our for-profit arts venues do great work in showcasing both local and out-of-town talent. The biggest challenge they face is getting people into the venues. One thing the CIty can do is utilize our communications channels such as website, TV20 and social media to promote their events. The City can also be mindful of utilizing these venues when seeking to host City-sanctioned events. These are some ideas I would consider and explore if elected Mayor of Cleveland.