Cleveland Mayoral Candidates and the Arts: Kevin Kelley

Candidate for Cleveland Mayor, Kevin Kelley. Photo courtesy of the Kevin Kelley 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.


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

Kevin Kelley: My most memorable recent art experiences involved the painting of two murals in my Ward 13 (Old Brooklyn). The first was done on State Road on the side of the Maennerchor Center. What was memorable is that the artists were all young people who took such great pride in their work. The second mural was done on Pearl Road and involved children of all ages. Further, I have always supported that Arts and Culture levies.

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? 

Kevin Kelley: My wife and I are frequent visitors to local arts festivals, our children were
active in West Side Theatre when they were young, we are frequent visitors to CMA and attend at least 5-6 live performances each year (in non-pandemic times). While we are not season ticket holders, we purchase 4 show sets and other package deals.


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?

Kevin Kelley: I believe that encouraging the arts should be a part of our City’s economic
development plan. Art can breath life into communities that are otherwise struggling. In the Old Brooklyn neighborhood, where I live, I have seen the difference that a mural can make. I have seen in other neighborhoods how a gallery can change the dynamic of a street. Above all, I think that artists need to be paid for their work and encouraged as an important part of our economic path forward.

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?

Kevin Kelley: The Bureau of Economic Analysis and the National Endowment for the Arts
have reported that arts and culture contributed 4.5% to the country’s GDP in 2017 – more than agriculture and transportation. It’s a huge, $877 billion industry that generates more then 5 million jobs across the country.

Locally, our city should view arts and culture as the equivalent of a Fortune 500 company. Recent studies report $1.5 billion in sales – supported by 11,000 employees, and an additional $464 million (2018) in associated earnings. For every $1.00 spent on the arts, $21.00 are generated in the peripheral economy in Cuyahoga County.

The arts generate more revenue than all three sports teams put together and impact a larger community of people. (More data can be retrieved from Arts Cleveland).

As promised, I intend to integrate arts and culture into every sector of my administration to enhance our city’s quality of life and its economic development.


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

Kevin Kelley: My arts and culture platform separates my mayoral candidacy from every
other candidate. Since Cleveland has no arts commission, I am proposing a permanent, budgeted Commission of Cultural Affairs. And since Cleveland has no Cultural Master Plan, that will be the Commission’s first task. This Commission will be dedicated to nurturing these extraordinary amenities. And since Clevelanders need jobs, that will be a focus. Perhaps even more artists could be attracted to the region because of our artsfriendly
agenda and our affordability. And because we have such an abundance of skilled and semi-skilled labor, we could become a place known also known for the production and manufacturing of art. Finally, since artists are creative problem solvers, we need their help in creating and fostering a diverse and inclusive civic agenda. Artists can look at the city’s human and built infrastructure – and help us develop creative, authentic and attractive ways of meeting our challenges.

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

Kevin Kelley: Yes. See my response to Question #5.

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

Kevin Kelley: Yes. See my response to Question #5.

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?

Kevin Kelley: See my response to Question #5. The first task of my proposed Commission of Cultural Affairs will be a Cultural Master Plan – and support structures for for-profit arts sector must be one of its first priorities.



Ballotopedia entry for Kevin Kelley

Kevin Kelley 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.