Individual Artist Grants and the Slicing of Pie

Individual Artists’ eyes—perhaps a lot of them—will be on Cuyahoga Arts and Culture during the public, grant making organization’s December 2022 Board of Directors meeting. The meeting is scheduled at 3:30 pm Wednesday, December 14 at Trinity Commons in Cleveland.

(See below for a post-meeting update on the proceedings.)

The agenda for the meeting includes approval of grants to four organizations that will serve as re-granting partners, administering grants to individual artists.  The news in this meeting is the addition of an organization new to this grant-making sphere, and still new-ish to Cleveland: Assembly for the Arts, the advocacy organization created in the wake of Arts Cleveland.

Assembly joins Karamu House, Julia de Burgos Cultural Center, and SPACES –all of which have made those grants on behalf of CAC for the last several years.  Assembly’s important distinction among the other organizations is that it is an advocacy organization, and an umbrella for all artistic disciplines, from orchestras to theaters to art studios–for any arts and cultural pursuit. The other organizations are producers of programming, for the most part focused on specific disciplines. CAC’s commitment to individual artist funding through this specific program is $400,000 for 2023, which—pending board approval–will be divided among the four organizations, as follows:

Assembly for the Arts: $140,000 to support transformative arts projects with a focus in areas that lack arts investment or amenities. Assembly will provide sixteen artists with $6,250 in flexible funding and project-based placemaking awards, access to space to create and present art that reflects and represents the surrounding community, resources, space, professional development, marketing, connections (creative, business, and institutional), and an Assembly membership.

Julia de Burgos Cultural Arts Center: $70,000 for Unidos por el Arte. This SFA project unites artists to celebrate the diversity of Cleveland’s Latinx community. Ten Cuyahoga County artists of all disciplines will receive $5,000 flexible funding and project-based awards and access to space to create and present art that represents and supports the Latinx community. The work will culminate in an art showcase for Julia de Burgos’s Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations.

Karamu House: $120,000 for the Room in the House Residency. Karamu House will award 16 visual and performing arts fellowship awards to support each artist’s growth, expansion, and creative process. Eight visual artists and eight performing artists will receive access to space, participate in a digital exhibition of their work, marketing support, and a $5,000 flexible funding award. Room in the House residents demonstrate a strong alignment to Karamu’s vision of culturally and socially relevant artmaking or experiences that celebrate the Black experience.

SPACES: $70,000 for the Urgent Art Fund. Twelve Cuyahoga County artists will receive $4,000 in flexible funding awards and resources, including space, tools, and professional development opportunities, to create new art that is socially, politically, or culturally responsive and help awardees establish institutional connections. SPACES staff will assist artists in securing a public exhibition space when necessary. The grantees will also receive SPACES membership, which gives them free access to networking and artist professional development opportunities.

Individual artists will likely pay attention because the way Cuyahoga Arts and Culture funds individual artists and the degree to which it should do so has been one of the most contentious issues in the organization’s 16 year history.

Cuyahoga Arts and Culture partners with non-profit organizations to make grants to individual artists because by law they can’t do so directly. Initially, they worked with one grant maker—the former Community Partnership for the Arts and Culture, the region’s first arts research and advocacy organization, which awarded grants through its Creative Workforce Fellowships. Those were much larger grants, offering $20,000 in flexible funds to each artist. They made twenty grants annually.

The program was criticized because the proportion of BIPOC artists receiving the grants was small, and because the grants themselves were not perceived as supportive of equity among artists. That resulted in the end of the Creative Workforce Fellowship program. Cuyahoga Arts and Culture then convened the Support for Artists Planning Team—a group of artists, activists and administrators, which made recommendations regarding equitable grantmaking and the nature of support that would be most helpful to artists, especially artists of marginalized and disadvantaged communities. That would include not only flexible funds, but also professional development, space to work, exhibit or performance opportunities, and other opportunities that can be difficult for some artists to access.

The Support for Artists grants, as made by Julia de Burgos, SPACES, and Karamu, were designed in response to those recommendations.  CAC says that since 2019,  the Support for Artists program has directly benefited more than 275 artists, more than 85%  of which identified as Black, Indigenous, or Persons of Color.

The program continues to evolve, however, facing questions about how or whether any other nonprofit organizations could join that roster of re-granting partners, whether individual artists are getting all the money allocated to them, and even whether they should be allocated a larger slice of the pie. CAC trustee Charna Sherman told CAN she did not believe individual artists were getting their due, because the amount of money budgeted for grants to individual artists in 2022–$400,000—was not all spent. Grants made to the Support for Artists partners totaled $260,000, leaving $140,000 unspent for the year.

Vince Robinson, who is on Assembly for the Arts board of directors, and who is a contributor to CAN Journal, says that money will not go to waste. “I know there is a concern that money is not going to go to artists. They are looking at a way those funds can be disbursed to artists and won’t go to nonprofits instead.”

Perhaps not coincidentally, the 2023 allocation to Assembly for the Arts — $140,000 – is exactly the same as the amount left over from CAC’s individual artist budget for 2022.

Robinson’s real concern, though, is the proportion of public funding for the arts that goes to institutions—especially major institutions—as opposed to individual artists.  

“An overwhelming majority of the funds go to major institutions that have other sources of funding,” he says. Individuals are like an afterthought. We really need to shift that. You can’t do this work without individuals.”

In November, CAC announced grants totaling $11.76 million to 273 non-profit organizations. Collective Arts Network is one of those. The $400,000 allocated to individual artists represents 3.4 percent of the organization’s grantmaking this year.

Assembly for the Arts CEO Jeremy Johnson says that rather than debating about the current $400,000 allocation, he is more interested in “growing the pie.”  That could happen if hopes of revising the cigarette tax came to fruition to reverse its steady trend of declining revenue. The strategy for that, though, is in the hands of the Ohio legislature, which would have to approve any change to the tax that supports Cuyahoga Arts and Culture and its public support for the arts. Discussion of that was active prior to the Pandemic, but not since.

For the moment, artists can likely expect Cuyahoga Arts and Culture’s Board to approve the individual artist grant programs as proposed.  The real intrigue in the December meeting will be any discussion about what might happen next: whether there is any movement in the direction of revising the cigarette tax to reverse the trend of declining revenue, and whether individual artists can get a bigger slice of the pie going forward. 

The tragedy is that the finite pie in this scenario pits individual artists against organizations as they each vie for their slices in a difficult economy. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: As expected, the CAC Board voted to approve the grants to organizations described above in support of individual artists in 2023. The Board declined a request from member / former president Charna Sherman to produce a report detailing year-by-year grants made to organizations for re-granting to individual artists. Watch for further updates.

Collective Arts Network is proud to count among the 276 nonprofit organizations that receive support from the citizens of Cuyahoga County through Cuyahoga Arts and Culture.

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