Assembly for the Arts to Announce New Grants

Assembly for the Arts executive director Jeremy Johnson speaks at the Cuyahoga Arts and Culture Board of Directors meeting in December 2022

The nonprofit advocacy organization Assembly for the Arts rolls out a new grant program for individual Cuyahoga County artists this week, supported by Cuyahoga Arts and Culture. Assembly for the Arts Executive Director Jeremy Johnson and Chief Community Officer Deidre McPherson spoke about the program via Zoom.

Assembly joins Julia de Burgos Cultural Arts Center, Karamu House, and SPACES Gallery as re-granting partners for CAC. By law, CAC is not permitted to make grants directly to individual artists. The other organizations’ programs are already underway for the current year.

Assembly’s new program, known as the Creative Impact Fund, will award 16 grants of $6,250 each.  They will launch a website and begin taking applications Friday, March 17. The application period will be open March 17 through May 7. Applications will be reviewed May 8 through 19. Artists will receive notification May 22.

The awards are structured to foster publicly accessible arts experience in communities whose history includes the practice of “redlining,” which refers to areas where banks would not make home loans. Those were overwhelmingly Black and Brown communities, and decades later those residents continue to suffer economic devastation as result of the systematized disinvestment.

The grants are structured to give each recipient $2,500 in flexible funding, for use as the artist or collective wishes. The balance of each $6,250 grant is to be invested in the project, which could be a performance or exhibit or any kind of publicly accessible arts experience. That’s $3,750 for materials, rent, hired services, and other production costs.

McPherson says the applications will be evaluated by a panel of 3 to 5 reviewers, which will come from Akron and the Cleveland area. The list of panelists was not yet finalized as of this writing.  Artists of Cuyahoga County, and working in any medium or discipline are eligible. “We are open to artists of all expressions,” McPherson said. Artists from historically redlined communities, or working with artists of those communities, or with projects in those communities will be emphasized.

When the website launches, Assembly will also announce a series of information sessions to provide application support to artists.  The organization plans three in-person sessions, and one virtual session.

The program is funded by a grant of $140,000 from Cuyahoga Arts and Culture. The 16 individual artist grants add up to a total of $100,000. The $40,000 balance will be used by Assembly to promote the program itself and administer it, as well as to support the projects through marketing and implementation.  Johnson says the organization was invited by CAC to apply for the grant, and that it was funded in the requested amount.

The Creative Impact Fund program is headed by Deidre McPherson.  “Unabashedly, I am thrilled that she is taking this up,” Johnson said. Prior to becoming Assembly’s Chief Community Officer, McPherson administered the FRONT Futures Fellowships, a grant program in support of Black and Brown artists of Cleveland through FRONT International Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art.

The grant program comes at a time when individual artists are advocating for a greater proportion of CAC’s public funds. Grants made to individual artists represent a tiny proportion of CAC’s total revenue, the overwhelming majority of which is granted to nonprofit organizations.  Since 2009—the first year the grant program was administered—the grant amount for individual artists has varied from 2.7 percent of CAC’s total revenue (a $500,000 grant to Community Partnership for the Arts and Culture was made from CAC’s total revenue of 18.2 million that year) to 4.1 percent in 2019 (when grants to re-granting partners totaled $518,465 on CAC’s total revenue of $12.5 million).  In 2021 and 2022, CAC made grants to re-granting partners totaling $260,000 each year, representing 2.1 to 2.3 percent of total revenue. If the amount of revenue projected from 2022 held steady for 2023, the total of $400,000 in grants allocated for individual artists would amount to 3.6 percent of CAC’s total revenue.

Artists hope to get greater representation on CAC’s board of directors, as two current board members’ terms expire at the end of March. They hope to use that representation and the leverage of a probable upcoming vote on the cigarette tax to get a bigger slice of the pie in exchange for their support. Asked how the individual artist funding landscape might evolve, and whether it is likely that individual artists will get a greater proportion of the revenue, Johnson prefers to look at the big picture.

“Everything is evolving. In general, one regranting program is going to be impactful, but it is not the be all and end all. This is one arrow in our quiver,” Johnson said. “Can we change the world with a grant of $140,000? We can begin.”

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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