CARTA Members Enjoy Fun Collecting Options to Support Cleveland Artists and CIA

Visitors to CARTA’s 2022 Thursday night preview consider the works they might take home on loan.

The Cleveland Art Association – better known as CARTA – offers members an entirely engaging and enjoyable way to experience and collect Cleveland artists’ works. The process is simple: Each year, members eye the pieces in the continually evolving collection and decide on the ones they would like to inspect further, knowing that they will pull a number and obtain one of those at the historic arts organization’s annual October drawing.

“Then people keep their works of art for a year, and at the end of the year, we have for- sale pieces and not-for-sale pieces that are classic Cleveland School artists that we want to maintain in our collection,” says Cynthia Prior, chair of CARTA’s acquisition committee. “I would say 70 to 80% of our works are for sale, so our members have the option to either purchase their piece at the stated price or bring it back and start the process all over again.”

CARTA’s lending collection, both for adults and children, currently numbers about 225 pieces, which corresponds roughly to the organization’s average membership of 225 to 250. Each year, the curatorial committee uses proceeds from the annual sale of 25 to 30 pieces to purchase 20 to 30 new works – approximately $25,000 worth – that keep the collection refreshed and featuring the latest works of Cleveland artists.

Artist Theadis Reagins (right), winner of CARTA’s $500 Anthony Eterovich Award in 2022.

“Some people know immediately that they’re going to buy their piece,” relates Prior, who herself has purchased a number of artworks as a member for 20 years during the fun three-day process that’s often full of surprises. “Others are on their way back down to return it, and they realize they just can’t part with it and buy it. People may have taken art that wasn’t their first choice, but over the course of the year they fall in love with it.”

Of course, members may choose to select a Cleveland School artist masterwork just to have and enjoy in their home for a year before returning it to CARTA’s permanent collection.

“You could be picking up something from the early 20th century to the latest pieces from today over a span of 100 years,” says Bill Busta, owner of William Busta Projects art gallery in the Waterloo Arts District. “In many cases, you can see works by somebody and works by their teacher and their teacher’s teacher. You can see all sorts of traditions going down through the years.”

CARTA itself boasts a distinguished history as a Cleveland arts organization. Founded in 1882 and connected to the institutions that evolved into CIA 64 years later, The Cleveland Arts Association energized local art lovers and collectors long before there was a world-class Cleveland Museum of Art. According to Prior, the mission has always been to promote the arts in Cleveland, which it did through several art shows throughout the year that were “May Show equivalents.” The organization’s energy faded a little bit around 1900 but experienced a revival with the opening of CMA in 1915 that has continued uninterrupted ever since.

A happy CARTA member takes home from the collection a painting by Theadis Reagins, on loan for a year.

The women-founded and led organization’s new mission was to purchase two to three works of art every year to donate to the fledgling art museum. During the 1930s, Prior explains, the organization transformed to its current role as a lending collection, part of which was built through buying pieces from CMA’s famed May Show exhibitions. You can find a thorough chronicling of CARTA’s rich story on its website ( that Barbara French adapted from Francis P. Taft’s history of The Cleveland Art Association.

About 15 years ago, Prior informs, because of confusion caused by several local art institutions employing the initials C and A, The CAA decided to differentiate itself by becoming CARTA. What has never changed since 1915, however, is the organization’s three-pronged mission: 1.) Promote the arts in Northeast Ohio. 2.) Support artists in Northeast Ohio by buying their art. 3.) Donate about $45,000 of its proceeds from art sales and membership fees toward an annual scholarship fund for the Cleveland Institute of Art that CIA disburses to several students.

While there are other similar organizations nationwide that maintain lending collections, most of them ask the artists to donate their work or make them available on consignment.

“We’re purchasing the art from the artists and supporting them right away, so that’s very helpful to them and unique,” says Mity Fowler, co-president of CARTA.

To qualify for consideration artists do not have to be Cleveland natives, but they have to practice their craft in Cleveland. “We want the art to be informed by living in Cleveland,” Prior says.

One of those artists, Thomas Frontini, graduated from CIA 30-some years ago and not only was the recipient of scholarship moneys then, but has several works in CARTA’s collection today.

“That gift of a discount on your tuition was a huge thing and had a very positive effect for me and some of my contemporaries,” he says. “CARTA also creates one of the foundations for a healthy art community by showing that artists are a valuable part of any community and provide a uniqueness to the culture of a city.”

An artist in CARTA’s collection since 2007, CIA alum Timothy Callahan concurs: “They’ve been so supportive of me, and they put such a concentrated effort on continually supporting artists and will select significant pieces throughout their careers.”

Kate Blaszak, Fowler’s fellow board and acquisition committee member and co-president, says she became involved 25 years ago when a friend of hers at her job in Key Private Bank’s Trust Department who knew she loved art offered to sponsor her. “It was $100 then, and I thought it was the best deal in town,” she recalls. “You go to a great party once a year, and you pick a wonderful piece of art, take it home for a year and have it on your wall, and if you want, you can buy it or just return it and do the same thing for the next year.”

Members need to be sponsored because CARTA’s process of members holding onto valuable artworks for a year before they might purchase them is self-insured, so there needs to be some informal vetting to admit new members, Prior explains.

For the first few years, Blaszak and her husband Rick just enjoyed having a cool piece of art on their wall that they couldn’t afford at that time. As young professionals getting established, they were used to having framed posters of artworks at best.

“After about five years, we made our first purchase, because we had it on our wall, and we said, ‘We can’t imagine our wall without this piece,’” Blaszak remembers. “We were in our early 30s, and we scraped our money together and said, ‘Let’s buy this one!’ It’s still one of our favorite pieces in our house.”

Prior, Blaszak and Fowler have all taken advantage of acquiring art from CARTA’s children’s collection for the budding art collectors in their homes. The pieces are often smaller, slightly more affordable than the adult choices, and the organization decided many years ago to display them at a child’s eye level at the preview event for the kids to check out and choose pieces that most grab their attention. On the night of the annual drawing, after they select their piece, the children then attend a special art class taught by a CIA instructor.

“There’s usually anywhere from 10 to 20 kids aged 15 and younger,” Fowler says. “We have an art project for them, so they are entertained while the parents are selecting their work of art.”

She adds that she and her husband Jef have purchased art as birthday presents for their children, especially for their now 20-year-old twins whose birthday falls right after the October event.

“There are people who don’t think art is for children, so the fact that you can choose something as a 10-year-old to go in your room is cool,” says artist Bellamy Printz, who has had her work in both the adult and children’s collections for more than a decade. “I just appreciate the amazing job they do promoting Cleveland artists, and it has started good things for artists that otherwise might not be known.”

Last year, CARTA unveiled a new $500 scholarship prize awarded to an emerging artist at the Thursday night reception.

This year, the artwork return will happen on Friday and Saturday, October 13 and 14; the preview reception will be held on Thursday, October 19; and the CARTA drawing will occur on Sunday, October 22. All events are held at the Cleveland Institute of Art, 11610 Euclid Ave in University Circle.

Regular Membership costs $150 for a year, and Patron Membership is $200. Membership includes an invitation to the preview reception and one piece of artwork from the CARTA annual event to hold for a year. Purchase costs are separate.

To see CARTA’s collection online or for more information, visit CARTA’s website or email them at

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