CAN evolved from the Strategic Arts Leadership Talks at Zygote Press in 2011. Zygote had convened a dialog of organizations to find ways to support each other in a difficult economic time. A key idea emerged: the need for a communication tool that would give voice to the extensive arts activity in Northeast Ohio. The idea was partially supported by a project grant from the Ohio Arts Council.

The first issue of CAN Journal was a newsprint tabloid published in January, 2012. It compiled voices of 28 organizations–nonprofit and commercial galleries, museums, and educational institutions.  Follow-up interviews with participating organizations provided the feedback to launch CAN Journal as a quarterly magazine. With a defining in-kind gift from Consolidated Graphics, and having secured support from the George Gund Foundation to develop a website, CAN Journal launched as a quarterly in June, 2012, with canjournal.org debuting in July.

In the following years CAN grew to a membership of more than 80 organizations.

CAN was recognized as a tax-exempt non-profit corporation in 2015.