Art Will Save Cleveland

Thomas Mulready

This article was published in The Cleveland Free Times, July 2-8, 2003, and makes reference to the coordinated case being made in Cleveland for public funding of arts and culture.

Right now, things are about as bad as they've ever been for the arts in Cleveland. Three of the region's most important theatres (Ensemble, Dobama and Cleveland Public Theatre) cancelled the tail end of their 02/03 seasons earlier this year, mainly in an effort to stop the red ink. The Cleveland Film Society laid off half its staff after trying to compete with a made-for-TV "reality" series set in Iraq.

Meanwhile, the majors are nervously raising and spending millions for huge capital projects (the Orchestra's recent spiffing up of Severance Hall and Blossom Music Center, and the Art Museum's anticipated $320 million renovation), but their endowment investments are down, and they struggle with huge costs.

The stock market is hurting the two big Cleveland arts funders, the Cleveland and George Gund Foundations, who see an increased demand from social services and health care due to federal cuts. The Ohio Arts Council, throttled by the state legislature, shrunk everyone's grants. Right now, it pretty much sucks to be in the arts in Cleveland.

Except for one thing: many in town have latched on to the concept that the arts will save Cleveland. The local economy is stuck in neutral, and few believe that the convention center will create any more jobs than Gateway did, but the arts have become the poster child for economic development. Many are talking about the annual $1.3 billion the arts and culture generate, the 4,000 good-paying jobs, the way the arts have transformed Cleveland's best neighborhoods – Tremont, the Heights, Murray Hill, the Warehouse District.

Cleveland business leaders ranked the high quality of the region's arts and culture as the No. 1 reason for keeping their businesses here. Mayor Jane Campbell and County Commissioner Peter Lawson Jones are going on the record supporting the arts as civic savior. And even though Cleveland is the largest city of its size without local public funding for the arts, the community is gearing up to put an arts levy on the ballot that would generate $14 to $20 million annually for local arts and culture.

To top it off, this week the Community Partnership for Arts and Culture released a website,, making the case for public funding, and pulling together in one place stories, events, research, and ways that everyone can get involved and take action. With so much at stake, and a proven winner like Cleveland's culture, this one should be a no-brainer. Either that, or plan to spend a lot more time on the couch fingering your remote.