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Public Support for the Arts – A Success Story

Karen Gahl-Mills

With each day’s news, we read about further reductions in public arts funding at the state and federal level. We are all challenged to, yet again, help our public officials see the value in supporting institutions such as our state arts councils, under threat as our states look for solutions to budget gaps.

Permit me to provide a glimmer of hope in this otherwise dark time, and let me tell you about the success story that is Cuyahoga Arts & Culture.

In 2006, after ten years of hard work, a broad and diverse group of community leaders came together to pass a dedicated, 10-year cigarette tax for arts and culture in the county that includes and surrounds Cleveland.

Overnight, our region moved from having one of the lowest per capital local investments in arts and culture–64 cents–to having one of the highest–$13.50 at last count.

Cuyahoga Arts & Culture, the public entity established to administer the tax dollars, made its first grants in January 2008. To date, we have invested nearly $65 million in over 150 local arts and culture organizations, and to individual artists through the innovative Creative Workforce Fellowship, administered by the Community Partnership for Arts and Culture.

This year alone, we will invest $14 million in general operating support grants, $800,000 in project support grants, and over $750,000 in special initiatives such as the Fellowship.

In our just released 2010 Report to the Community, we use data from the Ohio Cultural Data Project to make the case that public support has played a critical role in enhancing our region’s economy and quality of life. CAC’s investment generated more than $280 million in local economic activity in 2009 alone.

Organizations that receive support employ more than 5,000 people and generate nearly $8 million in payroll taxes that help fund local governments. Public support has also substantially increased access to and participation in arts and cultural events.  Since 2007, the number of cultural events in Cuyahoga County has increased by 25 percent, attendance at events for adults has increased by nearly 10 percent, and cultural visits by students have grown by more than 100,000 per year.

Our local solution to finding a new way to publicly support the arts is working–but we must be vigilant and ensure that our residents continue to see the value of this public support in the work that our dedicated partner organizations do every day.

And we must be equally vigilant in designing grant programs that encourage organizations to take community benefit seriously–moving, as Richard Evans suggests in a recent article, toward becoming enablers of art rather than simply providers of the same.

Cuyahoga Arts & Culture’s story is still being written; with the continued support of our residents, and the continued good work done by artists and organizations every day, I am confident that our success story can continue.

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