Come together: Arts Innovation Summit seeks unity, collaboration in uncertain times

Eight years after the launch of the Arts Innovation Summit & Performance at Baldwin Wallace University (BW), Bryan Bowser, the university’s department chair of interdisciplinary studies, is reflecting on how much the world has changed.

On the eve of this year’s summit, this Thursday, Oct. 13 at BW’s Gamble Auditorium, Bowser says he sees art’s role in an ever-changing society an important topic to explore.

<span class="content-image-text">Bryan L. Bowser</span>Bryan L. Bowser“We try to think about what is happening in the world and react to that,” explains Bowser, adding that the past summits have tackled issues like the future of symphony orchestras; diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the arts; and—during pandemic—innovation in a time of crisis.

Many of those topics are still relevant today, while others have faded as more pressing social issues and economic hardships have arisen.

There are new concerns since the pandemic began—concerns about the willingness of audiences to return to live performances and questions about how arts organizations will answer the call to be more equitable. And there are, of course, concerns about how artists are faring economically.

All of these questions are top-of-mind at this year’s summit, presented by BW arts management & entrepreneurship program, BW LaunchNET, and Cuyahoga Arts & Culture (CAC).

A new lens
Thursday's summit will focus on the intersections within the arts worldand the innovation that can happen when groups collaborate to create new opportunities. 

“This summit, which is two years in the making [because of the pandemic], will explore the relationship between individual artists, arts funders, and organizations,” Bowser explains.“The broader arts community also plays a pivotal roleto demonstrate what can happen when individuals invest [in the arts].”

Bowser says BW launched its arts entrepreneurship & management major around the same time the university launched the Arts Innovation Summit in 2014.  

“We had a long-standing program in the arts for 40 years, but we turned the focus on entrepreneurship,” he says. “At the same time, funding from CAC was allowing organizations to be creative in ways they hadn’t before.”

Bowser says funding groups like CAC allowed BW to also elevate its own arts programming. “We needed to lift that up and hear stories about graduates from BW and share stories about the industry and sector,” he says of the summit’s origins.

<span class="content-image-text">Tizziana Baldenebro, Executive Director of SPACES Gallery</span>Tizziana Baldenebro, Executive Director of SPACES GalleryBowser is focused on ensuring the summit continues the conversation about how artists and arts organizations rise to new challenges, so BW invited Mourning [A] BLKstar a Cleveland “a multi-generational, gender and genre non-conforming amalgam of Black Culture dedicated to servicing the stories and songs of the apocalyptic diaspora,” to perform and participate in a talkback session moderated by SPACES executive director Tizziana Baldenebro.

“It seemed like a prime opportunity to discuss DEI in the arts,” Bowser says of the decision to bring in Mourning [A] BLKstar. “As we think about how to best demonstrate it, we said, ‘let’s not just talk about it, let’s show it.’” 

Strengthening ties
Newly-named Canton Symphony Orchestra (CSO) president and CEO and 2019 BW arts management & entrepreneurship alumna Rachel Hagemeier says these discussions didn’t begin with the pandemic,  the reinvigoration of the Black Lives Matter movement, or the massive shifts in audience engagement—however she says the events over last two years feel like the beginning of a new era.    

“I can imagine this year will be quite different from what was discussed in 2018 [when I last attended the summit],” she says. “The conversations I was having in college about innovation were about reaching new audiences. We have a different lens. It is not just about young people—we want young people—but we want new voices involved.”

Hagemeier says she is eager to apply this new thinking to her role leading CSO by creating closer ties within the symphony by involving the CSO musicians who are paid by the performance or live out of state.

“Just having more voices at the table, that can slow things down, but when more people feel included, that leads to more creativity,” she says.

<span class="content-image-text">Rachel Hagemeier</span>Rachel HagemeierStrengthening the ties between artists and arts organizations will take center stage at this year’s summit. Hagemeier says she believes bringing the artist and the organization together is more than just a nice-to-have feature. It’s a way forward, she says, in an era of atomized support for the arts.

“People are choosing to spend their time far more selectively,” says Hagemeier, who is transitioning to her new position from her previous job as CSO’s manager of education and community engagement.

“Artist-performers have to understand a little more about what’s going on administratively because when artists understand the nuts and bolts of what’s going on behind the scenes, they can better inform programs that are actually feasible," she says. "In the orchestra world, there’s a huge amount of clash happening because of a lack of understanding between two forces.”

Equity, action, and support
Equity and the support system for arts are two topics that are sure to come center stage at this year’s summit. With the hit that area arts venues took during the pandemic, and the continuing polarization and uncertainty, SPACES’ Baldenebro says need for the arts has never been stronger.

“Artists are, by their very practice, innovators and entrepreneurs,” she says. “Our work is in supporting their vision. How? Through providing resources and space and time to focus on their practice. That we take enough advantage of putting artist to work in more capacities can project value.”

Additionally, recent calls for a renewed commitment to public art projects should be heeded, Baldenebro says.

“As we’re rebuilding our cities, the opportunities for artists don’t exist in the way they used to. So, [we need to] highlight the creative, innovating, and entrepreneurial ways artists are thinking in our communities,” she says.

SPACES is a “re-grantor,” which means it administers the process for CAC’s Support for Artists grants to individuals artists. With its Urgent Art Fund, SPACES is overseeing three grant cycles in which four artists living in Cuyahoga County (12 artists per year) will each be awarded $4,000 to have project-based artist fees and expenses covered.

Funding and even the process of applying are essential to the continuity of individual artist-born work, Baldenebro says, pointing out there are free grant application classes and workshops that comes with applying.

“If your application is rejected, you’ll get comments from the jurors on how to improve and strengthen the project,” she says, with help in multiple areas such as feasibility, relevancy, and making the work accessible to the community.

Community access is particularly important since the Urgent Art Fund is intended for art that is responsive to a community need. For instance, grants supported the work of artist Aaron Williams and the Museum of Creative Human Art (Mocha) in collaboration with MoCA Cleveland, and LaToya Kent, one of the musicians in Mourning [A] BLKstar, among other creatives.

“The need is always great,” Baldenebro says. “Artist are among the most [financially] precarious group of citizens, and if we’re tasking and challenging artist to do something about issues of today it really does put a stronger pressure on artists.”

In addition to its Urgent Art Fund, SPACES in 2020 was able to re-allocate resources available through another re-granting program, the Satellite Fund, to act as emergency relief with 126 awards to individuals at $1,000 each.

Aside from temporary relief like the set aside for artists in the federal ARPA bill, Baldenebro  argues there are too few support structures for artists.

“That’s the big challenge,” she says. “There’s not a lot of organizations who are in the process of doing regranting. MOCA has an artist residency program and the FRONT Triennial just launched [an Arts Futures Fellowship for Ohio-based visual artists of color[, and there are initiatives through CAN Triennial to provide [support], but it is constant challenge to make sure artists are financially supported.”

These current concerns, needs, and topics, make the timing of the BW Arts Innovation Summit perfect, says Jake Sinatra, CAC's director of grantmaking strategy and communications.

“Cuyahoga Arts & Culture is proud to support longtime grantees Baldwin Wallace University and SPACES, whose work comes together in an exciting way at the upcoming Arts Innovation Summit,” he says. “This event has been a fantastic way to spotlight innovative CAC-funded groups that are connecting with Cuyahoga County residents in creative ways.”  

The 7th Annual Arts Innovation Summit & Performance takes place Thursday, Oct. 13 at 3 p.m. at Baldwin Wallace University's Gamble Auditorium in the Kulas Musical Arts Building, 96 Front Street, Berea. For free tickets, click here. The summit will also be livestreamed.

Marc Lefkowitz
Marc Lefkowitz

About the Author: Marc Lefkowitz

Marc Lefkowitz is a sustainability consultant with more than 15 years of experience writing, speaking and advocating for a more sustainable Northeast Ohio. He served as Director of the GreenCityBlueLake Institute and editor of its well-known blog at He has a B.A. in English from Ohio State University and an M.A. in urban planning from Cleveland State University. He is a regular bike commuter and transit rider. Photo: Liz Cooper.