Returning to arts: Cuyahoga Arts & Culture, ioby continue crowdfunding match for third year

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Cuyahoga Arts & Culture (CAC) and ioby Cleveland are once again teaming up to make Cuyahoga County a more vibrant place for arts and culture.

For the third year in a row, the ioby/Cuyahoga Arts & Culture Match Fund provides a financial springboard to help artists and organizations raise money to improve their neighborhoods through arts programming—whether its painting public murals, distributing art supplies and offering remote art lessons, or hosting music festivals for Cleveland’s immigrant youth.

CAC matches every dollar that an individual raises through the ioby platform, up to $3,000. This year, CAC committed $75,000—up from $60,000 in 2020.

For example, if an individual raised $2,500 from friends and neighbors, that person would receive an additional $2,500 from CAC for a total of $5,000. 

Through the match program, individuals can solicit funds and recruit volunteers via the ioby website, as well as receive coaching on fundraising techniques from experts.  

“Most people who come to us, it’s their first-time crowdfunding,” says says Dawn Arrington, ioby Cleveland’s action strategist.  “We provide coaching, a curriculum, and tools and tips [to help fundraise].”

Both CAC and ioby view the match program as a unique way to support local arts programming.

“[The Match Fund] helps us to invest beyond nonprofit organizations,’ says Jake Sinatra, manager of special projects and communications at CAC. “We know that so much creativity also takes place in neighborhoods, with artists, and through collaborations that don’t require an organization or nonprofit. By working with ioby we are helping public funding reach into more places and supporting meaningful experiences for more county residents.”

<span class="content-image-text">Christian Elder's Model Garden program will teach students ages 8-18 how to grow, prepare, and market their own food.</span>Christian Elder's Model Garden program will teach students ages 8-18 how to grow, prepare, and market their own food.So far, 13 projects have participated in this year’s match program, with fundraising goals ranging from $2,390 to $22,246. So far, two of the 13 projects—the Urban Pocket Park Farmer's Market and Art is a Safe Space—have been fully funded. 

“The projects that are funded through [the program] are projects that are community-based and neighborhood focused,” says Arrington. “ioby stands for ‘in our back yard.’ It stems from the belief that residents know what’s best for their neighborhood.”

The program represents a merger of the two organizations’ missions. CAC strives to inspire and strengthen the community by investing in arts and culture. Since 2007, it has invested over $207 million in more than 436 organizations. 

Meanwhile, ioby gives local leaders the ability to crowdfund the resources they need to build change from the ground up. Rooted in social justice principles, ioby seeks to turn fundraising into a form of community organizing by training leaders on how to build momentum for a project. 

The partnership launched in 2019 with a $50,000 matching grant from CAC and has grown steadily in size every year. Last year, over 903 donors gave $79,277 to fund resident-led projects and CAC provided $60,000 in matching grants. This generated a total of $139,277 locally for the arts.

“This new way of engaging residents to fund projects has been successful, so our match will increase to $75,000 for 2021,” says Malissa Bodmann, a spokesperson for CAC. 

Arrington notes that the program is both effective at raising money as well as diversifying who has access to funding for creative projects. She highlights that neighborhood projects are often too small to be eligible for larger funding sources, or too urgent to wait for foundation funding.

“This is for the many people who are told ‘no’ by foundations,” she says. 

The CAC/ioby partnership helps eliminate many of the traditional barriers to funding. There is no minimum amount to launch a project, and the turnaround time for receiving funding is often quick.

“We want somebody to be able to come to us in April and raise enough money for a Juneteenth celebration [two months later]” says Arrington.

Art in the pandemic
The CAC/ioby projects take on added significance amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, when many people have felt socially isolated from their neighbors. 

“Even during the pandemic, many people were using ioby to help solve problems and lift spirits through arts and culture,” says Sinatra. “As we move towards recovery, we hope that projects funded through ioby and CAC will help neighbors create and connect, whether that is through virtual programs or safe, in-person events.”

The CAC/ioby projects took on added significance amid the COVID-19 pandemic when many people have felt socially isolated from their neighbors. 

“[We want] to promote social connectivity in a safe way,” says Arrington. “Art and culture and natural sciences are just ways that people can be together.”

Many of the projects, both this year and last year, focus on finding ways to de-stress and connect with others—despite social distancing requirements.  

<span class="content-image-text">Erika Ervin’s “Urban Pocket Park Farmers Market” program builds off her expertise in revitalizing over 7 vacant lots into “pocket parks” where community residents can gather to grow food, socialize, and participate in arts programming.</span>Erika Ervin’s “Urban Pocket Park Farmers Market” program builds off her expertise in revitalizing over 7 vacant lots into “pocket parks” where community residents can gather to grow food, socialize, and participate in arts programming.Angela Miller’s “Painting in the Park” event, for instance, was originally conceptualized as an in-person event. Miller received funding in 2019 through the match program and decided to crowdfund for the event once again in 2020. 

But when the pandemic struck, Miller had to pivot her idea to avoid large, in-person gatherings. Instead, she used her 2020 crowdfunding campaign to raise $4,299 to distribute art kits to families’ homes. The kits provided children and their families who were stuck at home with a creative outlet and provided both an activity and instructions for the families to follow.

Miller is crowdfunding for her art programming, Cleveland Art Week, again this year. She hopes to combine both in-person and socially distanced options in 2021. 

“Now, more than ever, it’s imperative for families to be creative,” Miller writes on her project page. “In an effort to help families alleviate stress during this crisis, we will continue to provide Our Family Creative Intro Kit to those in need. In addition, we continue to host our Annual Cleveland Art Week and Painting in the Park event which celebrates the diversity of creativity.” 

Miller has currently raised $550 towards her target of $3,046 through ioby. 

Creating model gardeners
Arrington emphasizes that it’s not just traditional arts programs that can benefit from the match program.

“Most people don’t realize that “natural sciences” also falls into CACs’ category of art programming” she says.

As of this week, four of the thirteen projects listed on the crowdfunding site are related to natural sciences. 

<span class="content-image-text">Christian Elder's Model Garden program will teach students ages 8-18 how to grow, prepare, and market their own food.</span>Christian Elder's Model Garden program will teach students ages 8-18 how to grow, prepare, and market their own food.Model Gardeners, for instance, aims to connect students from inner city Cleveland to urban agriculture. It was founded by Christian Elder, a Glenville native who believes gardening can be a powerful tool for both educating and connecting neighbors to one another.

“I grew up in the Glenville neighborhood,” explains Elder. “My grandparents had roots in the South, and so they always had a full-blown vegetable garden in the backyard- from watermelon to okra. For me, I always looked forward to going over, getting my hands dirty, and being outside with neighbors.”

Elder says that gardening was a way for her to connect with her grandmother, who she describes as her best friend. 

She wants to extend the opportunity she had to connect with family through gardening to other youth living in Cleveland, particularly those in food deserts. Her farm-to-table curriculum combines education on urban agriculture with cooking and entrepreneurship lessons. 

Participants will spend the spring and summer learning how to work in the garden, and the fall in the kitchen learning to how create recipes from their produce. Participants will then pitch their recipes to local restaurants. Money will go towards purchasing supplies such as gloves, shovels, and other gardening items. 
And while the project has raised $1,540 of its targeted $3,209, Elder says she is still fundraising to meet her goals.

“The hardest part has been getting outside my comfort zone and making that ask,” says Elder. “But ioby has been really helpful in sending tips and encouragement on how to fundraise.”

She says that now that the fundraiser is up, her next goal is to network with others in Cleveland to secure culinary spaces to teach the cooking classes. 

Urban Pocket Park Farmer's Market
Another garden project, the Urban Pocket Park Farmer’s Market, has already met its fundraising goal of $6,000. The project’s founder, Erika Ervin, is a veteran fundraiser, founder of Gardening in the District, and creator of over seven “pocket gardens” throughout Cleveland.

“My very first garden was eight or nine years ago,” she says. “I did the first one as a community garden for myself and the neighbors around me to give us a place to come and gather, have events, garden, teach about self-sustainability and eating healthy.”

Ervin fundraised for one of her pocket gardens through ioby, and used funding to create a garden on Hampden road. This pocket garden transformed a vacant lot into a gathering space for community members, complete with a garden, benches, picnic tables, gathering spaces, and a free lending library. 

This year, Ervin used ioby to fundraise for a Pocket Park Farmers Market on the corner of East 61st and Quincy Avenue. The Farmers Market will be held 3 days a week throughout the summer, and will provide a place for residents to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables. 

“We’re also planning on having lots of free events, art, and music performances,” she says.

The market has already secured USDA certification, and is looking for vendors and farmers who want to sell in the space.

Ervin says the key to her success in fundraising via ioby was persistence. 
“Hang in there, stay dedicated, have that determination,” she advises. “It is a lot of asking and sending emails. At the end of the day if its going to support your project- stay on those people!”

Ongoing Opportunities
Residents can still submit their ideas to be eligible for funding, but Arrington encourages them to do so quickly. “People should have submitted their ideas yesterday,” says Arrington.  “It’s a first come, first serve basis.”

The program will continue to be available until funds are depleted. Interested residents can submit their idea through the ioby website. 

About the Author: Sydney Kornegay

Sydney Kornegay is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Aidemocracy, The Columbia Star, and Observatario Economico. She has a master's degree in International Development and Economics from Fordham University and is the director of adult programming at Refugee Response in Cleveland.