Celebrating diversity: Pride month and Juneteenth bring June festivities

Cleveland has a storied history of embracing the spirit of diversity and inclusion for all. Cuyahoga Arts & Culture (CAC) honors that commitment with a host of grants designed to help strengthen the city’s dedication to diversity and launching new initiatives.

“CAC is proud to support the nonprofit organizations that bring Pride and Juneteenth events to Cuyahoga County,” says CAC executive director Jill Paulsen. “We’re so excited to see these events returning and growing after the pandemic, bringing even more people together to celebrate community, champion justice, and help create a more inclusive future.”

FreshWater looks at five grant recipients working to make a difference for everyone.

Beck Center Diversity Celebration 2023

Renowned for enhancing Northeast Ohio’s professional theater landscape, Lakewood’s Beck Center for the Arts is dedicated to being a bastion of diversity and inclusion in Northeast Ohio.

MadJax Dance Company: Reflective Images, Part of Beck Center Diversity Celebration 2023MadJax Dance Company: Reflective Images, Part of Beck Center Diversity Celebration 2023“Over the last couple of years, the topic of diversity has rightfully become one for worldwide discussion,” says Ed Gallagher, Beck Center’s director of education. “As an organization, we started down the path of exploring diversity, equity, inclusion, and access over the last decade—putting a lot of emphasis and awareness on what it means at all levels. We never stop looking for ways to make Beck Center a more welcoming and accessible place that will allow anyone, whoever they are, to enjoy the arts in their best way possible and know they belong here.”

The non-profit deepened that commitment in 2021 by launching a 12-day, four-event festival that would ultimately pave the way for Beck Center Diversity Celebration 2023.

Now in its second year, Diversity Celebration was held April 28 through June 19, and featured programming that honored the spirit and importance of inclusion through theater, music, dance, visual arts, and creative arts therapy. This year’s events included:

  • Razzle Dazzle: By the Book, The Clef Notes,” an original musical theater presentation, that serves as a heartfelt homage to beloved books.
  • MadJax Dance Company, known for its thought-provoking takes on traditional modern and jazz moves, showcased “Reflective Images,” which describes thoughts and feelings inherent in a woman’s journey through life.
  • Super Saturday Birthday Bash, when aspiring artists ages two to seven explored a variety of art forms.
  • Case Western Reserve University’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Center conducted Safe Zone training designed to help all in attendance deepen their understanding of LGBTQ+ identity and issues.
  • A poetry reading for those wishing to share their personal prose and stories or hear the words of others.
  • Artists affiliated with Art Possible Ohio, a nonprofit that helps artists with disabilities advance their careers in the creative sector, shared their respective journeys.
A $124,000 general operating support grant from CAC helped Beck Center make Diversity Celebration 2023 possible.

“It if weren’t for CAC and the funding that comes from the citizens of Cuyahoga County, we wouldn’t be here,” Gallagher says. “Their funding and vision for the arts and the county help us out all the time. Without them, we’d have to narrow our scope and cut back in so many critical areas.”

Set for early fall, the center’s annual Cultural Heritage Art Exhibition will feature BIPOC artists and those with disabilities. Plans are already in the works for Diversity Celebration 2024.

“One of the things I’m proudest of is the amount of collaboration that’s packed into these events,” says Gallagher, citing sponsors that, in addition to presenters, include the Cuyahoga County Board of Developmental Disabilities and Cleveland Association of Black Storytellers.

Art Posible Ohio 2023 Rita Elswick Megan Fitze and Regina Dorrmeyer.JPGArt Posible Ohio 2023 Rita Elswick Megan Fitze and Regina Dorrmeyer.JPG“To me, true diversity also means true collaboration, and I’m grateful that these groups help us with other events during the year,” Gallagher continues. “Clearly, diversity and inclusion are sewn into the fabric of who we are on a day-in, day-out basis.”

Diversity is also a paramount consideration when Scott Spence, now in his 33rd year as Beck Center’s artistic director, selects Broadway shows to stage each theater season.

Once on This Island,” which opens Friday, July 7 and runs through August 16, is a colorful musical tale of love, loss and redemption portrayed by Caribbean peasants while they wait our a violent storm and rely on a young girl to bring social classes together.

“Our stages are all about eclecticism,” says Spence. “There’s a whole world of experience out there and playwrights writing about those experiences — not only comedies and dramas, but gay plays, Hispanic plays and African-Americancentric plays.

“It’s absolutely essential,” he adds, “to make sure we’re reaching out to all of these possible audiences.”

A noteworthy interlude

Talise Campbell, artistic director of the Djapo Cultural Arts Institute in Cleveland’s Clark-Fulton neighborhood, ensures all who attend her classes be engaged and enveloped in traditional dance and music native to the African diaspora.

“Djapo is a Wolof word meaning ‘come together,’ Campbell says. “Our mission is to bring people of all ages from various ethnicities together to learn about each other.

“All culture is maintained through the arts and keeps tradition alive.”

On June 10, Campbell shared that steadfast philosophy by presenting “Music at Main” in the downtown branch of the Cleveland Public Library.

Djapo Cultural Arts Institute Juneteenth CelebrationDjapo Cultural Arts Institute Juneteenth CelebrationDuring the one-hour program, 100 patrons enjoyed traditional West African choreography performed by a dozen dancers accompanied by musicians playing djembe and dunun drums and bells.

“It was truly a celebratory journey,” Campbell says. “We started with verbal libations to remember the pioneers—from Martin Luther King Jr. to [African American abolitionist] Sojourner Truth to [dancer and anthropologist] Pearl Primus and [photographer] Gordon Parks—whose shoulders we stand on. No one is ever gone until there’s no one left to call their name. Our goal is to keep them out in the universe.”

Thanks to a $19,648 cultural heritage grant from CAC, Campbell can continue to share the work she’s passionate about.

“CAC was one of my first supporters,” she says. “Jill Paulsen and her team have continued to be with me every step of the way. For that, I am very grateful.”

Celebrating togetherness

A vital neighborhood encompassing AsiaTown, Hough, Central, Fairfax and a portion of downtown, the city’s MidTown district is home to diverse residential and business populations.

They came together on June 10 to get a head start on celebrating the importance of Juneteenth—the federal holiday commemorating the emancipation of enslaved African Americans that took place on June 19, 1865.

Held at Dunham Tavern Museum & Gardens, the third-annual Juneteenth: Celebrating Togetherness featured an afternoon of fun and enlightenment for all ages, genders and ethnicities. Designed, in part by residents, it centered on freedom, unity and resilience.

Mid Town Juneteenth: Celebrating TogethernessMid Town Juneteenth: Celebrating Togetherness“For us, the celebration is not only about honoring Juneteenth, it’s about honoring the overall culture behind Black history, not just one key part of it,” says Rhea Doria, marketing coordinator for MidTown Cleveland, the organization overseeing the neighborhood’s assets. “We want the community to be involved with the process of developing the neighborhood. We want their voices and input, and we want to celebrate who they are and the beauty of the arts and culture they represent.”

The fest included music and dance performances, storytelling, arts and crafts activities, and a smorgasbord of food options ranging from ribs and barbecue to vegan dishes. An ice cream truck and a bounce house for pint-sized attendees made the neighborly, family-reunion ambiance complete.

A $14,198 CAC general operating support grant awarded to Dunham Tavern made the day possible on the spacious grounds of the venerable landmark. Dunham Tavern and MidTown Cleveland Inc. both received CAC grants in 2023.

“We really appreciate all the support CAC gives us,” Doria says. “It helps bring the vision we have for the district to life.”

Pride in the CLE

Since 1975, the LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland has remained steadfastly dedicated to enriching the lives of the city’s diverse LGBTQ+ community through advocacy, support and education.

“I’m super proud to be a Clevelander who lives in the town that’s offered resources and support for almost 50 years,” says the center’s executive director Phyllis Harris, noting that the nonprofit is one of the oldest of its kind in the nation. “Initially, the center was little-known and operated underground. Now, it’s one of the city’s anchor organizations.”

LGBT Community Center - Speak out StageLGBT Community Center - Speak out StageWelcoming to all people, it hosts events that celebrate and embrace a variety of communities with compassion and integrity to ensure they remain an integral part of Northeast Ohio.

Pride in the CLE, which took place on June 3, was no exception. What began as an event that attracted 3,000 people in 2016 blossomed to 15,000 participants and spectators this year.

“We’re very intentional in our march,” Harris says. We all love a good parade, but if we want a parade, we go to other Pride celebrations in other cities. In Cleveland, we raise our voices as part of our advocacy. It’s a family-friendly event that’s inclusive, but absolutely queer and about our pride in our movement.”

A $5,000 project support grant from CAC helps make the event a success at a level Harris is especially proud of.

“CAC funding allows us to offer honorariums to our speakers which they richly deserve and rarely receive,” Harris says.

MetroHealth Cleveland Juneteenth Freedom FestMetroHealth Cleveland Juneteenth Freedom FestFreedom in the CLE

This year’s Cleveland Juneteenth Freedom Fest drew more than 10,000 guests to Mall C, in June to enjoy a block party complete with spoken-word performances and more than 75 visual and performing artists engaged in their respective crafts, and Vendor Village and Soul Food Row that gave attendees opportunities to support Black-owned businesses and entrepreneurs.

For Heather Holmes, executive vice president of the Downtown Cleveland Alliance (DCA), the third-annual event was a success.

“The festival is a personal birth child for me,” she says, explaining that it evolved from the June 2020 downtown protests and the subsequent community recognition and pledge to actively combat racism as a public health crisis.

A $17,500 Project Support grant awarded to DCA, in partnership with Karamu House, Tri-C JazzFest, and Ingenuity Cleveland, and other community organizations, made the idea come to fruition.

“The CAC is a longtime supporter of all of our programs,” Holmes says. “We’re very excited and grateful that they saw and embraced the vision that became the Freedom Fest. It has positioned Cleveland as a national leader in celebrating this national holiday.”

Linda Feagler
Linda Feagler

About the Author: Linda Feagler

Northeast Ohio native Linda Feagler never tires of indulging her passion for arts and culture Her favorite pastimes include attending Broadway musicals at Playhouse Square, visiting one-of-a-kind bookshops that include Loganberry Books in Cleveland Heights and The Learned Owl in Hudson, and spending the day with Impressionists at The Cleveland Museum of Art.