Two cents: Creatives campaign for a slice of Cleveland's Rescue Plan funds

Before the pandemic, Ohio’s creative sector generated $9.1 billion for the economy and accounted for more than 65,000 jobs, according to Ohio Citizens for the Arts’ 2018 report, Ohio’s Creative Economy: The Economic Impact of Arts & Creative Industries.

When COVID-19 arrived in 2020, Cleveland’s creative community was the first to shut down and has been the last to return to any sense of normalcy. Even now, the region’s creative community continues to suffer, says Jeremy Johnson, president and CEO of Assembly for the Arts, the nonprofit organization focused on increasing equity in Cleveland’s arts and culture industries.

<span class="content-image-text">Cleveland artist Dayz Whun at 1776 E. 40th Street.</span>Cleveland artist Dayz Whun at 1776 E. 40th Street.“Greater Cleveland’s arts and cultural sector comprises a diverse array of artists, creative workers, cultural nonprofits, and cultural businesses,” said Johnson in a statement. “Some of the COVID-related stories I’ve heard would move you to tears.... So many of these artists supported their families through gigs, festivals, concerts, and contract work. When COVID hit, it all stopped.”

Cleveland’s nonprofit arts and culture communities lost $30 million in wages, saw 90% of artists and creative workers lose work and lost $146 million in nonprofit revenue, according to Cuyahoga Arts & Culture executive director Jill Paulsen.

The devastating numbers are the reasons why CAC, Assembly for the Arts, and other arts organizations, not to mention member of the creative community and its supporters, are rallying together in a campaign to ensure Cleveland artists get their fair share of the recent $511 million American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) allotted to Cleveland. The groups are asking that 2%—two cents on the dollar, or $10 million—to aid in the recovery of the arts industry in the city.

That money would help the creative community in its recovery and return to full programming in the city.

“For our nonprofit sector to see a full recovery, every organization would need to be operating at a minimum 80% patron capacity,” says CAC’s Paulsen. “Today, audiences in Cuyahoga County are only at 25% of pre-pandemic levels, so we have a long way to go and these ARPA funds will help bridge the gap.”

Assembly for the Arts and CAC have partnered to start Artists for ARPA postcard writing campaigns all over the region to convince every member of Cleveland City Council to allot the full $10 million to Cleveland’s  arts community.

<span class="content-image-text">A Streetcar Named Desire: Mamaí Theatre Company</span>A Streetcar Named Desire: Mamaí Theatre CompanyThe postcard campaign organizers have created 18 unique and vibrant postcards, featuring artists of all disciplines in all 17 Cleveland City Wards. The groups are encouraging everyone to pick up a postcard, or 18 postcards, and write to city council members—encouraging them to approve the 2% of ARPA funds for the arts community’s recovery.

“CAC is proud to be working in partnership with Assembly to secure vital funds for the entire creative economy,” says Paulsen. “As we’ve seen from our COVID snapshot, nonprofit artists have been hit hard by the pandemic.”

The first post card writing party was held last Thursday, Feb. 24 at Happy Dog on Detroit Avenue, with another party planned for this Thursday, March 3 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Sankofa Fine Arts on St. Clair Avenue.

We're really excited about the enthusiasm that has been generated,” said Johnson on Friday. “The Happy Dog yesterday was packed with artists writing postcards to our councilmembers.”

Other arts organizations partners are serving as postcard pick up and drop off locations for those who want to get involved. People who are interested in getting involved, the locations are:

  • Rainey Institute, 1705 E. 55th St., through Thursday, March 10 (Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.).
  • Worthington YARDS, 725 Johnson Court, on Thursday, March 10 from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.
  • Future Ink Graphics (FIG), 2937 W. 25th St., on Friday, March 4 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Karin Connelly Rice
Karin Connelly Rice

About the Author: Karin Connelly Rice

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.