Cuyahoga County throws lifeline to region’s struggling arts organizations

Cuyahoga County serves as a hub for performing arts in the United States—ranking as one of the largest performing arts centers in the country, second only to New York City. In fact, in 2018 the arts, entertainment, and recreation sector in Cuyahoga County generated $1.35 billion in industry sales, supported 10,925 employees, and brought in $464 million in associated earnings.

But the industry’s presenters, museums, musical groups, and artists are also struggling during the coronavirus pandemic, with conservative estimates showing lost revenues for county-based nonprofits, individuals, and independent venues to be approximately $4.5 million a week due to COVID-19.

Karamu performers rehearsing for the Juneteenth event performance.Right now, the arts and culture sector faces the highest rate unemployment rate in Ohio—experiencing greater job losses than in the hospitality, food service, or lodging industries.

A September survey distributed to area arts organizations found that 60% of Ohio’s arts organizations would close within a year without assistance, and 20% reported they would close within six months.

“There’s a lot of businesses and artists in danger of going under," says Valerie Schumacher, acting managing director for Arts Cleveland.

But in October, Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish announced $4 million in County CARES Act funding will go to Cuyahoga County arts organizations that have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cuyahoga Arts & Culture (CAC) received $2,664,000 to distribute to arts and culture nonprofits, while Arts Cleveland received $1,336,000 to fund individual artists and for-profit creative businesses.

The funding comes as a relief to the two agencies that help support the region’s arts scene.

“CAC is grateful to Cuyahoga County for allocating these essential CARES Act funds for distribution to CAC-funded nonprofits,” said Jill M. Paulsen, CAC executive director. “As the pandemic continues, the groups we fund are relying on these resources to offer their programs virtually or in new and safe ways. We are working to distribute these funds transparently and efficiently so that our arts and cultural community can get the help that they need.”

Additionally, CAC accelerated payment of more than $5 million of its own available grant money earlier this year to help provide additional relief to the organizations it funds.

“Our organizations have told us they want stability in their CAC grants, and during the pandemic they’re counting on us more than ever before,” Paulsen says. “We will be by their sides now and when the economy recovers to make sure they can continue to serve residents of the county safely.”

Schumacher says the for-profit artists and organizations are continuously struggling to adapt.

“For the individual artists and [arts] businesses, their a whole business model is around bringing people together, and they can’t do that right now,” she explains. “It’s a slow return to brining things back to making a profit. Artists are reliant on venues to give them gigs and revenue from those shows. Some businesses are open at 15% capacity, but that’s not enough to break even.”

Schumacher explains there are also a lot of costs involved in arts-related businesses (like membership dues and fees to music vendors) that the public isn’t aware of. She says she hopes the CARES Act funding will alleviate at least some of the hardships the industry is facing right now.

CARES Act funding can only be used to cover costs of necessary expenditures incurred due to the COVID-19 public health emergency. In addition, costs incurred must fall between March 1 and December 30, 2020.

Funds from CAC are only available to 2020 CAC program grant or general operating support grant recipients. The CAC application deadline is Monday, Nov. 23 at 11:59 p.m. For eligibility guidelines and to apply for CAC CARES Act funds, click here.

Arts Cleveland funds are open to local independent live performance venues, dance and music studios, theaters, promoters and producers and independent, creative professionals that derive income from their art. The Arts Cleveland deadline is Sunday, Nov. 22. For eligibility requirements and to apply for Arts Cleveland CARES Act funds, click here.

Read more articles by 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.
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