Personal View: Embrace Northeast Ohio's cultural riches

This week's Crain's Cleveland Business features an opinion piece from Bernie Moreno, President of The Collection Auto Group.  Mr. Moreno writes, "it's vital that we have a strong, vibrant culture that can attract businesses and individuals who will make Cuyahoga County an exciting and prosperous place to live for everyone."  Read more below. 

Personal View: Embrace Northeast Ohio's cultural riches

By Bernie Moreno, August 24, 2014 

Cleveland knows how to do summer right. 

Maybe it's because our winters are long and our summers are comparatively brief, but we embrace warm weather with a passion. There isn't a summer day that goes by without a community event, festival or cultural activity happening somewhere in Cuyahoga County. 

Arts and culture continue during the other seasons, of course, but it's in summer that they explode and the entire region comes alive. 

In 2005, I moved to Cleveland from Boston, one of the cultural hubs of the country. I came here to start a business, with no real consideration of what the cultural and arts scene would be like in my new home. If I gave it any thought, it was that I expected it to be less rich than in the city I was leaving behind. 

I've been pleasantly surprised. The Cleveland Orchestra, the renovated Cleveland Museum of Art, the Rock Hall, PlayhouseSquare — they all live up to their world-class reputations. But I've found so many other cultural features that I didn't expect. 

The Cleveland International Film Festival, Cain Park Arts Festival, the Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum (I have a thing for cars), Wade Oval Wednesdays and countless community festivals and neighborhood street fairs make Cuyahoga County a rich place to live and work. 

The GOP chose Cleveland to host the 2016 Republican National Convention after visiting the Allen Theatre, the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Rock Hall. Our cultural offerings simply set us apart from our competition. 

I confess that I haven't taken advantage of every cultural opportunity the area has to offer, though I'm trying to get to as many as I can. But one does not have to be a Cleveland Orchestra subscriber or a regular at City Ballet to realize the benefits of what they do. 

In an economy where creative people can choose to live and work almost anywhere, it's vital that we have a strong, vibrant culture that can attract businesses and individuals who will make Cuyahoga County an exciting and prosperous place to live for everyone. 

A few years ago, the Knight Foundation asked people all over the country what makes their communities a desirable place to live. The top answer, year after year, from Duluth to Miami, wasn't jobs; it was social offerings, such as arts and entertainment, that people valued most. 

Of course, all of our arts and culture offerings would not be possible without the work of thousands of workers and volunteers, but it takes money as well. Here again, Cuyahoga County is fortunate. 

In 2006, voters approved a 10-year tax on cigarettes with the revenue going to grants for arts and culture organizations. And that public investment is paying dividends to all of us in Cuyahoga County, as those grants support jobs, education for all ages and a terrific quality of life. 

A University of Chicago study this year found that the arts in Cuyahoga County received more in grant funding than 12 other cities, including San Francisco, Chicago and Philadelphia. That's due largely to the cigarette tax. 

Cuyahoga Arts & Culture (CAC), the organization that awards the grants, this year is funding 196 organizations in almost every community in the county. Last year, events took place in more than 2,300 locations throughout Cuyahoga. And while Karamu House and Apollo's Fire are on the list, so are the Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging, Hospice of the Western Reserve, the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad and community festivals in Strongsville, Berea, Euclid, Lakewood, Shaker Heights and elsewhere. CAC-funded organizations provide entertainment and education to millions of residents and visitors, and half of those programs and events are free of charge. 

Cuyahoga Arts & Culture spreads the money around to a lot of groups and communities, but it's careful with its spending. 

Grant recipients have to raise their own money as well and cannot depend solely on tax revenue. The state auditor has given CAC high marks every year it's been in operation. 

The cigarette tax will be up for renewal in 2016. That is two more years to enjoy the abundance of cultural offerings it supports. I hope you'll join me in experiencing as many of them as possible and in voting to keep the tax and its benefits in place.


Source: Crain's Cleveland Business, August 24, 2014