CLEVELAND – Cuyahoga Arts & Culture (CAC) approved grants today totaling $10,750,487 to support 300 Cuyahoga County nonprofit organizations of all sizes in 2024 through CAC’s General Operating Support, Project Support and Cultural Heritage grant programs. Since 2007, CAC has invested more than $246 million in 485 organizations.
The grants were approved by CAC’s Board of Trustees during a public meeting on Wednesday, November 15th. A diverse and impartial panel of arts and cultural experts from outside the region reviewed and scored the grant applications in September. 67 current General Operating Support grantees, 12 current Cultural Heritage grantees and 126 current Project Support grantees were exempt from the full application and panel process in keeping with CAC’s commitment to make it easier to access funding. These organizations confirmed they met necessary requirements to receive CAC funding. A grant to Assembly for the Arts for artist funding and other grants will be voted upon at the December meeting of the Board of Trustees.
“This is precisely what CAC was set up to do – take Cuyahoga County’s unique, long-time taxpayer support of our arts and cultural organizations and turn that into grants of more than $10.75 million to 300 community nonprofits that bring a richness and depth to residents and visitors,” said Jill M. Paulsen, CAC’s executive director.
Paulsen also said that the 2024 grant awards are being made “at a time when CAC and our arts community faces perhaps their greatest challenges since CAC was established in 2007.” Fundraising for a 2024 levy campaign that will play a critical role in increasing the cigarette tax has been put on hold by Assembly for Action, the 501c4 arm of Assembly for the Arts. This was done amid criticism that CAC has strayed from its mission and needs to do more to show it is listening to the arts community and acting transparently.
“That’s hard to hear, of course,” Paulsen said. “But we’re listening. And we’re not afraid of change. Without coming together, CAC will cease to exist in a few short years. The world is changing, and the needs of our arts community are great. The bottom line is we can’t succeed without working together. I’m eager to work with our Board, arts leaders, and artists to move forward and work through differences of opinion so that we can keep this vital resource secure.”
At the same time, Paulsen said, it’s important that everyone in the conversation acknowledge some facts about CAC’s operations and the current economic realities:
- Money in CAC accounts that may appear to be sitting unused is actually encumbered, or soon will be, for grants. Under state law, CAC must have the money in hand before grants can be awarded.
- Amid declining tax revenues, as tobacco use drops, CAC has cut non-grant related expenses. Overhead is down 24% over the past five years.
- CAC was created under Ohio Revised Code 3381 to make grants to arts and culture nonprofit organizations located within Cuyahoga County.
- More than 90% of CAC’s revenue is used for grants each year.
- Efforts to listen to the arts community, including artists, remain a top priority. This recently included CAC’s grantee partner, Assembly for the Arts, completing a listening process, funded, in part, by a CAC community listening and engagement grant. CAC also funded five in-person Arts & Culture Network Nights, hosted by Neighborhood Connections, held in 2023 across the community, attracting hundreds of people. CAC holds ongoing feedback opportunities for grantees throughout the year.
- “We’re acting on what we hear and learn,” Paulsen said. For example, arts nonprofits made clear they want consistent, multi-year grant commitments. The General Operating Support allocation has been the same for the past six years at $10.2 million annually. During this same period, CAC revenue has declined by 30%. For 2024 and 2025, the allocation will decrease by 10% to $9.18 million annually.
- As a public entity, everything CAC does is in public. CAC’s funding criteria for all three primary grants in 2024 have been widely publicized and are well-known: Public Benefit; Artistic & Cultural Vibrancy; and Organizational Capacity. The grant review process is done in public and grant review panelists, chosen from across the country to reflect a diversity of experiences and background, are all part of that public process.
“It’s hard to not be defensive when what we work so hard at is under attack,” Paulsen said. “But we know that won’t help. So, my staff and I are determined to listen and be open to change. We ask, though, that those conversations begin with a shared set of facts, so that we can have productive exchanges. Ultimately, this is about support for the arts. That’s too important to let personal feelings and agendas get in the way.”
Paulsen added that the 2024 grant awards illustrate CAC’s consistent, ongoing support, with the grant applications considered, debated and awarded in public.
“We are proud to give long-standing support for the 17th year to organizations like The Cleveland Museum of Art, The Rock Hall, Playhouse Square and others that we’ve funded since 2008 and to fund 14 organizations for the first time, such as the Museum of Creative Human Art, Babel Box Theater and North Pointe Ballet,” Paulsen said.
Funding for the grant programs is as follows:
- CAC’s General Operating Support grants provide unrestricted, multi-year support grants to arts and cultural organizations based in and serving Cuyahoga County. Four organizations will receive CAC General Operating Support funding for the first time in 2024. In total, 73 organizations will share grant amounts totaling $9,180,000 in 2024. Grants range in size from $11,760 to The Cleveland Opera to $872,000 to Playhouse Square.
- Project Support grants promote and encourages the breadth of arts and cultural programming in our community by funding projects of all sizes in Cuyahoga County. In total, 214 total projects will share grant amounts totaling $1,350,045 in 2024. Grants range in size from $2,140 to $15,970.
- Cultural Heritage grants provide flexible funding for organizations with a primary mission of arts and culture that are representative of a culturally specific population. In total, 13 organizations will share grants totaling $220,442. Grants range in size from $5,000 to the Cleveland Association of Black Storytellers to $30,000 each to Foluke Cultural Arts, Greater Cleveland Urban Film Festival and Julia De Burgos Cultural Arts Center.
CAC has committed to steady grantmaking investments in 2024 and 2025, despite an overall 50% reduction in revenue since 2007.
It’s worth noting, Paulsen said, that the arts and cultural experts from around the country invited to participate in the process as grant applicant reviewers have high praise for that process and for Cuyahoga County’s approach to supporting the arts.
“The panelist orientation was extremely well organized, and I was both impressed and inspired by how you emphasized that equity and compassion are essential to the grantmaking process,” one reviewer said. “It's been a great learning experience, and I loved getting a sneak peek into what Cuyahoga County's organizations are creating.”
“It was inspiring to read about all the good arts and culture work happening in Cleveland,” said another. “And I appreciate the thorough communication and training for this experience.”
“People from the outside looking in recognize what we have,” Paulsen said. “That’s what we have to protect and build on. We’re ready to have the conversations and make any necessary changes to do just that. Let’s get started.”
Cuyahoga Arts & Culture (CAC) is the region’s largest funder for arts and culture, helping hundreds of organizations in Cuyahoga County connect millions of people to cultural experiences each year. Since 2006, CAC has invested more than $246 million in 485 organizations, making our community a more vibrant place to live, work and play. For more information, visit cacgrants.org.
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