Analysis from the 2022 Arts Vibrancy Index reveals Cleveland, Ohio with a score in the top 1% of communities on measurements of Arts Dollars. The city shows particular strengths in the amount of earned revenue generated from artistic programs and the total compensation paid to arts and cultural employees per capita – higher than all other large midwestern communities on these two sub-measures.
For over a century, Cleveland-Elyria, OH has been home to a rich and varied arts and cultural community. Thriving arts districts flourish in every corner of the city from Waterloo arts districts on the east side to Gordon Square arts district on the west side. Many Cleveland neighborhoods elevate the arts as a core aspect of their activity and identity alongside the city’s anchor institutions such as the Cleveland Museum of Art, The Cleveland Orchestra, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, Playhouse Square, and Karamu House, which is the country’s oldest African American theater.
Cleveland has considerable strengths in a variety of disciplines, including the visual arts, a growing writing community, and the 2nd largest theater district in the country. But, known as the “Rock ‘n’ Roll City,” the spotlight shines on Cleveland’s music industry. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is seated downtown and many music artists, live music clubs, and music educational institutions have contributed to the incredible array of music genres and forms that are distinctly woven into the fabric of the city. The internationally renowned Cleveland Orchestra draws classical music lovers from around the world. Cleveland’s jazz scene has a decades-long history with musical projects like Hub’s Groove and historic jazz venues such as The Bop Stop. Both local and nationally recognized Hip Hop and Rap artists have launched their careers in Cleveland; Kid Cudi, Bone Thugz n' Harmony, and Machine Gun Kelly began their creative work in Cleveland’s neighborhoods. Featuring both local and national music acts ranging from indie rock to reggae, Happy Dog Cleveland, Beachland Ballroom, and Grog Shop all stand out as pillars in the local music scene. Cleveland is also a hub for fringe genres like experimental sound and noise, punk music, and a recognized metal scene; as the birthplace of Mushroomhead and Nine Inch Nails. This robust music community largely hinges on the city’s affordability and volume of industrial space that allows for gathering, creative inspiration, and the acoustics that many musicians seek.
In 2001, the city created a Live/Work Overlay Zoning Ordinance to encourage the development of shared artist live/work activities in buildings formerly zoned industrial; the first such district was established in the St. Clair-Superior neighborhood.
Widespread local recognition of the importance of the arts has led to the establishment of one of the largest sources of public support for the arts in the country which is administered through Cuyahoga Arts & Culture (CAC). Annually, CAC invests nearly $12 million in hundreds of organizations located in Cuyahoga County which connect millions of people to cultural experiences each year. Cuyahoga County residents created Cuyahoga Arts & Culture in 2006 when they approved a tax on cigarettes to support arts and culture in our community. In November of 2015, Cuyahoga County voters overwhelmingly supported Issue 8, renewing tax revenue for CAC through January 2027 to invest in the local arts and culture sector.
Cleveland’s arts and culture community regularly bands together around issues of shared concern. There is a sense of teamwork across disciplines to advocate for solutions that will benefit the community as a whole. The sector has organized independently to create arts advocacy groups designed to support targeted sub-communities, such as individual artists, Black and Brown individual artists, local music industries, performing artists, visual artists, and arts educators. Even on issues outside of the arts, the arts community is a recognized partner and regularly included in community discussions on healthcare, community and economic development, and education. In 2020, this became particularly important as the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread and its lasting effects on the city remained unknown.
In 2021, organizations funded by Cuyahoga Arts and Culture reported more than $171 million in lost revenues from March 2020 through December 2021, impacting the employment of more than 5,000 people. As the community’s needs changed, the arts responded by reinventing their programming and offering hope and healing when it was needed the most. While social distancing measures remained in place, summer arts camps delivered materials to campers’ homes, outdoor art was highlighted so people could enjoy them in ways that felt safe to them, and art was used as a tool for healing across peoples and location. As the realization that the transition to virtual programming options allows for greater reach and new audiences, many have remained in place to this day.
The collective impact and experience of the pandemic galvanized the sector as an advocacy force, coming together to collect data, share stories and demonstrate the need to invest dollars into sector-wide recovery. Conversations within the arts community related to finding alternative and more sustainable support structures are beginning to surface, including ideas around implementing a Universal Basic Income or Guaranteed Basic Income model for artists, unionizing, standardization of artist wages, and more.
Thank you to Meg Matko of Assembly for the Arts and Jake Sinatra of Cuyahoga Arts & Culture for their thoughtful contributions to the making of this article.
ABOUT THE ARTS VIBRANCY INDEX
The Arts Vibrancy Index examines the level of supply, demand, and government support of the arts in more than 900 communities across the country. Accompanied by an interactive Arts Vibrancy Map that reveals the arts-vibrancy score of every county in the U.S., the Index lists, in alphabetical order, the 20 most arts-vibrant large cities, the 10 most arts-vibrant medium cities, and the 10 most arts-vibrant small cities. In this year’s Index, the first since 2020, four communities debut on the lists, and an additional five return after an absence of at least three years.