It was hard not to think of the old Works Progress Administration as Tom Schorgl rolled out the Community Partnership for Arts and Culture's plan to administer individual artist grants on behalf of Cuyahoga Arts and Culture last week.
The economy is in the tank, but the region is spilling over with creative resources, especially starving artists. The idea of funding them is not some hoity-toity way for artists to congratulate each other; tt's a way to give a foothold on the economy to people who give the region its creative critical mass. The CAC board was clearly pleased, not just with the details of the plan, which will be known as the Creative Workforce Fellowship program, but with the fact that at long last, individual artists are going to get their slice of the cigarette-tax pie. And it's not some skimpy token recognition.
Early in Schorgl's PowerPoint presentation came the list of perks for each artist who wins a Creative Workforce Fellowship. Tops on the list was the money: 20 fellowships will be awarded for $20,000 each. In arts fellowship terms, that's huge. Schorgl, CPAC's president/CEO, says in researching other grant programs around the country, CPAC found grants as high as $48,000 by the Busch Foundation in Minneapolis. But a more meaningful reference point is the Ohio Arts Council's comparable Individual Excellence program, which offered Ohio artists grants of $5000 to $10,000, prior to budget cuts which left them at $4,000 to $8,000. Grants of $20,000 put Cuyahoga County on par with the awards given by the National Endowment for the Humanities.
In addition to the money, the fellowships offer a package of perks targeted at helping with business management. There's a one-year membership in the COSE Arts Network, which enables artists to get breaks on insurance and other benefits. There's a tuition waiver to CPAC's Artist as an Entrepreneur Institute, which teaches artists marketing and other skills. There's a space reserved for each artist in a catalog that will serve as a report on the CWF program.
The grants will be made based on artistic merit through a blind judging process, with peer artists from outside the region making the decisions in panel discussion open to the public. Grants will be awarded in two cycles, first for visual arts, design arts, crafts and media arts, and second for performing arts, interdisciplinary work and literature. Twenty grants will be made in each cycle. Schorgl is planning workshops for prospective applicants in the first cycle for February or March, with applications due at the end of March or early April.
The only debate over the program was whether to require two years of residency in the county in order to be eligible. CAC trustee Santina Protopapa wondered if that period shouldn't be longer. The Ohio Arts Council only requires that applicants have lived in the state for one year. Schorgl says that it's a goal of the program to be "artist-friendly" and even to attract artists to the region.
"One of the things Cleveland and Cuyahoga County have always had is a very rich and complex cultural infrastructure," Schorgl said. "So one of the things we will do is track what these grants achieve in terms of encouraging people to maintain their careers here as a base of operation."