Cuyahoga Arts & Culture (CAC), Arts Cleveland and the Arts Culture Action Committee (ACAC), with funding from the Cleveland Foundation and The George Gund Foundation, began planning in the fall of 2019 for what became the Assembly for the Arts, which launched this summer.
Assembly for the Arts
is a nonprofit arts alliance in Northeast Ohio with a focus on advocacy and cultural policy, racial equity initiatives, research, marketing that elevates the region, and services for nonprofits, artists, and creative businesses.
The Assembly hinges on the concept of “collective impact,” and one of its first orders of business is to create a comprehensive racial equity program agenda with the help of the arts community.
It helps that the new organization will be governed by a volunteer board with a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion.
“I’m excited to be a part of a new organization that is here for our entire creative ecosystem,” said board member Phyllis Harris, Executive Director of the LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland and co-founder and consultant at Sage & Maven. “As a small business owner and nonprofit leader, I’ve seen the positives that can come from collaborating to make resources available where they previously did not exist. We want to make sure we are meeting creative people where they are, and responding in ways that help them to succeed.”
Another board member, Mordecai Cargill, co-founder and Creative Director of ThirdSpace Action Lab said, “This new Assembly for the Arts is a unique opportunity to advance racial equity and inclusion by activating the creative potential of our community. We have already started great work to provide racial equity training for our arts community with CAC. We are excited to take the next step in making Greater Cleveland’s creative sector more inclusive and equitable through a unified approach with Assembly.”
Assembly seems a fitting term for this organization, considering its emphasis on diversity, intersections between institutions, and communication.
One unifying element to any endeavor of this magnitude is having a talented ring leader to pull it all together. Enter President and CEO of the Assembly for the Arts, Jeremy V. Johnson, a native Clevelander who was most recently the Executive Director of Newark Arts, who has come aboard after a national search for talent.
In order for this new entity to manifest, some organizations had to be disintegrated rather than absorbed into the fabric of this new endeavor.
“Arts Cleveland and ACAC ceased operations to be part of this new model, which is established in partnership and with the support of partner CAC, an independent political subdivision,” said Johnson. “This is not a merger; CAC legally must remain a separate political entity.” Although some might squawk at this this alteration of the fabric of the arts community, sometimes there is a need to tear down and rebuild in order to get a fresh perspective, generate new ideas and build upon existing relationships in one regard while fostering new ones in another. For clarity, Cuyahoga Arts & Culture will remain a separate entity focused on funding nonprofits – an independent political subdivision of the State of Ohio with grant-making authority – and will have representation on the Assembly for the Arts board.
“We have been calling this effort an alliance because it is all about aligning our efforts,” said Johnson. “The planning work identified the need for the arts organizations to work together to achieve our goals of positioning the northeast Ohio market as an increasingly important and relevant cultural powerhouse. We need to work together to underscore the economic engine this broad sector provides for the region…Assembly will be just that – an assembly of voices of diverse arts communities. A big part of our effort is to hear the needs of the entire spectrum of creative forces in Greater Cleveland. I’m talking about nonprofits, for-profit artistic enterprises, individual artists, and our formidable major institutions as well. The opportunity is for us to unite these voices so we can leverage greater resources to strengthen the field of arts and culture in the region.”