Black cultural leaders in Cleveland, Ohio are not happy with the so-called efforts made to diversify the city’s art institutions. While organizations such as Cleveland Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland, and the Cleveland Institute of Art all boast increases in the diversification of their staff, the artwork that is promoted and sold, and in the case of the Cleveland Institute of Art, the students they’re admitting, many are not happy with the actual impact these changes have made.
So why are these changes not enough? According to online news outlet, Cleveland.com, these local champions of Black visual art say that there is much more these institutions could be doing to immediately address the inequalities and injustices in Northeast, Ohio.
Last Saturday, September 17, FRONT International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art, and the nonprofit Assembly for the Arts hosted an all day symposium where these efforts for improving racial diversity were discussed. And according to them, if a grade were to be assigned for these efforts, the city would rank the lowest among the class.
“If you ask us, it’s probably an F,’’ said Ismail Samad, an East Cleveland native and entrepreneur and chef who moved back to the city from Boston after founding a farm to jar food company to support East Cleveland and surrounding communities.
Samad also stated that due to the measurable increases that the data provides, these same cultural institutions would probably grade themselves at a B-plus, but that despite these increases in hiring or programming, the lives of Black people living in and around these spaces have yet to improve.
Dave Ramsey, another creative entrepreneur who operates a gallery and hosts cultural programs in the city’s Fairfax neighborhood, says he would also give Cleveland an “F” because of its inability to fund Black artists and their projects.
“When you’re talking about what needs to happen, that’s it, right?’’ he said. “Empower the creatives to do what they do and empower them in ways that are significant and allows them to actually work.’’
As the institutions’ leaders applauded themselves earlier in the day during the symposium, the disconnect showed itself by the afternoon as Samad, Ramsey and other Black leaders took the mic.
Deidre McPherson, a cultural consultant who has worked at the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Cleveland Orchestra, and the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland, moderated an afternoon panel, and later shared that all opinions expressed should not be taken as the opinion of the entire Black community. She did however share the need to have the conversation.
“University Circle has been touted as a top arts district in the country,’’ she said. “But how is the impact and power of it as an arts district bettering the lives of the people who live immediately around it? We were hoping to help initiate some of that conversation with this group.”