For more than 20 years, Arts Cleveland (originally the Community Partnership for Arts and Culture, or CPAC) has been successfully elevating arts and culture in greater Cleveland. Read a bit of our origin story below. For the full story, read Elevating the Influence of Arts and Culture: A Cleveland Playbook.


Why We Exist

In 1997, Cleveland was the Comeback City, but beneath the hope and hard work, Cleveland’s performing-arts were in real trouble. Many of the city’s oldest organizations were suffering a continuous cycle of fiscal calamities. Large corporations and the support they provided were pulling out of Cleveland. Institutions were competing for fewer resources.

So, the Cleveland Foundation and the George Gund Foundation commissioned a civic study to determine why these organizations were experiencing one financial crisis after another. The study revealed that the answer wasn’t an airdrop of cash, it was an evolved value system. The question shifted from, “How can we guarantee the survival of individual institutions?” to “How do these institutions collectively serve the greater Cleveland community?” and “How can the community create conditions to sustain the arts and cultural assets that are so critical to it?”

A change of such magnitude had to start with finding out how the area’s residents felt about arts and culture. It also required getting hard facts about the industry as part of the regional economy. Then, this wealth of data needed to be applied to a viable arts-and-culture plan for the region.


Our Roots

A job of that size required a special organization to carry it out, one that could devote its full attention to this very big task. So, in 1997, the foundations, shortly followed by investments from the Kulas Foundation and the John P. Murphy Foundation, created the Community Partnership for Arts and Culture (Arts Cleveland).

By 1999, Arts Cleveland’s initial research revealed some stunning figures, including the sector’s $1.3 billion in economic activity, 3,700 full-time-equivalent workers, and 50,000 arts and culture volunteers who donated more than $40 million worth of services every year.

Those results revolutionized Northeast Ohio’s thinking about arts and culture.

In May of 2000, Northeast Ohio’s Arts & Culture Plan was published. This marked both the accomplishment of CPAC’s first goal and the organization’s eventual shift to its second one: stabilizing artists and arts-and-culture groups in the region by securing public-sector funding for them.


The Road to Public Funding for Arts and Culture

Cleveland, unlike many American cities of comparable size, provided essentially no public dollars to its renowned cultural institutions at that time. Arts Cleveland aimed to change that.

After six years of trial, error, learning and strategizing, a tax levy to generate funds for arts and culture was on the November 2006 ballot. It passed by a 10-percent margin, creating what would be $158 million for arts and culture over the 10-year life of the levy. The funds were to be distributed by Cuyahoga Arts & Culture, one of the largest local sources for public funding in the country.

A decade later, Greater Cleveland voters renewed the levy for another 10 years by an astonishingly high 75.2 percent of votes.


We Didn’t Stop There

More than 20 years from Arts Cleveland’s inception, Northeast Ohio has changed the way it regards and treats arts and culture. Just as important, arts and culture have profoundly changed Northeast Ohio, especially Greater Cleveland. As a result of Arts Cleveland’s ongoing research, programming and connection-making

  • artists and arts and culture organizations have been supported and stabilized;
  • the community development sector has embraced its artist residents and utilized arts and design practices to revitalize neighborhoods;
  • local governments have become aware of and invested in cultural policy;
  • historic facilities have been renovated, and new ones built;
  • local creative businesses and music clubs are anchors in their neighborhoods — they’ve helped our region retain and grow talent, and they’ve been important contributors to the local economy;
  • Cleveland’s healthcare systems have stronger arts and health initiatives;
  • public health and safety institutions have built arts and culture into their programming; and
  • many other social sectors have embraced arts and culture, weaving it into their overall strategy.



Today, as new issues arise and some early issues persist, so does our passion and capacity to address them. We continue to apply our core competencies as advocates, allies and ambassadors to build and strengthen arts and culture in Greater Cleveland. Having a strong community requires a strong arts and culture sector, and meeting the sector’s needs continues to be what we excel at.