President and CEO
Megan Van Voorhis credits her love for arts and culture, as well as her own artistic faculty, to her parents. “The arts were important to them,” she says. “Which is kind of interesting, because neither was really an arts person. But they absolutely supported me and my brother when we showed an interest in it.”
The Flint, Michigan, native dabbled in music, theater and especially movement from an early age. “I was 5 or 6,” she remembers, “and I was watching Sesame Street, and one of the guests was a dancer. And I saw that and I thought, ‘I want to do that.’ ” Initially, her parents enrolled her in weekly classes at a local dance studio, but she began to seriously study technique in middle school.
Her budding appreciation for various art forms was deepened incalculably because her parents also “provided access to high-quality arts experiences — in Flint! ” Megan emphasizes. “These old industrial cities have a long history of [civic support for] foundational arts organizations,” she adds, and her experiences growing up in such a place set the course for her life: “I am who I am because of the arts opportunities I had in Flint.”
Those opportunities eventually led her to work toward an undergraduate degree in dance from The Ohio State University. Ultimately, however, she discovered that she was more interested in the behind-the-scenes choreography of arts administration than in being on stage: “I was already thinking about the need for infrastructure to support the talented people I was training with,” she says. “I realized that I wanted to be in service to them, not performing with them.” Her interest in the administrative aspect of arts and culture led her to pursue graduate coursework in Arts Policy and Administration during her final year of undergraduate study. In 1998, she received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance, Magna Cum Laude with Distinction, from Ohio State.
Her first professional job was at the Royal George Theatre Center in Chicago, where her work included box office, front of house, group sales and company management. After that stint, Megan was eager to strengthen her business skills in aid of arts and culture. She returned to Ohio in 2001 to pursue a master’s in business administration at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University. “My experience in Chicago only reinforced how important the support system for arts and culture is to its continued vibrancy,” she recalls.
While at Case Western, Megan received the Holmes Fellowship in Regional Economic Development, which placed her at Arts Cleveland (then the Community Partnership for Arts and Culture, or CPAC). Given her interest in the arts and business and economic development, “It was the right fit at the right time,” she says. “The organization was in a seedling state at that point, and [the fellowship] was a great opportunity to help build it.” Her first projects focused on business training for artists (which became the Artist as an Entrepreneur Institute) and a research study on the economic impact of arts and culture.
The fellowship lasted only a semester, but Megan knew she’d found her place: “After being with CPAC for a semester, I asked Tom [Schorgl, the founding president and CEO] for a job — and he gave me one.” She joined the staff in 2003 as Assistant Director of Programs and Services and gradually worked her way through the ranks to become president and CEO on January 1, 2018.
Looking back at that embryonic period, she notes that such opportunities are part of “what cities like this can offer people — there’s no way that in a larger city I would have been able to get [into an organization like this] on that level. Cleveland has taught me so many things about what the arts could do, about the power of the arts. Cleveland gave me a great gift, and I’m really loyal to it.”
In Megan’s long history with Arts Cleveland she’s engaged with every aspect of the organization’s work, including launching the Artist as an Entrepreneur Institute and licensing it to other organizations nationally; working with the Council of Smaller Enterprises to develop a suite of services for artists and arts-based businesses through the COSE Arts Network; launching a first-of-its kind Collaborative Marketing Database in Cleveland to support the audience development activities of the region’s arts and cultural institutions; conducting research on the impact of arts and culture; assisting with public policy activities to secure local public-sector funding for arts and culture in Cuyahoga County; developing and managing arts and cultural grant-making processes in Lake and Cuyahoga counties; and successfully advocating for an admissions-tax exemption for small live-music clubs in Cleveland.
All of this achievement illustrates one of Arts Cleveland’s fundamental values, which is to “invest in people directly,” Megan says, whether that means individual artists, arts and culture organizations, or the larger community.
She feels extremely fortunate to have grown up in a town in which arts and culture were esteemed and available, and to “have had such a strong base of understanding of the value of the arts from my parents,” she says. They ensured that she had access to the arts, and that exposure “gave me a strong appreciation for what those assets do for people. That’s why it’s so important to preserve and grow arts and culture in cities like this. I wake up every day thinking about the health of this sector” — and, if that health weren’t maintained, about “what a loss it would be. That’s why it’s important to me to be here.”
Contact: (216) 575-0331, x125 or Megan@artscleveland.org