Toward a More Equitable and Just Creative Future

We are facing two public health crises that will, and must, have a profound impact on the creative economy of our future. One of them has been simmering for hundreds of years. The other barreled quietly toward us, exploding in a matter of months.

COVID-19 has laid bare the many weaknesses in the arts and cultural system – who we finance in the arts, the vehicles by which we do so, and the policies and resulting employment patterns that leave many creative people so vulnerable. It also presents a once in a lifetime opportunity to examine those systems and structures that result in an underrepresentation of people of color in our field and the disproportionate investment in those people of color that are represented. Both of these issues are critical barriers to our sector’s overall development and performance economically, socially and otherwise.

Moving toward a more equitable creative economy strategy

We have spent two decades examining the creative economy in Greater Cleveland. Over that time, we have come to understand that when looked at from a labor perspective, people are moving through different channels of creative production and distribution all the time – as independents and through nonprofits, for-profits and community collectives. A strong creative economy strategy of the future would reflect that reality and build an investment strategy to support it. In doing so, we would be laying the foundation for racial equity in the distribution of resources to our creative sector.

Data about the creative economy and the markets that drive it are key to that future. That information helps us to understand our overall sector composition and regional specialties and to identify areas of growing employment and positive career outlook. Perhaps most importantly, however, is what that data tells us about the disparities in our field when disaggregated based upon race and the opportunity for us to examine the experiences of people of color in our system that are driving those disparities.

The unique role of a service organization in building an equitable creative economy 

These last months have brought the arts and cultural service sector together locally, statewide, regionally and nationally in unprecedented ways to support and learn from one another. Just as the times hold the opportunity for a dramatically different creative economy, they present an opportunity to transform how the service sector for the creative economy evolves as well. We must seize this moment and our unique birds-eye and close-up view to shape a more equitable creative economy, evolving to embrace new constituencies, new partnerships, new agendas and new approaches. We must build a new kind of capacity to support this new future.  

Our responsibility for acknowledging our past and helping others learn from it

In recent weeks, we have observed a sea change in the public’s sentiment toward systemic racism and the perpetration of racial injustice. At Arts Cleveland, we have been on our own journey, personally and organizationally, in recent years. Looking back, we know that our own record on this topic has not always been clean, and there are moments when our silence hurt the very people we aimed to elevate and advance. Speaking for myself only, I can say that the knowledge I have now would have prepared me to respond to those times differently. That said, the knowledge I have now gives me the strength to examine our past work in a transparent way that helps contribute to a more equitable and just creative future.     

Our commitment to you

At Arts Cleveland, our work has always straddled two levels. At one level, we have focused on influencing the arts and culture system – its economic stability as a whole and its connectivity to other systems. At another level, we have focused on providing support to individual actors – players in the system such as artists, organizations, and for-profit businesses. As a result, we recognize the power and influence we have. It is important, therefore, that we:

  • Continue our efforts to strengthen our own knowledge of the history and issues influencing race and creative practice;
  • Study our own past work, including the policies, practices, resource flows, narratives, relationships and power dynamics that influenced it; and
  • Share openly and transparently what we are learning and how it is shaping our work.   

Post by Megan Van Voorhis, president and CEO, Arts Cleveland

Black Lives Matter, street mural, East 93th, Cleveland


  1. Liz maugans on July 10, 2020 at 1:21 pm

    I really appreciate this and feel a sector wide conversation and intensive would be necessary to open up these conversations for a more equality-driven culture. How can we learn and educate with proponents of liberation theory, intersectionality and other anti-racist practices that can be Discussed and implemented in our work. Could an advisory commission of diverse artists be developed that can hold our institutions and non-profits accountable to commitments they make and do make towards Anti-racism and it’s policies and practices.

    • Megan Van Voorhis on July 10, 2020 at 2:36 pm

      Sounds like a great topic for an arts and cultural summit.

    • Leah Lewis on July 19, 2020 at 10:35 am

      Excellent suggestion, Liz.

  2. Sandi White on August 5, 2020 at 1:58 pm

    Active in numerous political, nonprofit arts and community based /civic and religious organizations, I’d be interested in working on any collaborative committee- based activities ArtsCleveland undertakes….

  3. Judith Ryder on September 10, 2020 at 1:07 am

    As I reread Megan’s post tonight, I am struck by the fact that while we invite and welcome organizations of all sizes and shapes to the Cleveland Arts Education Consortium network, including organizations created by and run by African Americans and others in the minority communities, we have many miles to go to build that supportive network and boost equitable systemic inclusion. I hope that the overwhelming health and financial realities we are living through today push us to find our way to a shared better world. I am eager for that to happen. I am ready to work. Together.

  4. Ephraim Abdullah on February 21, 2021 at 8:25 pm

    There are many conversations and approaches to consider the functions connecting to developing an inclusional diversity equity addressing decreasing systemic racism. Organically, the most responsible approach may simply be including respectively, the right leaders that help make diversity pure. I am a Muslim, Asiatic Black American male, community organizer, that offers donated services to underfunded 501 c 3 organizations. Through my education and training in Neighborhood Leadership, I dived into communities through a REACH Funded approach in collaboration with CWRU doctors and professionals at the Prevention Research Center for Healthy Neighborhoods to organize a movement called Creating Greater Destinies. The experience of working with Board Leaders, Executive Directors, Business owners and youth entities is a reason why I volunteer as the Program Diirector of Arts and Culture at AfricaHouse Internationals, a 501 c 3 garden and learning center that promotes and originated the educational model of S.T.E.A.M. Education in 2002. I appreciate the educational mindset I learned being a cohort member of Cleveland’s (NLDP) Neighborhood Leadership Development Program founded by Mayor Michael R White collaborated with The Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandell Foundation, which shared their life lessons of inclusion coming from the Holocaust. Economic inclusion is diversity Inclusion. I would like to be invited to become a member of the new alliance being formed.

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