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Arts and Entertainment

Summit arts survey finds complaints and opportunities
Most residents are satisfied but arts organizations struggling financially

Mark Urycki
Residents enjoy a free evening of music at the Akron Art Museum's Downtown&Dusk series.
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In The Region:
A new assessment of arts and culture in Summit County found a lack of organization among institutions. Both patrons and the organizations felt a lack of communication and funding was down 22 percent since the recession began in 2007. But as WKSU’s Mark Urycki reports the survey found some reason for optimism
Knight and GAR officials discuss the results

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The survey of 800 residents and 131 artists and art organizations is being called the largest of its kind ever done in Summit County. Two arts funders, the GAR Foundation and the Knight Foundation, paid for it.  Jennifer Thomas of the Knight Foundation says the arts are important.

“For us, arts is the start of public dialogue for people and the shared cultural experiences they have can bring people together and  provide a sense of place and really engage people in the community.”

A third of the respondents placed arts as the priority for their spare time, but a lot of them traveled around the region to attend cultural events. Christine Mayer of the GAR foundation.

“Young people were less likely to be satisfied with what they could get here. They were more likely to travel to Cleveland or elsewhere for what they were looking for and also, African-Americans folks who were surveyed or participated in the stakeholder group said they were not finding as many arts and cultural experiences locally, and there was a specific lament about the lack of a jazz scene.”

Money crunch
In crunching the financial numbers, the survey found a 22 percent decline in revenue since 2007. Thomas says it also found a lack of connection between the arts sector and business leaders

“Many of the key stakeholders said they don’t the [business] leaders and they don’t have a relationship with the leaders and that they only approach them when they need money.”  

Thomas says while the survey found no urgent need to fix a problem, it found opportunities to strengthen arts and culture.  She said an arts tax or a united arts fund –like a United Way for arts could be established. But the arts sector needs to be better organized first. 

Arts tax or arts drive
Cuyahoga County has a cigarette tax that funds the arts while Stark County uses the united arts fund model.   Mayer says Arts in Stark took years to win over public support and had dedicated leaders that focused on building a tangible arts district.

”The arts organizations still do some fundraising of their own. That’s the case in Stark County, but they all cooperate around this shared utility as well, which then increases the total number of dollars that comes in to support the arts.”

Mayer says a good start would be getting arts institutions to report their data on a standardized form built by the Pew Charitable Trusts called the "Cultural Data Project." It’s used in Cuyahoga County.

“A lot of the organizations there who receive levy dollars are required to use the Cultural Data Project platform and as a result Cuyahoga County can push a button and tell you, ‘Oh, last year we had X hundred thousands of people attended performing arts events in this community.”

In the survey, people in the arts sector complained that it was difficult to get their word out and they had to spend advertising dollars on many different outlets while patrons said they wish they had a single source for all the cultural listings.   

The GAR and Knight Foundations set up a page at The Civic Commons website for more discussion of arts and culture in Summit County and Mayer says they are likely to hold a town hall  meeting or two for further dialogue. 

The study authors, the Osgood Group,  suggested next steps: 
? Come together with your peer organizations and artists to advance the needed sector-building work.
? Reach out to business leaders to find out what you can do to serve their needs and help solve their problems.
? Report your audience / financial data through the Cultural Data Project vehicle so that the arts sector in Summit County can more easily and powerfully tell its story and command attention.
? Seek board members from the private sector and among other "unusual suspects" so that your work will benefit from a broad community perspective
? Take advantage of technical assistance offerings that may well come out of this work -- such as workshops on analyzing financial data, segmenting and targeting your market, and building membership.
? Brace for change and embrace proactive planning efforts that will give arts organizations a strong voice in how change plays out in Akron and Summit County.
? Share your ideas and input! Engage online in the conversation about where we can go as a community to strengthen our arts. Go to and lend your voice to the conversation today. 

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