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Arts & Culture

Artists Call on Cuyahoga Arts & Culture to Address Institutional Racism

Cuyahoga Arts & Culture logo

A group of artists says Cuyahoga Arts & Culture has awarded a disproportionate number of its grants to white artists. The group is recommending a number of changes and a public apology.

Cuyahoga Arts & Culture approached a group of artists to serve on its Support for Artists Planning Team, which was asked to come up with ways to encourage transparency between the organization and the greater Cleveland community. The group’s report looked at grants awarded between 2009 and 2016, and found that fewer than 1 in 10 went to artists who identify as black or African American. In that time period, 1 in 5 grants went to artists who identify as non-white. The data were difficult to track because not everyone included race in their grant applications.

Donald Black Jr. is a Cleveland-based artist who was part of the group. He was denied grants in the past and eventually stopped applying because of what he saw as institutional racism and white privilege.

“I found myself at a point where I was like, ‘I can’t depend on this if I’m serious about being an artist.'" Black said. "History has shown me (with) these institutions and these types of situations, the primary focus isn’t me as a black male.”

Black said part of the problem is institutional racism that often goes unnoticed.

“So many people are walking around either subconsciously or consciously pretending that there is no problem, like there is no race divide," Black said.

The group is recommending that Cuyahoga Arts & Culture award the majority of its grants going forward to historically marginalized groups, though it doesn’t set a quota. The report also proposes criteria for evaluating whether future projects will promote equality.

Correction 12/14/17 6:17 p.m.: The original post incorrectly referred to Cuyahoga Arts & Culture as a nonprofit. The post has also been corrected to state that fewer than 1 in 10 grants between 2009 and 2016 went to artists who identified as black or African American, whereas nearly 1 in 5 grants went to artists of color, which includes all non-white artists regardless of origin.