Hello Again

Art For Art's And The Economy's Sake

Moving into someone's old desk, as several of us have done here at the new Scene, always has a voyeuristic quality. You go through the drawers and see what scraps the person before you left behind. You see their books and the remnants of their files. When you set up the phone, there's the weird necessity of going through someone else's messages and deleting them one by one, and you have to listen a little because the machine simply won't let you erase them en masse.

It's less personal, but there's a similarly weird quality about putting out - and perhaps even reading - this first new issue of Cleveland Scene.

In recent years, the city has seen arts coverage take a tumble: A round of buy-outs at The Plain Dealer decimated the arts reporting staff, even as the paper argued on behalf of huge investments by Severance Hall, the Cleveland Museum of Art, and editorialized in favor of public funding for the arts (as did I). More recently the amount of space the daily paper dedicates to discussion of the region's cultural work has also been cut back. At the old Scene, arts coverage suffered with the freelance budget. Meanwhile the magnificent Angle Magazine ceased publication, as did the regional Artefakt. And last week brought the final issue of the Free Times.

All this has happened at the same time public discussion reached consensus that the arts - from our world-class institutions to the entrepreneurial work of individual artists - are a vital part of the economy and an important asset to the region. The most obvious testament to this was the decisive victory of Issue 18, which created a dedicated public-funding mechanism to help support all this activity. We voted. Art matters.

But all that is expensive lip service if we don't treat art and artists as news, worthy of both reporting and in-depth discussion, and if we don't make it a part of our lives.

And frankly, all that talk of industry and economy is beside the point. Art shouldn't need justification in economic terms. Beautiful and meaningful performances and things are worth more than money. That's why you're going to see continual in-depth reporting on the arts in the new Cleveland Scene.

There's no better example of the arts-and-economy argument than the Ingenuity Festival, which is going on this weekend. It's an event that was created to highlight arts and technological assets in the hope of bringing people and money downtown. And every year it has been judged on those terms: How big is the budget, compared to last year's? How big is the deficit? How many people came? These are the questions that determine the future of the event, especially as organizers answer to their funders, including taxpayers who smoke.

Meanwhile, artists both local and national are pouring imagination into downtown nooks and crannies, from Playhouse Square performance spaces that are our cultural heritage to asphalt and brick alleys that are every bit as much of that heritage. Have they somehow failed if the money doesn't pour in? Or can we simply accept that it's worth it to stretch our aesthetic boundaries, to appreciate beauty, accomplishment and ingenuity? I know my own answer to that question. I want to hear yours, and also hear about your events and developments in the arts world. Be sure to keep me posted. Thank you for reading.

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