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Wednesday, April 7, 2021

The Artist Bridge Coalition Strives for Community Change in Cleveland and a Role for Artists in the Region's Leading Institutions

Posted By on Wed, Apr 7, 2021 at 11:00 AM

click to enlarge abc_meet_and_greet_by_liz_maugans.jpg

The Artist Bridge Coalition (ABC) is relatively new artist-driven coalition that advocates for community change in Cleveland, organizing monthly in order to discuss, debate, energize and create ways in which the individual artist weaves into the fabric of the larger cultural community.

ABC, which was formed in the late summer of 2019, aims to influence civic discussion in regional policymaking while developing public support strategies for the arts community. ABC currently has 165 members (or attendees) coming to meetings and participating in the dialogue, meeting via Zoom every third Tuesday of each month for 90 minutes. ABC features guest speakers and discusses relevant topics regarding organizing work (coalition structure, committee work, candidate forums) followed by break-out groups in effort to ‘de-silo’ artists and creatives.



Since late November, ABC has also been conducting listening sessions with key leaders from most of the major arts and culture funding and institutional organizations, asking straight questions about who is making the decisions, what budgets they have for individual artists and details on their process for including diverse, inclusive and equitable work.

Through these sessions, they are ascertaining that artists are, in many cases, not included where many decisions are being made about the arts at the city, county and community levels. Part of ABC’s mission is to give voice to the voiceless, and the voiceless in this case being the individual artists, the right-brained creative thinkers who, in their minds, are an underutilized assets to these businesses and institutions.

Among the broad and ambitious sets of goals and objectives: be involved in determining long-term cultural vision at the local level; occupy, create, and develop former industrial spaces/places/neighborhoods that were at one time empty; attract talent to adaptive new spaces where creative businesses can anchor buildings at lower costs; address social problems with artistic interventions; create solidarity within the artistic inter-community; and focus on play, enjoyment, creating inter-cultural dialogue and positive long-term cultural integration.

In order to affect change in the visibility of artists, their work, their ideas and their projects, ABC plans to keep the dialogue going and make their presence known in the rooms and halls of policy makers. Isn’t this what a coalition is about? Allying together, power in numbers, ringing bells and chiming in?

“Accountability! A good accountability that is helpful to the larger organizations where onboarding a pipeline of ABC individual artists for board seats on every CAC-funded non-profit would be crazy cool,” says ABC co-founder, artist, and curator Liz Maugans. “Are the institutions really moving beyond performative measures to create change? How can artists who are core, center, key, and paramount, to museums, orchestras, and performing arts theaters be there to represent what artists need? Currently, between the three Boards in the Greater Cleveland Arts Alliance (Arts Cleveland, Arts and Culture Action Committee and Cuyahoga Arts and Culture), with one exception, there aren’t any artists in decision-making roles. One might say, that is a problem. How can ABC and individual artists make it not a problem but a reality?”

Constructive criticism about how organizations and institutions are interacting and stewarding the community is important to their vitality. Stasis of these institutions and organization does not foster growth and development to help them reach their full potential. Asking that artists have a proverbial ‘seat at the table’ seems like a necessary step in order to best serve the individual artists who make up the foundation of the arts and cultural community.

“The non-profits are great and they are doing all they can to stay active, afloat and well….figuring out how they will survive in these very uncertain times,” explains Maugans. “Individual artists are but a spoke in the non-profits complicated wheel and so often artists’ needs are not being valued and are very low on the ladder of appreciation. Assumptions are made about artists and whether or not we fit into the program neatly of grant, funding and other organizational mission work.”

ABC also plans to be a resource where creative members’ projects can get off the ground and to help get others involved and informed. One such project ABC is “The U and I of Euclid Avenue A Gateway to East Cleveland” from Karamu House alumni Mary K Thomas, which is gathering together East Cleveland residents, artists, archivists, storytellers and civic leaders to share in a year-long public art mural project optically elevating what was once called ‘The Grand Promenade of Cleveland.’

The next Artist Bridge Coalition meeting will be held via Zoom Tuesday, April 20th, where they will have guest featured speaker Shaunda Miles McDill, Program Manager with the Heinz Endowments, introduced by Dr. Rev. Leah Lewis from 4:30 - 5 p.m. From 5 - 5:30 they will conduct their committee meetings and from 5:30 - 6 p.m they will engage in feedback from breakout meetings.

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