Inspired works: Cuyahoga Arts & Culture awards first-time grants to 13 organizations

In November Cuyahoga Arts & Culture (CAC) awarded grants totaling $10,750,487 to support 300 Cuyahoga County nonprofit organizations for 2024.

This year, 13 arts organizations are first-time CAC grant recipients of a total of $47,760. Nine organizations each received $4,265 Project Support grants, and four organizations each received $3,410 Project Support grants.

“Cuyahoga Arts & Culture is excited to support the inspiring work of these first-time grantees,” says CAC executive director Jill M. Paulsen. “Project Support grants like these make the arts more accessible to residents throughout Cuyahoga County, and these projects are perfect examples of the important arts and culture work we can help make possible with public funding. We encourage residents to connect with these unique organizations and events in the coming year.”

We look at four of the organizations that received 2024 CAC $4,265 grants.

Lake effect

For the 629 sixth through 12th graders honing their rowing and sailing skills at The Foundry, the Cuyahoga River is a life force to revere.

“The water is truly transformative,” says Blazine Monaco, grant writer for the nonprofit organization launched in 2017 to enhance the lives of Cleveland Metropolitan School District students by providing access to nautical sports and the careers they can lead to. “We see participants who were not social quickly bond with classmates, and others who feared the water successfully break down that barrier.”  

The Foundry provides Cleveland Metropolitan School District youth access to nautical sports and the careers they can lead toThe Foundry provides Cleveland Metropolitan School District youth access to nautical sports and the careers they can lead toMonaco says many Foundry students live only a mile or two from Lake Erie but never saw the lake until they started rowing and sailing in the Flats. “It’s especially gratifying,” she says, “to see them be encouraged to embrace our natural resources and be taught to have respect for them.”

That unparalleled synergy will once again be spotlighted in the upcoming The Power of Water juried student art show.

Last year, 120 students submitted works for the inaugural event in a variety of media. Each submission was accompanied by an artist’s statement explaining how the art relates to the power of water theme.

“To read what was behind their thought process for creating their words and the depth of the lake’s influence was extremely moving,” says Monaco, who chaired the exhibit. Judges for the show—curated by artist and interior designer Christy Gray of Gray Haus Studios—included Sabine Kretzschmar, art historian and educator at the Cleveland Museum of Art; Cleveland-born artist, activist, and muralist Kevin “mr. soul” Harp; and Hilary D. Gent, director of Cleveland’s HEDGE Gallery.

“Opening night was spectacular,” Monaco recalls. “Teachers came, parents came, and you could tell what it meant to each student to be given the spotlight, be treated as adults, and be recognized for their artistic talents. There was magic and encouragement in the air, along with the knowledge that you can very possibly change somebody’s life by putting them on the path to the arts.”

Cash prizes ranging from $50 to $150 were awarded, and Campus International School was presented with $1,000 to purchase art supplies for having the most show participants.

The CAC grant will allow the annual Power of Water show continue.

“The CAC grant is the difference between us moving forward with the show and not continuing it,” Monaco says. “The arts are the most beautiful way for kids to express themselves, and we’re thrilled to be able to assist them in doing just that.”

A second chance

Contrary to the happy finale portrayed onscreen in the movie “The Shawshank Redemption,” the first taste of freedom formerly incarcerated individuals face is often far from idyllic.

Devon Hickman, director of Cleveland’s Center for Employment OpportunitiesDevon Hickman, director of Cleveland’s Center for Employment Opportunities“People who have spent time in jail are left with a host of issues, ranging from anxiety to a complete lack of self-confidence,” says Devon Hickman, director of Cleveland’s Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO), a nonprofit organization dedicated exclusively to providing job-related services to those recently placed on probation or parole.

In 2023, to help returning citizens resettle into society, Hickman launched Cleveland’s Returning Citizens: Exploring Incarceration Trauma Through Art Therapy, a nine-week series held at CEO and led by therapists from Art Therapy Studio.

Each instructor introduces various visual media to help participants navigate their emotions while embarking on what they hope will be a fresh start.

Hickman, who spent 15 years in supervisory roles at Cleveland Clinic before taking the helm at CEO in 2019, had the opportunity to witness the positive effect art therapy has on cancer patients.

He wondered if that form of expression would also be beneficial to those dealing with Post-Incarceration Syndrome—a phrase researchers coined to describe a combination of post-traumatic stress disorder, institutionalization, antisocial personality traits, social sensory deprivation, and substance abuse.

“Through the years, CEO has focused primarily on employment opportunities,” Hickman explains. “But decisions returning individuals must face are life-changing: Where will I work? Where will I live? Can I take care of my kids? Can I pay my bills? If we don’t address these traumas and provide opportunities for men and women to express their emotions, it’s going to make it very difficult for them to focus on employment.”

The CEO team partners with justice system organizations to find suitable candidates for the art therapy program. Hickman admits he frequently encounters skepticism from potential candidates.

“I ask them to give it a shot,” he explains. “I ask them to give me one class and, if they don’t like it, tell me why.” Hickman says attendance averages 10 participants per class.

Art therapist showing some of the artwork formerly incarcerated folks createdArt therapist showing some of the artwork formerly incarcerated folks created“To finally be on a level where you can use an artistic medium to express yourself and use your voice that’s long been suppressed is huge for our participants,” he says. “It’s a breakthrough.”

To honor Second Chance Month last April, the CEO artists were invited to showcase their works in a public exhibition.

“All the pieces have a story,” Hickman says. “The level of creativity that comes out of people who are fighting through barriers while trying to rebuild their lives touches both heart and soul.”

The CAC grant ensures the art therapy program will continue this year.

“The CAC grant means so much,” Hickman says. “It allows us to provide these services to those who, when all is said and done, are really our neighbors. We’re helping to rebuild families which, in turn, rebuilds communities and neighborhoods.”

Creative outlets

As a full-time multi-disciplinary artist, Antwoine Washington knows all too well about the challenges that accompany his chosen career.

“Artists are no strangers to trials and tribulations,” he says, “and that’s especially true for Black artists who often have trouble finding venues in which to exhibit their work, and struggle with managing the financial aspects of it.”

So in 2018, Washington partnered with arts advocate Michael C. Russell II to form the Museum of Creative Human Art, an organization that helps artists navigate the creative ecosystem and mentor young people interested in the arts.

The Museum hosts educational programs that ensure equity, diversity and the inclusion of underserved artists. Courses are taught virtually, as well as at venues throughout the city.

“The classes are for everyone, but our focus is on those who need them most,” Washington says. “You can’t have justice in this world if you don’t bring the people who are at the bottom up first.”

That initial enterprise blossomed into the Inspiring Creativity Project, which spans a spectrum of arts initiatives like pop-up galleries, youth workshops, and art exhibitions crafted to foster collaboration.

Subjects include the on-line “Introduction to Fine Arts Fundamentals” and a three-week, project-based “Introduction to Graphic Design” where participants master the basics of visual communication through photo manipulation and design using the open-source software and applications using refurbished laptops provided to the students by PCs for People.

The Museum of Creative Human Art team also collaborates with Zygote Press to present “Pressing Matters,” a series for high school students that uses art as a way to share joys, concerns, and fears.

“The classes we lead bridge creative expression with education and personal development,” Washington explains. “We’re committed to finding unique ways to approach character building and help young people find out who they are, use their voice and show up in the world—not just as artists, but as people.”

For “Where We Overlap,” a group show at the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland (moCa), artists collaborated on works that celebrate their differences and unify their skill sets. A documentary about the experience followed the show and debuted at the 2023 Cleveland International Film Festival.

Another vital component of the Inspiring Creativity Project is assisting artists with finding studios, museums, and galleries to showcase their work.

“We send out a bat signal to make our presence known,” Washington says. “We pride ourselves on making a full investment in the project so the artists don’t have to pay anything out of pocket and will receive 100% of their sales.”

The CAC grant helps make that pledge a reality.

“For boutique and very small organizations like ours, Cuyahoga Arts & Culture’s support is vital,” Washington says. “It means so much to us that the arts organization has chosen to help us help artists throughout the city.”

Pathway to peace

As director of John Carroll University’s Peace, Justice and Human Rights program, English professor and poet Philip Metres is dedicated to helping students explore the causes and consequences of violence and injustice, then seek out and assess solutions to them.

Philip Metres, director of John Carroll University’s Peace, Justice and Human Rights programPhilip Metres, director of John Carroll University’s Peace, Justice and Human Rights program“We live in such a polarized society,” Metres says. “We want our students to have the capacity to do advocacy work and understand how to mediate through conflicts that are a natural part of being human.”

That commitment is mirrored in the 11 books Metres has penned over the last 20 years. His 2018 compilation of verse, “The Sound of Listening: Poetry as Refuge and Resistance” received the Arab American Book Award for Non-Fiction. The author’s 12th book, “Fugitive/Refuge” will be published in April and follows the journey his refugee ancestors took from Lebanon to Mexico to the United States.

“As an Arab American, thinking about the experience of diasporas finding home and how we’re connected to each other is really important to me,” Metres explains. “I have a desire to engage readers in ways in which they can imagine how our societies can become more peaceful, fair, and just.”

In “Shrapnel Maps,” his anthology of poems published in 2020, Metres focuses on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through real documentation and erasure interspersed with a narrative centered on his dual identity of being both Arab and American. The idea for the book was sparked after attending his sister’s wedding to a Palestinian, which was held in a small village on the West Bank in 2003.

“That experience was transformational for me,” he says. “I had the opportunity to experience Palestinian life in a way most of us just can’t see or understand. I got to be part of a joyful community celebration among people who live in really difficult circumstances and are essentially without rights.”

The CAC grant enables Metres to bring “Shrapnel Maps” to life in staged readings at John Carroll University on March 21 and 22. Metres says he hopes the work will offer a pathway upon which to foster dialogue and engage in peacebuilding with diverse audiences.

“Like those who read my book, audiences will have the opportunity to understand something of the Palestinian experience, including a longing for freedom or return; something of the Israeli experience, including a longing for peace and security — and something of what it’s like for me to live as an Arab American in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood in University Heights,” Metres says.

“Live theater is one of the ways the arts can play a role in creating community and restoring a sense of human proportion to a world where we feel out of sorts with each other,” he adds. “I’m grateful for the CAC grant, which presents the opportunity to bring poetry onto the stage, widen the conversation, and bring people together in a space to have a common experience.”

The remaining organizations that received $4,265 2024 Project Support grants are Boys & Girls Clubs of Northeast Ohio, North Pointe Ballet, Ridna Shkola Cleveland, and Studio Institute.

Babel Box Theater, InMotion, Radio on the Lake Theatre, Mantles and Makers, and Kings & Queens of Art were each awarded $3,410 CAC grants.

Since 2007, CAC has invested more than $246 million in 485 organizations.

Linda Feagler
Linda Feagler

About the Author: Linda Feagler

Northeast Ohio native Linda Feagler never tires of indulging her passion for arts and culture Her favorite pastimes include attending Broadway musicals at Playhouse Square, visiting one-of-a-kind bookshops that include Loganberry Books in Cleveland Heights and The Learned Owl in Hudson, and spending the day with Impressionists at The Cleveland Museum of Art.