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Cleveland Black Arts Leader Gives Cultural Institutions an “F” for DEI’s Efforts

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The black cultural leaders of Cleveland, Ohio are unhappy with the so-called efforts to diversify the city’s arts institutions. While organizations such as the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland, and the Cleveland Institute of Art all pride themselves on increasing the diversity of their staff, the works of art that are promoted and sold, and in the case of the Cleveland Institute of Art, the students they admit, many are unhappy with the real impact of these changes.

So why aren’t these changes enough? According to online media, Cleveland.comthese local champions of black visual art say there is much more that these institutions could do to immediately address inequality and injustice in northeast Ohio.

Last Saturday, September 17, FRONT International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art and the nonprofit Assembly for the Arts hosted an all-day symposium where these efforts to improve racial diversity were discussed. And according to them, if a mark were to be given for these efforts, the city would rank last in the class.

“If you ask us, that’s probably an F,” said Ismail Samad, a native of East Cleveland, an entrepreneur and chef who returned from Boston to the city after founding a farm-to-jar food business to support East Cleveland and surrounding communities.

Samad also said that due to the measurable increases the data provides, these same cultural institutions would likely rank at a B-plus, but despite these increases in hiring or programming, the lives of Black people living in and around these spaces still has room for improvement.

Dave Ramsey, another creative entrepreneur who operates a gallery and organizes cultural programs in the city’s Fairfax neighborhood, says he would also give Cleveland an “F” because of its inability to fund black artists and their projects.

“When you talk about what has to happen, that’s it, right?” he said. “Empower creatives to do what they do and empower them to be meaningful and empowered to actually work.”

While the leaders of the institutions applauded each other earlier in the day during the symposium, the disconnect showed up in the afternoon when Samad, Ramsey and other black leaders took the microphone.

Deidre McPherson, a cultural consultant who has worked at the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Cleveland Orchestra and the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland, moderated an afternoon panel and then shared that not all opinions expressed should be taken as the opinion of the whole black community. She did, however, share the need to have the conversation.

“University Circle has been touted as one of the best arts districts in the country,” she said. “But how does its impact and power as an arts district improve the lives of the people who live immediately around it? We were hoping to help initiate some of that conversation with this group.