Quietly, a few weeks ago, the website of the organization that has funded Cuyahoga County artists individual fellowships of $20,000 per year for the past six years was updated to read “No Deadline in 2014.” We explain what this means.

What is a Creative Workforce Fellowship?

A publicly funded fellowship that Cuyahoga County has offered to 20 artists over the past 6 years. Each artist who is awarded a fellowship receives $20,000 to work on a project.

Who awards these fellowships?

The Community Partnership for Arts & Culture (CPAC)

Where does the CPAC get their money from? Who oversees CPAC?

Cuyahoga Arts & Culture (CAC) provides a grant to CPAC to fund these fellowships (yes, we know. Confusing acronym alert!). CAC, by law, can only fund non-profits. So they fund CPAC, who in turn funds individual artists. The Creative Workforce Fellowships are the only funds awarded to individual artists. The rest of CAC’s over $15 million yearly budget goes to non-profits.

Where does that bigger group, CAC, get their money from?

Sin tax dollars. The public. If you buy cigarettes in Cuyahoga County, you pay for these artists to work on their projects, as well as to fund non-profits including Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Playhouse Square and over 50 other organizations, including Zygote Press and other smaller organizations. As CPAC’s mission statement puts is:

“In 2006, voters in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, approved a 10-year tax on cigarettes to support arts and culture organizations. Cuyahoga Arts & Culture, a political subdivision of the State of Ohio, is the organization that administers those public funds by making grants to qualified organizations based in Cuyahoga County. We are one of the largest local public funders of arts and culture in the nation, investing more than $15 million each year in organizations of all sizes and disciplines. We are governed by a five-member Board of Trustees and are served by a full-time staff of seven.”

Why did CAC decide not to fund the fellowship program for the 2014 cycle?

According to the CPAC website it is because “Cuyahoga Arts & Culture (CAC) is reviewing the role of individual artist funding as it relates to its mission.”

But the suspension is somehow tied to this evaluation that CPAC did on how the Fellowship program has worked, right? At least that’s what it says on the website: “the Community Partnership for Arts and Culture (CPAC) commenced an evaluation of the Creative Workforce Fellowship program in mid-2013. CPAC subsequently shared the evaluation with Cuyahoga Arts and Culture (CAC), the organization that funds the Creative Workforce Fellowship program. Informed by that evaluation, Cuyahoga Arts & Culture is reviewing the role of individual artist funding as it relates to its mission”

Right. CPAC evaluated their program and submitted it to their funders, CAC. You can read the entire evaluation online

What will happen to the money that would have gone to the 20 artists who would have been awarded 2014 Creative Workforce Fellowship? 

CAC did not grant CPAC funds of $560,000, the amount they have granted to CPAC in the past, to fund fellows for a 2014 application cycle. CAC has not said they will not fund another cycle, nor that they will. So for now, the funds remain with CAC. (To be precise, the winners of the 2013 fellowships received funds in early 2014; there will be no winners of a 2014 fellowship, and no funds dispersed in early 2015. There is no commitment from CAC to disperse funds at a later point in 2015 or beyond).

What can we do to about this? How can we have the program undelayed? Officially, CAC has taken no action beyond saying “no application deadline in 2014.” We cannot say the fellowships have been suspended or stopped. What we can say is that CAC has delayed an expected grant to CPAC to fund the next cycle pending review of CPAC’s evaluation. This makes taking any action difficult. There is a public meeting of CAC’s board in September, but there will be no vote or referendum on the fellowships then. There is no clear process for registering opinions on this action. Raising awareness may be the best option for now.

Doesn’t the arts sin tax come up for renewal soon? Yes. It expires in 2016 and it is anticipated it will be on the ballot in spring of 2015. Whether or not any of the above is related is unclear.

photo of the 2012 Creative Workforce fellows from Culture Forward.

Anne Trubek, founder and editor-in-chief of Belt, was a 2012 Creative Workforce Fellow.