By John Benson
The Northeast Ohio arts scene is rich, diverse and strong. Still, that doesn’t mean there aren’t groups existing on razor-thin margins.
There’s a statistic that more than 50 percent of new businesses fail within the first five years. Just imagine the struggles of new arts-based organizations, which are just as treacherous with visionaries struggling with overhead, the economy and community support.
That’s where the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation is hoping to make a difference by providing upstart arts organizations financial support during their earliest stages. Supporting initiatives at the intersection of arts and issues, the New York City organization recently announced SEED grants for four Cleveland-based arts organizations: convergence-continuum, Ensemble Theatre, FiveOne Experimental Orchestra and MorrisonDance.
Even more impressive is the fact the four were among 16 chosen nationally to receive three annual $10,000 grants to allow them to build the capacity and programming that ensures growth and longevity. That’s a combined $120,000 coming to Northeast Ohio groups over the next three years.
Robert Rauschenberg Foundation Director of Philanthropy Risë Wilson told Cool Cleveland, “The foundation really believes in the importance of investing in innovation and experimentation. And what happens with early stage organizations, often they’re thought of as being too risky. They need to be established before receiving substantial funding. And the only way that innovation happens, the only way that something new happens, is someone has to take a risk, a leap of faith. So this SEED program is really in that spirit.”
The fact that a quarter of the SEED grants are targeting Northeast Ohio arts organizations isn’t happenstance. Wilson said the funding is focusing on strong arts communities not on the East Coast or West Coast but instead located in middle America.
“We were looking at areas that may be culturally rich but it’s not necessarily a large body of cultural philanthropy historically,” Wilson said.
As if the SEED grants aren’t impressive enough, it turns out the recipients didn’t seek out the funding. Instead, the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation forged a unique partnership with local cultural leaders seeking nominations of local groups unbeknownst to the organizations.
Cool Cleveland talked to all four organizations about receiving a SEED grant:
“This grant gives us an amazing opportunity to take a deep breath and dig deeper,” said MorrisonDance Director Sarah Morrison. “In a challenging time where almost all artists and arts organizations are required to become ‘salespeople,’ this unsolicited recognition of our efforts to remain true to our artistic mission will extend far beyond the three years of financial support.”
MorrisonDance boasts a mission to inspire and cultivate public awareness of the art of dance – from modern dance and physical theater to ballet and yoga – through performances and cross-disciplinary collaborations.
“We are still a bit overwhelmed,” Morrison said. “This recognition, as well as the financial assistance that accompanies it, has given us renewed confidence in our impact on the Northeast Ohio community.”
“We are extremely humbled to have been chosen, and now feel a heightened responsibility to continue enriching our audience’s lives through new music,” said FiveOne Experimental Orchestra co-founder Jeremy Allen. “The SEED grant will allow us to divide our energies more evenly amongst the group, delegating more of our members toward programming and executing quality concerts, while keeping others on the task of capacity building over the next three years.”
FiveOne Experimental Orchestra vitalizes and inspires the community through non-traditional performances, collaborations and educational outreach by bridging the gap between pop culture and modern art music.
“Our hope is that the news of this grant will raise the level of awareness of just how many great things are happening in the arts in Cleveland, while instilling a renewed sense of pride within the Cleveland community itself,” Allen said.
“This SEED grant will boost our continued growth and presence in our new home in Cleveland Heights,” said Ensemble Theatre Artistic Director Celeste Cosentino. “It will support our continuing endeavor to be an organization that serves as an artistic anchor in our community. This kind of anonymous recognition continues to reinforce that the programs we are providing to our communities are relevant and appreciated by those who participate in them.”
Ensemble Theatre serves greater Cleveland and the Midwest region by reintroducing the classics, examining them with new eyes and supporting the development of new works for the American theater. The theater is committed to non-traditional casting and to providing culturally diverse programming that speaks to issues of contemporary life.
“The awarding of these grants to Cleveland organizations brings national attention to some of the amazing things happening in the arts community in Cleveland and Northeast Ohio,” Cosentino said. “That we all have been nominated anonymously and awarded unrestricted support helps to further our drive and belief that the things we are doing here in Cleveland can also change the world.”
“We feel truly honored to receive this Rauschenberg grant,” said convergence-continuum Artistic Director Clyde Simon. “It has further inspired us in our conviction that a group of dedicated artists, despite working on a shoestring budget, can make an impact. This grant will definitely make that shoestring significantly longer. It will allow us to undertake some of the more artistically adventurous and risky projects we’ve had on the back burner due to budget constraints.”
convergence-continuum is a Cleveland-based theatre company dedicated to expanding the imagination and challenging the conventional notions of what theatre is. Since its founding in 2000, convergence-continuum has staged almost 50 productions.
Said Simon, “We’re very grateful to have been nominated and to have received this grant, and hope that it will help highlight Cleveland’s very vibrant and innovative artistic community throughout the region and the country.”
[Pictured: Robert Rauschenberg and Susan Weil, Untitled [feet and foliage], ca. 1950. Monoprint: exposed blueprint paper. 58 1/4 x 41 inches (148 x 104.1 cm). Credit: Museum of Modern Art, New York, Gift of Carolyn Brown and Earle Brown. © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York]
When he’s not writing about music or entertainment, he can be found coaching his two boys in basketball, football and baseball or watching movies with his lovely wife, Maria. John also occasionally writes for CoolCleveland.com.