The race to succeed Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish has been contentious — but Republican Lee Weingart and Democrat Chris Ronayne have very similar views on arts and culture funding.

Both have plenty of public service and political lobbying on their resumes. But Ronayne was also president of the non-profit association that defends Cleveland’s University Circle, one of the artistic centers of the region. His views on how funds for arts and culture should be distributed are very similar to those of his opponent.

“A lot of the money the county allocates goes to bigger arts organizations,” Weingart said. “A large number of [them] have large endowments and have the capacity to finance their operations. Less money is going to smaller arts organizations or individual artists, so I would like to see a shift in priorities.

Weingart said the transfer of funds would have no impact on tourism that could be tied to large organizations, given the amount of state and federal money they receive. But he wants to see the smaller groups get a raise.

“There’s just a lot of bands you see around Detroit Shoreway or on the East Side of Cleveland,” he said. “Especially places like Glenville, Mount Pleasant and Hough. So I would like to see more investment, especially in small urban arts organizations as well as individual artists across the county.”

Ronayne heard a similar message.

“The other day I was campaigning with a group called Kings and Queens of Art,” he said. “It’s mostly African American artists who are primarily into the visual arts. And the work of the artists that I saw displayed on E. 34th St. off of St. Clair was just phenomenal. But there was a refrain artists who weren’t enough of arts and culture dollars are reaching our artists from our communities of color, and I think that’s something we need to be aware of.

Tax on cigarettes or tobacco?

Weingart also favors expanding the county’s cigarette tax — which provides about $11 million in annual arts funding — to include other forms of tobacco as smoking declines. It’s an idea presented to state lawmakers in March 2021, by a coalition of 80 arts groups across the state.

Ronayne said that was a possibility, but he wanted to broaden his scope to “a myriad of sources”.

“We just have to look at tobacco sources as probably transient sources – as was already proven in the original tobacco tax – it wasn’t particularly sustainable,” he said.

Ideastream Public Media is one of the organizations receiving arts and culture funding from the County Cigarette Tax.

Ronayne added that public funding for the arts should be seen as economic development.

“As the State of Ohio ponders its economic development initiatives … over decades of investing in manufacturing, investing in health care and IT, investing in energy … [they] have to think of the arts as economic development,” he said. “And I believe we should have this conversation in Columbus.”

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