Last month, the Ohio Arts Council awarded $18.2 million in grants to arts organizations across the state.
Unsurprisingly, a lot of the money went to the three Cs – Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati – but Mahoning County didn’t fare badly.
Led by $115,871 awarded to the Butler Institute of American Art, the Mahoning Institutions received nine grants totaling $166,501. The county which represents just under 2% of the state’s population received about 1% of the money.
Trumbull County, however, only received two grants for a combined $5,629. Although it is home to 1.7% of the state’s population, it received about 3/100th of 1% of the allocated money.
This is not a case of either county being denied funding.
LOCAL REQUESTS FUNDED
“One hundred percent of applications from Trumbull and Mahoning counties were funded,” said OAC Executive Director Donna S. Collins. “We have not turned down any applications from your counties.”
The CAO is making a concerted effort to fund projects in all regions of the state, she said. Ten years ago, only 65 of Ohio’s 88 counties received OAC grants. Over the past seven years, funding has gone to all 88 counties.
While COVID-19 has limited travel in 2020 and 2021, OAC is also sending staff into communities to talk to arts organizations about what is available to them.
Organizational Programs Coordinator Patrick Roehrenbeck “will be in Youngstown on Monday to speak with people from the Butler and the McDonough Museum of Art”, said Collins. “We have set ourselves the goal of traveling, of visiting people on the ground.”
The Medici Museum of Art in Howland has received its first-ever OAC grant of $2,909, which will be used to support the September exhibition “Building Bridges Through the Ages”, featuring works created by older artists with dementia and a series of luncheon programs in conjunction with the show.
Medici director Katelyn Amendolara-Russo said the online application portal was easy to use and should be easier in the future as she won’t need to re-enter some of the information for future applications.
Earlier this year, Medici presented the 2021 CAO Biennial Exhibition at its Riffe Gallery in Columbus, and future exhibitions will also move from the Riffe Gallery to Medici.
“Now that we have a closer relationship, I will definitely take advantage of it,” Amendolara-Russo said. “We hope to get more grants in 2023-2024. There are many there. I don’t think many take advantage of it.
The other Trumbull grant went to Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership with $2,720 to use for banners, public art and installations at one of its Healthy Corner Store initiative locations.
In addition to the Butler, the OAC has awarded grants to Ballet Western Reserve, Cultural Alliance/Youngstown State University, Henry H. Stambaugh Auditorium Association, Lit Youngstown, McDonough Museum of Art, Opera Western Reserve, Stambaugh Chorus, and Etruscan Press.
Warren’s William Mullane, who received a Governor’s Award for the Arts in 2022 and has applied for numerous grants over the years as a former chairman of the Trumbull County Board of Fine Arts and a member of other councils of arts, said one of the biggest problems facing Trumbull’s arts organizations is that most are all-volunteer groups with no paid staff. FACT regularly applied for and received OAC grants when it had full-time employees and hosted events such as Celebration on the Square and Opening Night in the 1980s and 1990s.
“With all-volunteer organizations, even if there is someone interested in starting the process, they leave or are transferred, and then there is no one to pick up and meet the deadline,” Mullane said.
Mullane cited the Trumbull County Historical Society and its director, Meghan Reed, as an example of what’s possible with full-time staff to navigate the grant application process.
Over the past five years, TCHS has received more than $1.3 million in grants, including several prestigious federal grants, Reed said. But to get to the point where the organization could get federal grants, it took several years to lay the groundwork locally.
“I was initially hired part-time knowing that if it worked out, I would increase my hours and pay,” said Reed. “Third year I went full-time, but it wasn’t a grant (that made it possible), it was an increase in dues, launching an annual call, Oktoberfest in the Square, which funded half of my salary that first year.”
TCHS has been successful in securing grants by building relationships with other organizations and working with recognized historic preservation professionals. She added that the historical society would not be eligible for these federal grants without full-time staff, which is a prerequisite.
These grants must also be used for specific projects, such as the preservation of the society’s historical artifacts and documents. TCHS must detail in the grant application how the funding will be used and send documentation after it is approved to prove that it was used for the intended purpose.
Most OAC grants are also tied to specific projects and have similar requirements. One of the benefits of butler funding is that it is a sustainability grant, which means it can be used for the day-to-day operations of the museum (salaries, health insurance, utilities, etc.) instead of a specific exhibition or project.
Rebecca Davis, Director of Development at The Butler, said: “It’s important for me to get this grant, and it’s an accomplishment. To get this grant, you must have all your ducks in a row.
The Butler competes with much larger institutions in the state, such as the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and the Cleveland Museum of Art, for these sustainability funds.
“I was thrilled that we scored higher than the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame,” Davis said.
An arts organization must receive two OAC program grants over a four-year period in order to apply for a sustainability grant.
Davis served as director of development for eight years, and she also wrote grant applications in her previous position as collections manager at Butler.
Although there was a learning process to learn how to navigate the system, Davis said, “The Ohio Arts Council staff are great and amazing. They’re here to help, and I’ve always had answers to questions I’ve asked. They want organizations to get money, use them , ask them for help.
Collins urged any organization having difficulty applying for funding online to contact the CAO for guidance on using this system. Staff will also work with those who are not comfortable applying online.
The hearings at which OAC committees evaluate grant applications are open to the public, and Davis recommended that groups seeking funding can learn a lot by listening to these discussions. The public can also apply to sit on these panels, which Davis did.
“It was a lot of work, but it was an amazing educational experience for me,” she says.
In the past, people had to travel to Columbus to attend these sessions in person, Collins said. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it became possible to listen to the sessions online.
“Now we can have 120 people listening online,” said Collins. “It’s like attending a professional development session.
A new program launched by the Community Foundation of the Mahoning Valley could also help organizations navigate the grant application process. Its Nonprofit Mentoring Network will match long-standing nonprofits with smaller groups looking to grow their organizations.
“It (grant applications) can be daunting,” Josh Medore, community relations and engagement coordinator for the foundation, said. “It’s a lot of numbers. People are afraid of putting a decimal point in the wrong place. This makes many people hesitate… The most difficult thing is to start.
The foundation offered a budget workshop in May, and a second is tentatively scheduled for September that will include information that could benefit organizations whether they are applying for Community Foundation or OAC grants.
Collins said they want more apps. Organizations that brag about their successes with OAC funding allow the board to share those stories with lawmakers and the governor who approves its funding.
“We would like to award 25 grants to Trumbull County,” Collins sad. “We would like to do more with the arts organizations and the artists there.”