Cleveland’s Leading Black Artists and Cultural Entrepreneurs Say Visual Arts Institutions Have Failed In Diversity Efforts

Cleveland’s Leading Black Artists and Cultural Entrepreneurs Say Visual Arts Institutions Have Failed In Diversity Efforts

The leaders of Northeast Ohio’s top visual art institutions say they’ve made progress on diversity. However, Cleveland’s Black artists gave those institutions an F. reports the city’s Black artists gave its institutions a failing grade at a symposium organized by the Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art and the nonprofit Assembly for the Arts last month.

At the symposium, William Griswold, director and president of the Cleveland Museum of Art; Megan Lykins Reich, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland, and Kathryn Heidemann, the president of the Cleveland Institute of Art (CIA), cited increased diversity in their staff, in the art they’re buying and showing, and in the students the CIA is admitting.

However, some of Cleveland’s leading Black artists and entrepreneurs view the situation very differently, adding the institutions can do more to address racial inequities and Injustices.

“If you ask us, it’s probably an F,” Ismail Samad, a Cleveland native, chef, and entrepreneur who started a farm-to-jar food company, said, according to

David Ramsey, an arts entrepreneur who operates a gallery in Cleveland, agreed with Samad, giving the art institutions an F as well. Ramsey said the institutions failed to provide grants and exhibitions to some of the city’s best artists.

In an example of the disconnect between the institutions and the city’s Black artists, when Ramsey and Samad took part in an afternoon session on the city’s art scene and diversity, some of the art institution’s leaders left.

Ramsey, Samad, and other panelists at the symposium discussed how they use their art skills to help community projects focused on uplifting those living there and providing economic mobility.

Samad, 42, is working with Trader Joe’s President Doug Rauch to open three nonprofit healthy grocery stores in Boston. Walter Patton’s Create Art, Not Violence project connects children affected by gun violence and crime with Black therapists through an initiative called Ghetto Therapy.

Fred Bidwell, the founding CEO of FRONT International and a trustee of the Cleveland Museum of Art, said he was happy the symposium and the discussion revealed tensions concerning the city’s art institutions could improve relations with minority artists, audiences, and communities.