First, it must be said (in the way that people say such things) that this Liz Maugans woman cannot be stopped.
If you are reading this, odds are you are familiar with Cleveland-based printmaker and Zygote Press director Liz Maugans. It seems she cannot keep herself from dreaming up ways for Zygote to reach out. Reaching out is how arts organizations keep themselves going—by finding new audiences, building new partnerships, or discovering new ways to stretch meager resources.
In recent years, Maugans’ efforts along these lines have been both to find new audiences (by educational efforts as well as traveling shows), and to create ways for arts organizations to help each other and themselves.
It’s the latter that has my attention here. Some of the people reading this probably took part in the Zygote-sponsored SALT Talks (Sustainable Arts Leadership Talks), which in the wake of the economic meltdown gave small arts organizations a forum to strategize about how to survive in tough times.
Her current project is an extension of that effort. Maugans knows that for arts organizations to thrive, they have to communicate. Arts leaders must talk not only amongst themselves, but they have to get word of their activities out to the rest of the world.
This has become more and more difficult, thanks to the steep decline in arts coverage by the media in recent years. A multitude of papers that used to cover the arts in general and visual arts in particular have gone by the wayside. Forget about the Cleveland Press. If you’re 30 years old or less, you never saw it anyway. But remember Dialogue Arts Midwest? We also had Avenues. And Northern Ohio Live. And the Downtown Tab. And Urban Dialect. And Angle. And Artifact. And the Free Times. Even Scene used to review shows every week. Not anymore.
Not long ago, the Plain Dealer led the local conversation about the arts’ benefit to neighborhoods and the regional economy. For years a reporter covered that as a beat. Features about local artists’ work and organizations’ projects were routine. Shows at small galleries were reviewed. Arts coverage had its own section 7 days a week.
But a combination of buyouts and editorial decisions has slashed the PD’s local arts coverage to just three days a week, with the occasional scrap of a human interest story thrown in now and then. You can always find coverage of TV stars and other celebrities. The Cleveland Orchestra and a few other major institutions makes routine appearances. But as far as work done by smaller organizations or individual artists, you hardly find a peep.
The irony is that all this happened just as the region took ownership of the idea that the arts matter to the well-being of individuals, the vitality of neighborhoods, and the regional economy. Just as the county electorate decided by vote that art matters enough to merit public subsidy, the coverage went away.
In this atrophied landscape, no medium has suffered as much as the visual art scene. So, having watched all that happen, Maugans knows that if places like Zygote want coverage—or Bay Arts, or William Busta Gallery, or SPACES gallery, or Wall Eye, or Legation or Arts Collinwood—they have to become the media.
That’s a phrase typically associated with electronic media, which is indeed fast, contagious, accessible, and cheap. And indeed, many arts organizations already use it to some degree. Still, that doesn’t have the same impact or presence as print. And so Ms. Maugans conceived a newsprint publication generated by the organizations themselves. She applied for a grant. She got funded. And she began to recruit peer organizations to join the effort. Thus the Cooperative Arts Network Journal was born.
Monday Liz and I met with about a dozen participating galleries and other organizations that will be a part of the project. About 22 are committed so far. CAN Journal will be a printed introduction to the galleries and other visual arts organizations sprinkled around the Cleveland area. The people who run the galleries will be the reporters: they’ll interview each other and write profiles of their colleagues’ venues. I have the pleasure of editing their work, and working with my former Free Times / Scene colleague, art writer extraordinaire Douglas Max Utter.
CAN Journalwill be distributed at participating galleries. It’s a one-time resource for now, but could become annual.
This is how the arts community looks after itself. This is pulling yourself up by your bootstraps—with a little help from the Ohio Arts Council, of course. This is the kind of thing that all of Cleveland—not just the arts organizations—must do: If you need a tool, make it yourself. Yes, you CAN.