Dwindling Cigarette Sales Mean Cuts for Cuyahoga Arts Organizations

Nov 14, 2017

A record 257 arts and cultural organizations in Cuyahoga County will share nearly $12-million-worth of funding from a cigarette tax this coming year.  Who gets what was announced in a public meeting last night.  But not everybody is celebrating. Those tax revenues are on a steady downward trend.

The Cleveland Orchestra is getting about a 26 percent cut in funding due to dwindling cigarette sales.  Speaking for the Musical Arts Association which governs the Orchestra, David Hooker said the cut took his organization by surprise.

"We think the fair way to go about this is to show us how they reached that conclusion," Hooker said. "The fair thing to do is to let us all see what they’re doing.  And we don’t feel like we’ve got those answers yet."

Cuyahoga Arts and Culture (CAC) distributes the smoking tax revenues, and they announced planned funding cuts last month. But CAC said the larger cuts this cycle are part of a 10-year program that will soften over time and promote a level of budgeting predictability for the grantees.

Speaking for the Cleveland Botanical Garden, Tara Turner said the 32-percent cut to her organization’s grant this year was tough, but they knew something like it was coming.

"Ultimately, there are (fewer) dollars to go around," Turner said. "We have to accept that fact and we have to be grateful for the money that we’re getting from them and will be getting from them in a very consistent way for a period of time."

85 percent of this round of grants will go for general operating support for organizations like the Botanical Gardens and the Orchestra.  The remaining 15 percent supports special projects, ranging from the Chagrin Documentary Film Festival to the West Creek Conservancy.

CAC executive director Karen Gahl-Mills argues that her staff made a concerted effort to inform all stakeholders that the cuts were coming.

"It’s difficult news," Gahl-Mills said. "And we understand that difficult news is sometimes hard to hear. We are absolutely committed to talking with organizations about this financial decision, helping them understand how it plays out for them."

Gahl-Mills says CAC will hold a public meeting in January to discuss the decision and formulate ways to improve the process.