Many local arts groups miss out on state funds

Last month, the Ohio Arts Council awarded $18.2 million in grants to arts organizations statewide.

Not surprisingly, a lot of the money went to the three C’s — Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati — but Mahoning County didn’t fare poorly.

Led by $115,871 awarded to the Butler Institute of American Art, Mahoning institutions received nine grants totalling $166,501. The county that makes up slightly less than 2 percent of the state’s population received about 1 percent of the money.

Trumbull County, however, received only two grants for $5,629 combined. Though it’s home to 1.7 percent of the state’ population, it received about 3/100th of 1 percent of the money allotted.

It’s not a case of either county being denied funding.


“One hundred percent of the applications from Trumbull and Mahoning counties were funded,” said OAC Executive Director Donna S. Collins. “We did not turn down any applications from your counties.”

OAC makes a concerted effort to fund projects in every part of the state, she said. A decade ago, only about 65 of Ohio’s 88 counties received any OAC grants. For the last seven years, funding has gone to all 88 counties.

While COVID-19 limited travel in 2020 and 2021, OAC also is sending staffers into the communities to talk to arts organizations about what is available to them.

Organizational Programs Coordinator Patrick Roehrenbeck “will be in Youngstown Monday talking with folks at the Butler and the McDonough Museum of Art,” Collins said. “We have made it one of our goals to travel, to visit people on the ground.”

Medici Museum of Art in Howland received its first-ever OAC grant of $2,909, which will be used to support the September exhibition “Building Bridges Across Age,” featuring work created by older artists suffering from dementia, and a series of lunch and learn programs in conjunction with the show.

Medici Director Katelyn Amendolara-Russo said the application portal was easy to use online, and it should be simpler in the future since she won’t need to re-enter some of the information for future applications.

Earlier this year Medici displayed the 2021 Biennial Exhibition organized by the OAC at its Riffe Gallery in Columbus, and future exhibitions will move from Riffe Gallery to Medici as well.

“Now that we have a closer relationship, I’m definitely going to take advantage of it,” Amendolara-Russo said. “We’re hopeful in 2023-24 of getting more grants. There’s a lot out there. I just don’t think a lot are taking advantage of it.”

The other Trumbull grant went to Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership with $2,720 to be used for banners, public art and installations at one of the locations for its Healthy Corner Store Initiative.

In addition to the Butler, OAC 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.


William Mullane of Warren, who received a 2022 Governor’s Award for the Arts and has applied for many grants over the years as a past chairman of the Fine Arts Council of Trumbull County and a member of other arts boards, said one of the biggest problems facing Trumbull 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 staged events such as Celebration on the Square and Opening Night in the 1980s and ’90s.

“With all-volunteer organizations, even if there is someone interested in starting the process, they leave or get transferred, and then there’s nobody 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 is possible with full-time staff to navigate the grant application process.

In the last five years, TCHS has received more than $1.3 million in grant funding, including several prestigious federal grants, Reed said. But getting to the point where the organization could secure federal grants took several years of laying the groundwork locally.

“I was hired part-time at first with the understanding that if it works, I would grow my hours and salary,” Reed said. “In the third year, I became full time, but it wasn’t grant funding (that made it possible), it was increased membership dues, starting an annual appeal, doing 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 professionals in historic preservation. She added the historical society wouldn’t quality for those federal grants without full-time staff, which is a prerequisite.

Those grants also must be used for specific projects, such as preservation of the society’s artifacts and historical records. TCHS has to detail in the grant application how the funding will be used as well as send documentation after being approved to prove it was used for its intended purpose.


Most of the OAC grants also are tied to specific projects and have similar requirements. One of the perks of the Butler’s funding is that it’s a sustainability grant, which means it can be used for day-to-day operations of the museum (salaries, health insurance, utilities, etc.) instead of a specific exhibition or project.

Rebecca Davis, development director for the Butler, said, “It’s important to me to get that grant, and it’s an accomplishment. To get that grant, you have to have all of your ducks in a row.”

The Butler is competing against much larger institutions in the state, such as the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and the Cleveland Museum of Art, for those sustainability funds.

“I was excited we scored higher than the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame,” Davis said.

An arts organization needs to receive two program grants from OAC in a four-year period in order to apply for a sustainability grant.

Davis has been development director for eight years, and she also wrote grant applications in her previous position as collections manager at the Butler.

While there was a learning process in educating herself how to navigate the system, Davis said, “The Ohio Arts Council staff is pretty top notch and amazing. They are there to help you, and I’ve always gotten responses to questions when I’ve asked. They want organizations to get money, to utilize them, to ask them for help.”


Collins urged any organization having trouble applying for funding online to contact the OAC for guidance on using that system. Staff also will work with those who aren’t comfortable applying online.

The hearings where OAC panels evaluate grant requests are open to the public, and Davis recommended that groups looking for funding can learn a lot by listening to those discussions. The public also can apply to sit on those panels, which Davis has done.

“It was a lot of work, but it was an amazing educational experience for me,” she said.

In the past, people had to travel to Columbus to attend those 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 online listening,” Collins said. “It’s like sitting in on a professional development session.”

A new program started by the Community Foundation of the Mahoning Valley also could help organizations navigate the grant-writing process. Its Nonprofit Mentoring Network will pair longstanding nonprofits with smaller groups looking to grow their organizations.

“It (grant applications) can be intimidating,” said Josh Medore, community relations and engagement coordinator for the foundation. “It’s a lot of numbers. People get scared they’ll put a decimal point in the wrong place. It makes a lot of people hesitate … Just getting started is the hard part.”

The foundation offered a budget workshop in May, and a second one is tentatively set 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 applications. Organizations bragging about their success stories with OAC funding allows the council to share those stories with the legislators and governor who approve its funding.

“We’d love to give 25 grants to Trumbull County,” Collins sad. “We’d love to be doing more with the arts organizations and the artists there.”



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