Toledo's arts leaders are too independent, polite, and white, Mayor Jack Ford said yesterday. But there's hope for the city if they unite, get aggressive, and diversify.
“You need more flavor in this room,” the mayor told a gathering of 31 area arts leaders. “I look at your faces and I see gender diversity, but only one person of color in this room. Is there anyone here from the Hispanic community?”
The room was silent.
“You've got to work on that. That's 30 percent of the city,” he said. “[City government] will support your initiatives with extra dollars, within reason. The arts were a key plank in my election campaign, and I'll live and die politically on having the arts flourish here, even in hard economic times.”
Susan Reams, the mayor's new arts consultant, gathered the group together to ask if the city needs a “Council for Arts and Culture,” a city-sponsored umbrella group.
Their brainstorming skills soon filled a blackboard with reasons why the arts are good for Toledo. Some of the reasons:
The leaders agreed on a purpose: They need to share information among themselves, to market Toledo's arts offerings to the wider world, and to educate the populace on the wonders of creative expression.
Just how that can be achieved covered another blackboard.
“I want you to meet like this at least monthly, and I want you to get aggressive,” Mayor Ford told them. “You get aggressive with me, with the city, with the business and educational communities. ... We can become an elegant city. We are small enough to do this. We already have a lot of the critical pieces in place,” the mayor said.
The mayor spoke highly of Mrs. Reams and stressed his dream to “transform the city so it's special, so we're catapulted out of the mix.”
“We need you to struggle through and become one voice on the behalf of all of northwest Ohio,” he told the group. “My hope is, the day will come when we have an arts levy in Toledo. I envision a $6 million levy, a bridge to keep some of you from having to live quarter to quarter. Soon, I hope, people from all over the world will know that Toledo stands number one when it comes to the arts.”
After Mr. Ford left the Government Center conference room, Mrs. Reams sat up in her chair. “Well,” she said. “I guess we got our marching orders!”
The gathering decided to seek input from other arts groups before forming an entity or discussing how to fund itself.
It will reconvene, in an expanded form, sometime in June.