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Cleveland turns to an `old' industry to buff its image: the arts

The fight to keep Cleveland attractive is not over. This port city in America's industrial ``rust belt'' has been fighting back in recent years with a war on urban decay, efforts to replace lost steel and automaking jobs, and various attempts to buff up its tarnished image. The latest effort began last month with the ``Bravo, Cleveland!'' campaign, which focuses on an area city boosters and marketing gurus might not have expected to be the city's strong suit: arts institutions.

Leaders of foundations, businesses, and politics in Cleveland believe the city's world-class orchestra and art museum, as well as the unusually rich cluster of theatrical, dance, opera, and other cultural institutions in Cleveland, are like heirloom silver - treasures that can be exploited in tough times - to attract visitors and jobs.

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``Let's face it,'' says George Miller, executive director of the campaign, ``arts and culture provide a great many jobs in this community, and they provide an extra dimension, an extra level of credentials for us.

``In the [corporate] recruitment and relocation process,'' Mr. Miller continues, ``they can only give us an edge in creating a favorable response from ... the skilled worker and his family that we want to bring here.''

Miller is also president of the New Cleveland Campaign, a nine-year-old image-building effort chaired by Thomas Vail, publisher and editor of the city's leading newspaper, the Plain Dealer. The force behind the latest campaign is a community foundation, America's first, started in 1914 by Frederick Goff, attorney for John D. Rockefeller during the latter's many years of residence in Cleveland.

When the oil tycoon decided to return to New York, Mr. Goff was saddened by the city's loss of the Rockefeller largess. So he came up with a plan that would allow people to give money - mostly in their wills - to a trust department in a bank, and an independent distribution committee to give away the income for the benefit of the community.

Thousands of people have contributed gifts from $1 up to $36 million to the Cleveland Foundation, whose assets today total nearly $480 million. The idea has been copied in 250 other cities.

The foundation has long helped support the Cleveland Orchestra, the city's Natural History Museum, and Karamu House, an interracial theater and arts center. In the 1970s, it also helped fund a major expansion at the Great Lakes Theater Festival and helped launch and sustain the Cleveland Ballet and Cleveland Opera companies.

About three years ago, with the Cleveland Play House being completed east of downtown and with restored vaudeville houses starting to open as part of the 6,800-seat Playhouse Square arts complex, members of the foundation's distribution committee began to get worried.

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Patricia Jansen Doyle, the foundation's program officer for cultural affairs, recalls them saying: ```We've created all these performance spaces. Are we really going to have enough people to fill them?'''

Consultants were called in and a major marketing survey was initiated.

A telephone survey found that 55 percent of adults in Cuyahoga County had attended one of the arts functions (or an Indians or Browns game) in Cleveland over the previous 12 months. Over half of those attending had household incomes of less than $30,000 a year, and those with more money attended more often.

Another survey found that a very high percentage of people who live within 2 hours' driving time of Cleveland had attended at least one arts event, either in Cleveland or closer to home in the previous year. The great majority of those surveyed were willing to drive several hours to see something of interest, and most expressed a willingness to stay overnight and see several attractions during such a visit.

The implications were clear: Those halls and museums could be filled - and the city's reputation enhanced - by attracting more arts patrons to Cleveland. Now 21 arts organizations have banded together with the foundation in the ``Bravo, Cleveland!'' campaign.

Publicity and direct mail campaigns offer 100,000 potential arts users discount cultural, hotel, and restaurant coupons, calendars of events, and the opportunity to request detailed information on member organizations.

Marketing specialists estimate the campaign could attract 50,000 additional households a year, with a revenue potential of $2.6 million from ticket sales, meals, hotels, and shopping.

It's too early to say whether the campaign will work. But Kenneth Haas, who became managing director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra this year, after leaving the same post with the Cleveland Orchestra, thinks prospects are good. During his nearly 17 years in Cleveland, the arts were ``consistently progressing in a very healthy way,'' says Mr. Haas.

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