Proposal for NEO community to develop REALNEO, May Show and Cleveland School

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Fri, 07/28/2006 - 01:43.

I returned to Northeast Ohio, over two years ago, to help drive forward progress with regional economic development and arts and culture, focusing on helping the community leverage free and open source software (FOSS) and social computing to transform how we collaborate, communicate and operate. For nearly 10 years, my belief has been if we, as a region, focus on using the best available information technology (IT) in the most effective ways possible, that will provide us with competitive advantages. My intention for REALNEO has been to demonstrate that purpose.

I am now more certain than ever that is the case, but I have found it personally difficult to bring people together around a collaborative strategy to make that happen. Just as critics of economic development progress in NEO claim the leaders of the economic development space do not collaborate well in some ways, I find they are not open to collaborate on sharing information technology purposes... perhaps from a sense of competitiveness, lack of understanding of next generation IT, lock-in and loyalty to legacy IT solutions and providers, resistance to change, and the unfamiliar purposes and intentions demonstrated by FOSS and social computing.

To address all these challenges, consider an outcome of two fascinating on-line REALNEO discussions with a member in the UK - one on collaboration and the other on NOLA Lessons Learned for NEO - which developed a formula for collaboration that may be applied to this situation and open doors for a remarkable outcome for this community:


Back in 2004, when I launched REALNEO, the purpose of the initiative was not made sufficiently clear, defined and articulated to the community. REALNEO introduced FOSS and social computing to a community with very limited collective knowledge of and experience with such IT, and the community was not sufficiently included in defining the the intention and purpose. Thus, there has not been sufficient collective sharing of knowledge and dialog about REALNEO for the community to feel included and develop shared intentions and purpose and thus COLLABORATE toward higher purposes supported by the virtual collaboration and technology.

To address all these realities, challenges and opportunities, I discussed today with counsel at Thompson Hine what we should do about REALNEO. We came up with some thoughts I'd like to share with the community.

I never intended to own REALNEO and do not want to do so today or going forward in my work. I do, however, want REALNEO - or something very much like to - available to me as a community resource. My intention in developing REALNEO was to establish, in the specific context of Northeast Ohio, a word-class social network for economic development - communication - collaboration - socializing - many great things, only possible through world class social computing technology.

There is a unique value in this purpose, in the context of proximity and regional familiarity, that is not possible through the generalized, global social networks provided from afar, nor the 1,000s of blogs, portals and websites maintained around this region. Thus, there has always been a gap in the NEO cyberspace that REALNEO is well positioned to fill.

I am more confident than ever that, when I deployed on the Linux platform using the Drupal FOSS content management system (CMS), I chose the right technology for the purposes I state here... we are on a firm technology foundation with REALNEO for moving forward. And, as the technology is in constant evolution, and already in many ways several generations and many modules and themes ahead of what you see at REALNEO, we have much work ahead just to explore the power already in our hands, much less test boundaries and push envelopes of design, implementation, and architectural limitations... we have plenty of growing room going forward, without any major foundational changes.

What does need to change, immediately, is the ownership, management and future planning ot REALNEO - the collaboration. I have asked Thompson Hine to establish a non-profit entity to own REALNEO, and to help establish a structure for it to be sustainable with me as just a member, like all others included in the community. It thus needs a charter, management team, bylaws, strategy and funding model for the future.

As REALNEO will be a non-profit, it will be able to pursue non-profit type support. As REALNEO also has significant traffic, which will certainly grow, it is positioned to generate revenues. Depending on the purpose intended for REALNEO in the future, it should be sustainable with a volunteer board and small fairly paid management team, receiving a range of revenues and donated funds and services, with very little expense and so limited need for funding. I actually believe the economic potentials of REALNEO are far greater than that, but that is for the community to determine - I will support collaborative decisions.

Thompson Hine will assist in structuring all this with their expert legal services, so we have excellent legal advice that is completely actionable. In the next week or so I expect we will have some initial suggestions from them on how this should be structured, and I will make the effort to pull together the initial management team and board that can collaborate in taking this forward as a community. From then on, the future will be in the hands of the NEO community that chooses to support the collaboration.

There are a few other assets I own that I would like to add to this collaboration, if it is found to be a good fit with what is planned for REALNEO and the community. Two years ago, when I returned to Cleveland, and was exploring names and brands that are important to NEO and may be good identities for community development portals here, I determined two of the most important brands in Cleveland arts history were floating in the public domain and so at risk of corruption - May Show and Cleveland School - so I registered them with the Ohio Secretary of State, for the public good.

Those who know NEO and the arts know these arts identities and will understand why it is important to protect their legacies and true meanings, while we may redefine their purposes for the benefit of the region for the future, through community collaboration.

To learn a bit about the Cleveland School, consider from an excellent website by NEO art expert Mark Bassett:

The term "Cleveland School" was first used by Elrick Davis in a 1928 article for the Cleveland Press, titled "Cleveland's Art Pioneers Have Put City in Front Rank in Creative Field." According to Davis, a cohesive group of artists and craftsmen working in Northeastern Ohio and sharing a vision of art and community can be traced back to the 1870s, when a "little volunteer life class organized in A.M. Willard's studio in the attic of the Old City Hall." (Willard himself is best known as the painter of Spirit of '76.) By working in close proximity with one another, they shared ideas and techniques--particularly in such media as watercolor and ceramics. This group--together with others interested in the arts--soon "organized the Cleveland Academy of Art. They had a program. It included foundation of a regular art school; the building of an art museum; regular series of art exhibitions; encouragement of private collectors and patrons of the arts; publication of an art magazine, and the teaching of drawing in the public schools."

It is also important to note:

Cleveland Artists Foundation is a non-profit regional art history and education organization that was founded in 1984. Initially, CAF's mission of preserving, exhibiting, actively collecting, and researching the artistic heritage of Northeast Ohio focused primarily on a group of artists known as the "Cleveland School" who were active from 1900-1950. Over the past several years, CAF has broadened its historical scope to integrate the contributions of artists who were active before and since the "Cleveland School." In particular, CAF now devotes attention to the achievements of the most significant artists in Northeast Ohio whose period of productivity has encompassed all or part of the past 50 years. By broadening its earlier scope in this manner, CAF has created a forum that encourages a more comprehensive discussion of artistic traditions and innovations in Cleveland, both as they define the region and as they relate to current national and international artistic concerns.

Regarding the May Show, from the Cleveland Museum of Art website (which has the May Show archives), and it is worth reading the entire history there:

For almost 75 years the May Show served as a forum for highlighting the vitality, creativity, and variety of the arts of Cleveland and the Western Reserve. The first director of The Cleveland Museum of Art, Frederic Allen Whiting, championed craftsmanship and the support of local artists. In a January 6, 1914 report to the Board of Trustees, Whiting recommended the establishment of "an annual exhibition of Ohio born or trained artists, to be managed by a Jury and hanging committee chosen by the exhibiting artists." Influenced by Whiting's vision, The Cleveland Art Association exhibited the works of local artists in their Fifth Spring Exhibition, held at the Cleveland Museum of Art. The museum officially stepped in and organized the First Annual Exhibition of Artists in 1919. The Cleveland Art Association remained a supporter in subsequent years.

The forum of the May Show changed with the economic climate, the demands of the artists, and the ideology of the museum's director. The exhibition began as a regional show highlighting craftsmanship in Cuyahoga County. In 1919, thirty-three categories dictated the type of art entered, with the number of categories peaking at forty-four in 1920. During the Depression, Milliken sought to use the May Show as a means for local artists and craftsman to support themselves through the sale of their work. Artists were allowed to enter up to twenty items in the crafts categories, with the museum encouraging duplicate sales.

The third major change began in 1961, with the expansion of the geographic area from which artists could enter, from solely Cuyahoga County to all thirteen counties of the Western Reserve. From 1977 to the end of the show, artists born in any of the thirteen counties could submit works to the exhibition even if they no longer lived in the region.

In meeting today with Thompson Hine, about bringing REALNEO forth into a true regional community collaboration, I proposed to include in that the Cleveland School and the May Show, for obvious reasons. I saved these names to protect them for the community, so it has always been my intent for them to be in a community trust. But they are too valuable - too well loved and known - not to put them to good use for the economic development of the region. The fact is, both "brands" are globally known, loved and trusted and it is now time to put them in a safe environment where the community feels included in their future, and may dialog on what that future should be. In my opinion, they should be further strengthened as we are "highlighting the vitality, creativity, and variety of the arts of Cleveland and the Western Reserve," "as a means for local artists and craftsman to support themselves through the sale of their work." This is consistent with the strong regional initiative today to leverage the arts in NEO as a global strength of our economy for the future.

To those who agree, I give you REALNEO, May Show, and Cleveland School, for community collaboration, and I seek to include you now in dialog to develop collective knowledge to establish our regional intentions to optimize social computing and these identities for optimal economic development in this region. Please feel free to comment, as we formalize this collaboration.

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