Dreaming Big About Cleveland’s Music and Arts Scene

The Plain Dealer

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Dreaming Big About Cleveland’s Music and Arts Scene:

By Mark Naymik

Sid and Bruce Good believe it’s time for Northeast Ohio to play to a younger audience. These guys make a living advising companies on how to market their products to kids, but what they are talking about in selling Cleveland are the media savvy youth and adults interested in the region’s arts.

The Good brothers are among the Clevelanders who shared ideas with me after I wrote a recent column calling for an end to the Comeback City theme embedded in our region’s marketing. The tired argument is too focused on buildings, not enough on people. Heartened by feedback, I plan to occasionally introduce readers to ideas being kicked around town.

The Good brothers have been pushing an effort to rebrand and reorganize the region’s marketing around the concept “Play Cleveland.”

They want to see marketing leaders — or the city, the county or a non-profit group — better leverage our many cultural strengths, particularly the music scene. I can’t explain or critique any idea fully in 18 inches but the concept is worth debating.

Their plan calls for creating a new website — playcleveland.com — that goes beyond the kind of listings that dominate entertainment websites about the region.

Playcleveland.com, as the Goods envision it, is one focused on the arts. It links music lovers, for instance, to local concert clubs and venues, tickets, related social media sites and blogs, and to local artists themselves. The site would offer the same level of interconnectedness for theaters and museums.

“It’s wrapping a ribbon around the events that happen all year along,” Sid Good said.

Smartly, they are not overly focused on the website itself. They want to foster more cooperation among myriad organizations and artists within each subgroup of the arts. It’s easy to see the potential within the rock scene, but the Goods say the region can’t forget genres like classical music. There’s a dozen or so groups or events just within this genre, which include the Baldwin-Wallace Bach Festival, Cleveland Chamber Music Society, Cleveland Pops Orchestra and the Cavani String Quartet.

To kick-off a “Play Cleveland” campaign, the Goods are floating the idea of the region producing a large music festival featuring an array of big and small acts at venues from Cleveland Browns Stadium to neighborhood clubs. The goal is to wake up the country to all Cleveland has to offer on the music front. The Goods point out that Austin, Texas, which hosts the popular South by Southwest Music Festival, has successfully leveraged its music scene as “The Live Music Capital of the World.”

Cleveland arguably has more quantity and quality.

“Cleveland is the go-to place for music – especially classical, in all its permutations,” Sid Good said. “How we connect the dots and leverage it most effectively remains to be the big opportunity.”

I’m not holding the Good brothers liable for the pitfalls and land mines of working with such dominating institutions as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and the Cleveland Orchestra, or numerous turf battles that will surely arise among Northeast Ohio’s marketing groups, or the near impenetrable ticket and concert venue industry. Nor do I fault them for overlapping a bit with some existing marketing around the arts.

They are just spit-balling.

Positively Cleveland — the convention and visitors bureau — handles the most visible marketing for the region. It’s trying to develop a plan to better leverage the new casino and medical mart and the region’s cultural strengths. By its very nature, the organization and its website serves too many masters, from water parks to Metro Parks, from limo companies to hotels. The site has been improved to appeal more to individual visitors, but it still feels too geared to the business-to-business travelers. When searching for restaurants on the site, the first thing you find is a listing of a dozen Bob Evans, which are listed as some kind of “featured partner.” And no offense to the innovative leaders behind Playhouse Square and the Allen Theatre, but these people don’t belong on the cover of our visitors guide. It’s like offering a picture of Browns owner Randy Lerner on the game-day program instead of a shot of player such as Peyton Hillis.

I don’t have a simple solution for how to sell Greater Cleveland. The Goods don’t either. But they are giving us something I believe the region is full of: constructive ideas.

We just need to listen.