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About . Leadership . Office of the President 

Office of the President

Further thoughts on art, race and CIA

June 10, 2020

Last week, I articulated CIA’s position on the all-too-pervasive police violence against African Americans, stating our school’s commitment to the safety and dignity of all in our community. While I was heartened by the generally positive feedback I received, I also heard from alumni and students who pointed out that the statement compromised the impact of its message by failing to more directly assert support.

So let me be clearer: Black lives matterBlack artists matter.

CIA is committed to empowering Black students. We want their art and design careers to allow them to flourish personally, economically and artistically as a means through which to express observations, aspirations and cultural critique. 

Over the last 10 years, our commitment has manifested an increase in Black and Brown students at CIA from 5 percent of the student body to 34 percent. We also have significantly increased the financial aid to students from socially and economically disadvantaged populations. We have worked with such organizations as NewBridge Cleveland, Graffiti HeArt, and the Cleveland Metropolitan School District to provide free training in art and emotional intelligence to high school students. 

We also strive to have a faculty, staff and board that reflect our student body. In this effort, we have fallen short of our goals, but we continue to work on it. We must do better. 

Likewise, we see opportunities for more meaningful conversations in our studios and classrooms around art and race. If non-Black students and faculty lack an understanding of the reference points that underlie Black students’ works, critiques often become awkward and hesitant, or produce silence. We need to break that silence and by doing so, we model behaviors that can impact discourse outside of CIA. That desire for dialogue, along with the current manifestation of our 400 years of racial injustice and police persecution, present us with a moment of necessity.

So, what are we doing now?   

Raising the bar. The College is forming a task force on diversity, equity and inclusion. The goal will be to make meaningful, ongoing improvements in areas I’ve already mentioned and to identify and address others. 

Expanding knowledge. All College leaders at the executive level and on the board of directors will participate in equity training. Training for faculty and staff will follow.

Beginning the dialogue. We are looking forward to hosting the first in a series of conversations about art, race, and critique. I am in active discussions with an artist and leadership coach, who is both Black and Indigenous, to help us facilitate these conversations. I will share details soon and I hope you will participate.

Decolonizing our curriculum. Over the next year, we will work with faculty to ensure inclusive pedagogy, and to identify and address systemic racism in our curricular content and design.

Embracing a fuller history. Beginning this year, CIA will observe Juneteenth as an official school holiday. Juneteenth celebrates June 19, 1865, when the Emancipation Proclamation was finally read in Texas. There—more than two years after the proclamation had been officially adopted—Black Americans were still enslaved. Juneteenth signifies a crucial moment in the fight for freedom.

Listening more carefully. Finally, while we continue to take action, we want you to know that our hearts, minds and ears are always open. If you have any comments, questions or ideas, I invite you to share them with me at

Reporting back. We will stay in touch with you regarding our progress and continued areas of challenge.

I am so proud of the talent and achievements of our Black students, alumni and faculty. In this time of suspicion and despair, I am reaching out with a pledge: We will do better. 

I share with you my optimism, too, that artists are already beginning to forge a new age of justice, wonder and peace.  


Cleveland institute of Art president Grafton Nunes

CIA Mission

To nurture the intellectual, artistic, and professional development of students and community members through rigorous visual arts and design education.

CIA Vision

To advance culture, community, and global quality of life.