Funders Love This Nonprofit Helping to Remake Cleveland’s Public Spaces

You might not expect it, but a lot of cool stuff is happening with Cleveland’s public spaces lately. A nonprofit called LAND Studios is involved in a lot of it, and the group is pulling in a ton of support for its work to shake up the city.  

Cleveland has a few serious funders invested in community projects and a resurgence of the city, including George Gund Foundation and the Cleveland Foundation. We’ve written about some interesting trails projects going on there, and attempts to turn the previously industrial lakefront land into thriving green space. One of the key players in these projects is LAND Studios, a nonprofit that has become increasingly prominent in the city since it started. 

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It seems like where there’s funding for public spaces, there’s LAND. And funders of all sorts are entrusting the group with millions in donations to carry out this work. The biggest step in the group’s progression is a project to transform downtown Cleveland’s Public Square, a $32 million project that LAND is shepherding. The Cleveland Foundation pledged $8 million, Gund Foundation pledged $5 million, KeyBank is giving $4 million, and the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District is committing $3 million for green infrastructure in the makeover. 

The Public Square project is big news, but LAND has received a bunch of other support for its work. Gund just awarded it $350,000 in operating support for the second year in a row, plus other six-figure grants for individual projects. LAND is also involved in a project with the Trust for Public Land and other partners to build more trails connecting the city to the lakefront. The Cleveland Foundation gave that project $5 million in 2014, and also gave the group more than half a million in support in 2013. 

But the nonprofit has been involved in dozens of other ongoing or completed projects in Cleveland, including several green spaces, a skatepark, a popular lights festival, and several public art projects. And it has a truly amazing list of diverse supporters, including family foundations, public entities, corporations, and other nonprofits.

To understand why LAND has been so successful and how it’s been involved in so many different endeavors, it’s important to know that it’s actually a product of a merger between two longstanding Cleveland nonprofits. In 2011, ParkWorks and Cleveland Public Art, which had been working in parallel for decades, decided to combine and become LAND Studios. 

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The merger allowed the groups to consolidate their efforts behind a common mission of revitalizing the city’s public places, and really allows it to be a leader in pretty much anything that’s going on in civic improvement. The nonprofits brought their expertise and connections under one roof, making one go-to group (ParkWorks has landed some big-name landscape architects for past projects). 

That’s the cool thing about LAND that seems to be working in Cleveland; it's removed the division between what could be seen as interest groups pushing for either green space or the arts, replacing it with a common goal to make the open-air spaces of Cleveland exciting. That’s a mission a wide range of stakeholders will apparently line up to support.