Cleveland Rocks: A Stalwart Funder Expands Its Portfolio of Regional Arts Giving

 photo: f11photo/shutterstock

photo: f11photo/shutterstock

The KeyBank Foundation "strives to be the long tentpole in all the communities we serve," according to KeyCorp CEO Beth Mooney. "How do we make sure we are part of thriving communities? We believe access to arts and culture is core to that mission."

That kind of language from a corporate funder is music to the ears of arts organizations, which have fretted about declining business support in recent years. KeyBank Foundation is a case study of one corporate funder that still believes deeply in the arts, seeing it as a driver of community revitalization. 

The list of regional art organizations receiving support from KeyBank includes Playhouse Square, the Cleveland Orchestra, Cleveland Museum of Art, and now, the Cleveland-based Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which recently netted a $10 million donation—the largest in its history.

The funding, which will be spread across five years, is earmarked for funding an "ongoing and expanding series of improvements," and represents an impressive yield for a museum that, according to CEO Greg Harris, had "grown stale" as it approached its 20th birthday in 2015.

"All of our survey work reinforced that it was time to amp it up," he said, adding, "It was a great place for the first 20 years. Now, we're fueling it for the next 20."

In response, the hall opened several major attractions, including the Power of Rock Experience, an immersive film focused on the inductions, the new the Hall of Fame Floor, with an interactive "Voice Your Choice" exhibit, and additional concerts and programs designed to engage visitors.

Visitors responded enthusiastically. Attendance has increased dramatically over the past three years, up nearly 30 percent to 568,000 in 2017.

Donors found a lot to like, as well. In 2017, the Connor Foundation, along with Sara and Christopher Connor, the retired executive chairman of Sherwin-Williams Co., donated $9 million. In return, the hall named its new movie venue the Connor Theater, which houses the Power of Rock Experience.

And earlier this year, PNC Bank and the PNC Foundation announced a $4.1 million gift to the Rock Hall for youth education and community engagement programs.

Which brings me back to the KeyBank Foundation and its impressive reach across Northeast Ohio.

Its main focus areas include education, affordable housing and workforce training. Previous IP coverage has focused on the foundation's support for minority candidates interested in museum leadership careers, public space development and preservation efforts, and organizations that have transformed Cleveland into a modern theater mecca.

In many ways, KeyBank's giving profile contains the best of both worlds: a diverse portfolio commonly associated nationally focused funders superimposed on a discrete region of the country. Its historic gift to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is but another manifestation of what CEO Mooney called its "long tentpole" of support to Northeast Ohio's thriving arts ecosystem.

Looking ahead, recent news suggests the foundation will be setting its sights a bit further east. In 2016, KeyBank purchased the Buffalo-based First Niagara Bank and committed $20 million to the latter’s foundation. When the banks merged, they agreed that the two foundations would coordinate their impact, and that First Niagara's grants would focus on western New York.

True to form, last year, KeyBank committed $24 million—its largest grant to date—to support small business and entrepreneurship, giving some of those resources to western New York.