Herbert E. Strawbridge, Arts Patron and Advocate


Herbert E. Strawbridge was at the center of much of the creative thinking that began to bring Cleveland back to life after years of decline—and he saw to it that the arts played a meaningful role in that renewal. In addition to being a founding or longtime member of core civic organizations such as Leadership Cleveland, the Greater Cleveland Growth Association, the Convention and Visitors Bureau of Greater Cleveland and University Circle, Incorporated, he championed, supported and inspired the Cleveland arts community with his visionary leadership and strategically awarded resources from the philanthropies—the Kulas Foundation and the John P. Murphy Foundation—he managed.

It was Strawbridge’s ability to envision new uses for neglected parts of the city that sparked the idea of redeveloping Cleveland's industrial river valley, dubbed the Flats. His pioneering reinvestment in decrepit buildings overlooking the Cuyahoga River inspired others to see the possible in a seemingly lost cause. Similarly, when Cleveland Ballet despaired of climbing out of a multimillion-dollar debt in 1993, Strawbridge encouraged the Murphy Foundation to make a major challenge grant to spur the ballet on to achieve solvency and make a fresh start.

When the Cleveland Orchestra became concerned about the graying of its audience, he convened a committee to explore the possibility of the orchestra’s sponsoring jazz performances at Severance Hall. Since its founding in 1995, the resulting “Jazz on the Circle” concert series has grown annually in popularity and professionalism. The series has brought new audiences to Severance Hall and introduced classical music audiences to a fine new genre.

It would be difficult to count the number of pianos, violins and trumpets that the Kulas Foundation, under Strawbridge’s leadership, has purchased so that area schoolchildren might learn to play music. It would be equally hard to measure the impact his advocacy of free and discounted student tickets has had on the lives of young people who otherwise would not have had a chance to attend live arts performances.

Until Strawbridge's death in 2000, no gathering of local arts leaders would consider taking a major step without his advice and counsel. His practical line of inquiry and shining optimism were essential to good decision-making throughout Cleveland's cultural community for more than 30 years.

Cleveland Arts Prize
P.O. Box 21126 • Cleveland, OH 44121 • 440-523-9889 • info@clevelandartsprize.org