Behind the Grant: Community Arts Education Leadership Institute (CAELI) rejuvenates Cleveland’s leaders

Erik Mann and CCGS student Martez Price during an interview with CBS Radio

Guest blog post by  Erik Mann, executive director of the Cleveland Classical Guitar Society (CCGS) and instructor at the Cleveland Institute of Music

3 PM. Time to call. My thoughts swirling down to my stomach, I dial, give a pleasant greeting, turn away from the phone, and break down in tears.

To be honest, I’m not especially a heart-on-your-sleeve kind of person. But CAELI just gets down to what matters most, and this time the stakes couldn’t have been higher.

CAELI, the Community Arts Education Leadership Institute, accepts 25 arts education administrators from around the country for a 5-day on-site intensive, preceded by a 360 review and followed by coachings by phone. These aren’t typical classes. CAELI is about digging deep, exploring core values, and creating space. It’s about deep questions such as who you are and why you do what you do.

By the time I attended CAELI’s on-site program in July 2015, I had led the Cleveland Classical Guitar Society for 6 years. I had discovered both the potential of the classical guitar as an agent for social change and discovered a vast number of kids in Cleveland without access to hands-on musical instruction. I had found within myself an immense drive to help them- after all, music saved my life when I was a teen. But the job had a personal cost: at the point of CAELI’s on-site intensive I was working long hours, facing rapid burnout, and had wrapped my identity up with the organization. I was two months away from becoming a first-time parent and I wasn’t willing to miss the first year of my son’s life as I tried to get out of this situation I had created.

During the on-site training I discovered my deep potential for change. Yet a month later as I was preparing for my first coaching I had to admit to myself just how quickly I had fallen into old habits. I was about to enter the busiest part of the year, it was now only a month from the birth of my child, and nothing had changed. A greater wasted opportunity can hardly be imagined. In this mindset I picked up the phone for my first coaching.

The coachings are one of the many brilliant design elements of CAELI. The lessons I learned onsite were not only applied to my situation, but magnified. It was understood that personal and professional life are inseparable. As a direct result of CAELI’s training and coaching our organization is now undergoing restructuring and already increasing our impact, while I’ve found renewed passion for my work and room for my beautiful son.

The Cleveland Foundation has invested in the Community Arts Education Leadership Institute, including providing full scholarships to two Cleveland leaders each year. I am humbled to have been chosen, and grateful beyond words to CAELI and the Cleveland Foundation. I talk to many arts leaders who deal with problems similar to mine, and many CAELI alumni who have undergone similar transformative growth. As long as our community values arts education, I can think of no greater investment than CAELI.


Erik Mann is executive director of the Cleveland Classical Guitar Society and teaches for the Cleveland Institute of Music. After moving from Maryland to pursue his Master of Music degree at C.I.M. he fell in love with Cleveland.