With an acting and theatrical resume that spans more than 20 years across Northeast Ohio — including work with Playhouse Square, Cleveland Play House, Karamu House, Cleveland Public Theatre and the Cleveland Metropolitan School District — Sheffia Dooley is the new president and CEO for the Center for Arts-Inspired Learning (CAL). An experienced arts administrator and leader, Dooley succeeds Marsha Dobrzynski, who retired this summer.
CL: What brought you to CAL?
DOOLEY: I have always been a fan of the organization and how it works with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District and other places of learning as a standard-bearer for quality, accessibility and sustainability. CAL has been leading the industry in arts education for 65 years. So, it made a lot of sense for me when the opportunity presented itself to go for it. It was also clear to me that the nonprofit arts sector in Cleveland needed more representation of people of color in leadership. It was time for me to take the leap and hopefully be a part of changing that dynamic. I am enormously proud of the many arts organizations in Cleveland that are beginning to activate their Diversity, Equity and Inclusion plans in this way. Black excellence includes artistic administration, as well. We must be at the tables, making those critical decisions on how the arts are developed and shared within our communities.
CL: What does the mission of CAL mean to you?
DOOLEY: The CAL mission is to ignite student learning, creativity and success through the arts in Northeast Ohio. To me, that means offering arts integration to schools to help students be better learners, providing skills training to young artists to grow in their artistry and championing community arts enrichment to help us all see and hear each other more clearly. Also, offering professional development to help teachers in their efforts to provide an exceptional education to our youth. The Center for Arts-Inspired Learning is a place where young people can explore the arts with arts professionals dedicated to nurturing, celebrating and supporting the artist within. I am thrilled and honored to be leading this charge.
CL: What are some barriers you have come across with keeping Black influence in art?
DOOLEY: To say that I have experienced obstacles of bias, conscious and unconscious, would not be surprising or new. I have experienced discrimination as a woman, Black woman, queer Black woman and artist to boot. As a result, many might question my ability to do all I do and have done. But I have been steeped in a long tradition of strength in the face of barriers. And with the support of so many champions, family, friends and mentors, I have been presented with many opportunities to learn, grow and imagine myself in ways far beyond what may have been expected.
CL: What new things can we expect for CAL for 2021, now that you are the CEO?
DOOLEY: If you know CAL, then you know that we care about the arts. We are about education. We are about access and equity. Coming on board as the new CEO, I am committed to listening to the community and driving inclusive and intentional arts programming while fortifying the organization’s financial backbone. Sustainability is a top priority so that our community partners and youth can continue experiencing the high-quality programming they have come to depend on with CAL.