Cincinnati’s May Festival Chorus is extraordinary for many reasons—it’s the oldest continuous choral festival in the Western Hemisphere, it serves as the chorus for the world-class Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra throughout the year, and perhaps most surprisingly, it is made up entirely of volunteers. Over 100 men and women ages 18 to 70+ rehearse at least three hours each week from September through May to bring choral masterworks and new commissions to the region.
The May Festival Chorus draws its membership from all over the Tri-State and from all different backgrounds, bringing people together who might never otherwise have met, but who share a passion and dedication for vocal music. Many chorus members have been singing with the choir for several years—or even decades -- and the friendships and partnerships they make in the process enrich their lives and our community in surprising ways.
Lauren Peters began singing with the chorus eight years ago, shortly after moving to Mason. She enjoys singing with her husband, a former member of the May Festival Youth Chorus, and says that the process keeps her connected to her artistic roots. “Many of our closest friends are in the chorus. There are several people we socialize with on a regular basis...and former chorus members that we've remained close to. For many of us, it's like a second family.”
Lauren is also a member of Cincapella, a small vocal group that experiments with more contemporary pop music and performs at small local venues like art galleries and Northside Tavern. Many chorus members sing with their church and temple choirs, on local community theatre stages, and in small events throughout the region.
Sally Harper has sung with the chorus for 41 years and has spent many hours outside of rehearsal with her fellow singers. “I have made many close friendships in the chorus. A group of us attend Friday night CSO concerts with dinner out beforehand. Some of us have traveled to Europe together, sailed on a schooner, attended out of town weddings and concerts. Recently my friend Berdie and I took classes at the OSU Extension to become Master Gardener Volunteers. The front row of the alto section goes out for dinners on the rare Tuesday nights we are not in rehearsal.”
Lawrence Coleman, a chorus member for 15 years who lives in Kennedy Heights, also finds that May Festival Chorus has connected him to a wider community. “I've recorded, had other singing engagements and opportunities, all because I've been connected to the May Festival Chorus and the people in it.” Lawrence also sings with the contemporary gospel group Fo Mo Brothers, performing at churches throughout the region and at the Midwest Black Family Reunion. He also volunteers with District A arts collaboration in Kennedy Heights, all the while meeting new artists, collaborators, neighbors, and friends.
When asked about how singing with the May Festival has influenced his life, Lawrence says, “It has really confirmed my belief that all people are basically the same even though there can be very stark differences. I have friends in the chorus from very different walks of life. We come together for the single purpose of making great music. People of different backgrounds and schools of thought can do more than coexist. We can learn to celebrate our differences when we have a common goal.“
From building friendships across the region to adding to Cincinnati’s long tradition of excellence in vocal music, Cincinnati May Festival Chorus creates community through the arts.
This year, Cincinnati Ballet debuts Frisch’s Presents The New Nutcracker, a fresh interpretation of the beloved holiday classic featuring new sets, costumes, designs, and new choreography by Artistic Director and CEO Victoria Morgan. Hundreds of artists, staff members, volunteers, and donors have worked together to make this new ballet for the entire community.
Missie Santomo, Cincinnati Ballet’s Managing Director, is particularly grateful for partnerships with other local arts groups -- Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park’s costume department built costumes throughout the summer, and Madcap Puppet Theatre created a new Nutcracker head, Mouse King, and Dragon. Collaborative relationships like this between organizations are just one of the reasons our region enjoys a thriving arts scene.
At the heart of The New Nutcracker are the dancers. In addition to the Cincinnati Ballet’s professional company, Frisch’s Presents The New Nutcracker features young aspiring dancers from Cincinnati Ballet Otto M. Budig Academy, the CincyDance! program, and other dance schools throughout the region. The more than 500 dancers currently enrolled at the Academy represent over 50 communities in 16 counties. Now in its fifteenth year, CincyDance! enables underserved and at-risk students to receive in-school, long-term dance instruction from dedicated, professionally-trained Cincinnati Ballet faculty. In 2011-2012, CincyDance! will reach at least 1,000 economically-disadvantaged students at nineteen schools. For some especially gifted students, it even opens a door to become accomplished ballet dancers. The New Nutcracker cast includes 12 CincyDance! students. What happens when dancers from all over the region come together to become toy soldiers, mice, gingerbread children, and more? According to their parents, lots of new friendships blossom during Nutcracker rehearsals—both between their children and the parents themselves.
Angela Roush, mother of 10 year-old dancer Emma, writes that her daughter has made many friends in the cast. “None of these children live around us but we do things outside of ballet with our children. We have gone to see a couple of ballets together, invited each other over for playdates, birthday parties, etc. I am also close to several of these girls’ parents. We talk on the phone and e-mail often, as well as do dinner together. It is very nice to have close friends around while you are at the Cincinnati Ballet-- especially during Nutcracker season when you are down at the studios quite often for extended periods of time.”
Parent Julie Denlinger agrees. “It’s fun to compare stories about driving, recitals, and how much the kids love dancing. It really makes it easier to see I am not the only parent with a crazy schedule!” Many parents discover joy in becoming even more involved. Ingrid Fridenmaker writes, “Through the connections and friendships I've made, I have become part of a team of parent coordinators. Our role is to act as "go-between" for the Company and the parents of the children in the cast. My husband has actually been able to be on stage during many Nutcracker performances as a "Guard Dad" and this year's New Nutcracker, as a "Ginger Dad."
When asked, their children all agree that they’ve made friends through dancing and being in The New Nutcracker that they would not have met otherwise, and that these friendships are important to them. Megan Fridenmaker, age 14, writes “These friendships mean the world to me… My friends and I are constantly e-mailing each other, talking about anything from dance to school to TV shows. The thing I like best about being in the Nutcracker would either be being on stage or being with my friends. The feeling of being on stage, in front of hundreds of people, is the most amazing feeling you will ever experience. However, being with my friends is always so much fun. I wouldn't trade either experience for anything in the world.” A holiday tradition that connects people from across the region and builds friendships and memories that last a lifetime, Frisch’s Presents The New Nutcracker is Cincinnati Ballet’s gift to the whole community.
Nutcracker rehearsal photos provided by Cincinnati Ballet.
In December 2011, Cincinnati bicycle riders created a visual spectacle of serendipitous art with the first ever BRIGHT Ride. We dressed up ourselves and our bikes in our holiday best.
We had lights (some provided by ArtsWave) and wreathes on bikes -- even a tiny lit-up tree on a rack. We saw lots of red clothing, fancy hats and helmets, and Bicycle Santa with his sleigh rode along.
Bicycle Santa counted 63 helpers! We rode about 10 miles -- including right past the celebration and tree on Fountain Square to Over-the-Rhine where the annual Light Up OTR events were taking place.
Coffee Emporium sponsored a warm-up stop and hot chocolate at the start too. Reser Bicycles donated front and rear lights and Mobo Bicycle Coop opened it's doors for those who wanted to "dress up" together. Lots of smiles -- on riders and watchers.
Cincinnati area cyclists created a visual spectacle of serendipitous art with the first ever BRIGHT Ride in December 2011.
Updated with video 1-31-2012 by Margy Waller.
The mission of Elementz Hip Hop Youth Arts Center is to inspire and engage inner city youth through innovative hip hop arts programs, leadership development, and community building. By providing a safe place and engaging programs for inner-city youth, Elementz empowers young people to find their voice and connect with their community.
Founded in 2003 in Downtown Cincinnati, Elementz now has over 300 youth members. Members take classes in recording, beat-making, graffiti art, DJing, hip hop dance, and other key elements of hip hop culture. In 2009, 69% of Elementz members came to the center three or more days a week.
After surveying more than 1,000 youth in the community, Elementz decided to focus its programming on hip hop culture. As explained on their website, “Hip Hop is the voice of young people today. Hip Hop has been the biggest selling musical genre since 2000, and the overall culture continues to permeate everything that youth do – from their fashion to their speech.” Elementz encourages and performs socially-conscious hip hop—a subgenre of hip hop that discusses social issues, conflicts, and the lives of ordinary people.
Three years ago, Brother Abdullah and Tiffany Suriah Harmon of Hip Hop Congress held Elementz’ first-ever Youth and Parent Appreciation Dinner as a way to keep the spirit of family alive. “The youth talk about Elementz being a family. We notice sometimes that parents aren’t involved, and we wanted to say ‘we are part of your support system.’” At first, the staff provided a simple meal and a DJ, but this year the dinner included an entire program of poetry, storytelling, and performances. For some of the younger dancers, the Appreciation Dinner was their first opportunity to perform publicly.
Brother Abdullah explained, “Elementz Executive Director Tom Kent and I have been talking about bridging the gap between elders and youth—to help people who aren’t connected to become connected.” Tom is a member of Christ Church Cathedral downtown, and he invited fellow church member Mrs. Merelyn Bates-Mims to join the Elementz family dinner. She shared her story of experiences with family, at universities, and in Africa. “I remember hearing stories from elders and I didn’t always appreciate them,” says Abdullah, “But I still remember pieces of them. We want elders and youth to understand that hip hop is truly not that different—it is storytelling.”
Brother Abdullah will being sharing parts of the Elementz story at an early evening reception this Thursday at SWITCH in Over-the-Rhine. Everyone is welcome to stop by and learn about how they can become involved. “Our youths aspire to be doctors, go to college, be professional artists. They need to meet others who have done these things in order to see themselves in a success story. Elementz is always looking to build new relationships in the community.”
As one of the nation’s first museums focused on contemporary art, the Contemporary Arts Center (CAC) connects artists, visitors, and residents to creative things happening all over Cincinnati.
In her recent blog post for Arnold’s Bar and Grill, the CAC’s Molly O’Toole talks about how much she loves showing off the city. “Whenever our artists, speakers and guests come to town, we try to get them out and about as much as possible—connect them to things that are going on here. It's a favorite part of my job.”
Visitors to the CAC often come to see the museum’s incredible architecture— the building known as the Lois and Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art. This dramatic concrete structure, designed by internationally-renowned architect Zaha Hadid is justifiably world-famous—but conversations with staff inside the building often lead them to other treasures around the city.
Molly remembers a couple from Seattle who made a trek to Cincinnati specifically to see the CAC and Hadid’s “urban carpet”. After touring the building, they chatted with the CAC Store manager who guided them in discovering other cool architectural gems and arts districts in the city. Molly says this happens all the time--“The CAC is teaming with people who are deeply involved in this city, and that enriches everyone who comes through our doors.”
Molly notes that CAC staff often direct visitors to check out galleries and shops in Over-the-Rhine, Northside, Wyoming, and other neighborhoods. Mike Deininger, owner of MiCA 12/v, an independent, family-owned shop featuring artisan crafts, jewelry, and more in OTR’s Gateway Quarter, says the CAC is one of their best referrals. “We often know that people are coming up from the CAC because they are still wearing their admission sticker and they’ll tell us that the CAC staff recommended us as an independent retailer,” he notes.
The CAC also nourishes the local arts environment by connecting area students to the wider art world. For example, staff members work with the School for the Creative and Performing Arts (the only k-12 public school devoted to the arts in the nation) to infuse their curriculum with master classes from visual artists showing at the CAC. They also conduct regular teacher workshops free to area teachers on the connections between contemporary art and traditional coursework; and they provide lesson plans, slideshows, podcasts and other enrichment materials to the public for free.
The museum also collaborates with regional colleges to present a one-night art show where students create work that responds to the art in the galleries. More and more, students from these schools are staying in Cincinnati, finding work at the many design firms and digital agencies, or opening their own small arts business in one of the area’s many arts districts.
The city’s high concentration of artists, designers, digital and interactive agencies, and entrepreneurs creates an extraordinary environment for creative enterprise. Small wonder that the OFFF Festival selected Cincinnati to launch its first-ever international tour. The three-day conference brought together people from all over the region to talk about new ideas in art, design, and technology. The Contemporary Arts Center was instrumental in bringing OFFF to the city and hosted the events, hoping to spark even more creative collaboration. This is just one of the ways the CAC provides the creative community with a unique place in which to gather and be inspired.