Making Waves: Stormy Weather Leads to Bright New Partnership

CSO and MDAAThough they're best known for performing at Music Hall, The Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestras remain committed to bringing world-class music to the entire Greater Cincinnati region, and present several community concerts throughout the area every year.

This summer, the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra and conductor John Morris Russell were prepared to kick off the season with a performance in Cottell Park in Deerfield Township. Sponsored by the Mason-Deerfield Arts Alliance, Deerfield Township, and ArtsWave Presents, the concert was originally scheduled for Friday, June 10th—but nature had other ideas.  A spectacular lightning storm erupted just before the concert was to begin.

As Meredith Raffel, Executive Director of the Mason-Deerfield Arts Alliance, wrote in a blog post:

“As the lightning got worse, we encouraged our hundreds of guests to take cover. They picked up their picnics without complaint and headed to our waiting shuttle buses, tents, cars and the Snider House. The Pops musicians sat waiting in their bus, hoping to perform. A Fire chief kept a keen eye on his radar.

A cool vibe started to emerge. Those waiting in the various shelters had their own little community gathering. This storm encouraged strangers to start talking and finding common ground. Volunteers rallied. Trustees helped. Parks and Recreation workers went over and above the call of duty to keep everyone safe.

As the sky flashed and huge cracks of lightning hit the ground, everyone waited it out. They laughed, they talked, they came together. There was something kind of gratifying about the community closeness that was surrounding us.

In the world of arts event planning, we hope for magical results. We keep our fingers crossed for a perfect day and a happy community. In the end, that’s exactly what we got.

Not a note was played. But through that disappointment, we came to find the true meaning of partnership. It’s a puzzle of many pieces that in the end came together through compromise, understanding, agreement and best of all, new found friendships.”


The following week, the collaborators began talking: could the performance be rescheduled?  The task was a huge one—the symphony’s musicians play a rigorous schedule throughout the summer with concerts at both Riverbend and the Cincinnati Opera at Music Hall.  Still, everyone was committed to finding a solution. “Musicians kept saying that they hoped we could go back,” said Anne Cushing-Reid, Director of Community Engagement at the CSO. “I think it may be the first time in decades we have rescheduled such a performance.”


Meghan Berneking, Communications Assistant at CSO, thinks that the cancelled date may also have built up anticipation.  “I think when we rescheduled, it gave people more time to look forward to the concert.  The local arts alliance really got the word out to the Mason community through social media.”

pictures from the rescheduled concert, via YouTube

As a result, the rescheduled concert attracted a huge crowd on July 30th—over 3,500 friends, family members, and neighbors came together to hear a spectacular Pops concert in beautiful weather.  “The audience covered the soccer field,” says Anne, “It was an amazing crowd.”


Together, the Mason-Deerfield Arts Alliance, Deerfield Township, the Northern Cincinnati Youth Orchestra, Whole Foods Market, and several local businesses helped make the event a community affair.  Families enjoyed kettle corn and ice cream while listening to a wide variety of American music - from jazz to bluegrass to rock ‘n roll.  In the green space just in front of the stage, small children were dancing, conducting, and having a great time all night long. A banner reading “Choose Deerfield Township” expressed the community’s pride.

The great success of the concert is just the beginning. The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and May Festival Chorus will perform a special, sing-along concert featuring Handel’s Messiah on December 17 nearby at Christ’s Church in Mason to celebrate the holiday season.


Making Waves: YMCA Celebrates Achievement by Making Art

Bi Okoto Drum and Dance TheatreWhen the YMCA of Greater Cincinnati invited performance painter David Garibaldi to be their special guest for the annual Black and Latino Achievers Gala, they knew they wanted to use this opportunity to showcase the great local arts organizations that reflect and benefit our community in all its diversity.

ArtsWave helped connect the YMCA to five organizations in our Multicultural Arts Program, a network that supports and nurtures arts organizations arising from and attractive to the range of populations in our community. The program is designed to accelerate the growth of these organizations, build their capacity, and allow them to create the kind of programming that enriches the region as a whole.

Cincinnati Black Theatre Company, Elementz, aim cincinnati, Eye of the Artist Foundation, and Bi-Okoto Drum and Dance Theatre all participated in the creation of painted panels for display at the YMCA event.  The art was created by professional artists, including Frank Satogata, artist-in-residence at Brazee Street Studios, who were then matched with young people affiliated with each of the organizations to do the painting. Frank drew inspiration from African textiles and patterns, as well as images of African dance for the panel representing Bi-Okoto Drum and Dance Theatre.


Artist Frank Satogata and Volunteer
Preserving and sharing traditional African culture is a key mission of Bi-Okoto Drum and Dance Theatre.  The unique organization offers classes for young people and adults in dance, music, language, cooking, and African culture. “Many people today, when they think of Africa, think only of famine, disaster, and war,” said Jeaunita Olowe, co-founder of Bi-Okoto. “Our mission is to help people understand the vibrancy, family spirit, and life of African culture.  It was great to see how Frank captured that on the canvas.”  When they put out a call for participants, so many students responded that they had a hard time choosing who would help paint.

These young artists and other representatives from the groups were then invited to attend a special lecture-demonstration presented by nationally-acclaimed performance painter David Garibaldi at the School for the Creative and Performing Arts on Nov 3, followed by the YMCA Black and Latino Achievers Awards gala event at the Bank of Kentucky Center on Nov 4. “Getting these young people together is always exciting,” Jeaunita smiled, “You hear them having conversations about changing the world- and you know that they are going to make a difference.”

The YMCA hopes that Garibaldi creates images through his body movement and brushes while communicating via music to an amazed audience. “We were so inspired by David’s story,” said Toni Miles, Executive Director of the Black and Latino Achievers Program, “We wanted the young people attending this event to be inspired and refreshed. We want to say to young people, ‘The world is your canvas. Paint your dreams.’”

After this week, the panels created by the artists and students will be displayed at Macy’s, a downtown art gallery, and perhaps one other location, before being returned to the arts organizations that created them.  Each one represents the power of artists and community members all over our region to reach out and empower young people to become the great citizens of tomorrow.


Making Waves: Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati Builds Audience for Local Business

Sometimes art comes from turning something old into something new.  In the heart of one of Cincinnati’s oldest neighborhoods, Over-the-Rhine, Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati produces new plays and plays new to the region for over 25,000 people each year.

From its location on Vine Street, Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati has seen the transformation of this neighborhood from a blighted and abandoned collection of buildings, to a bustling, thriving arts and business district.

ETC’s commitment to the neighborhood extends beyond traditional partnerships between restaurants, galleries and theatres.  In the past two years, that commitment drove Producing Artistic Director D. Lynn Meyers to make a change to the theatre’s programming.

“It used to be we took a break in the summer, like many professional theatres,” says Meyers. “Two years ago, I was talking to the general manager at one of the new restaurants on Vine Street and he said to me, ‘I wish you were open every night.  Our business goes up 70% every night you have a show.’  The fall off that he saw in traffic during the summer was so bad, he had to consider laying off staff until our season started again in September.  It got me thinking that as a neighbor and a 25-year resident in this community, Ensemble has a responsibility to keep people coming down here over the summer so that they can see what we see every day—a neighborhood transformed.  We have to help keep the momentum going.”


Vine Street before and after


In the summer of 2001, Meyers had programmed a rock musical during the summer months, “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” that had played to sold-out houses and breathed new life into the neighborhood. After long discussions with her small, dedicated staff, Meyers made the decision in 2010 to program an extra musical every summer—feel-good, fun titles that audiences love, like “Winter Wonderettes.”

While the addition to their season creates extra work, the shows also bring in new audiences for the theatre and for Over-the-Rhine.  “'Wonderettes’ played to 80% capacity—and that’s all single ticket sales, not subscriptions,” notes Meyers.  The show created jobs for eight full-time employees who otherwise would not have been working this summer, and fellow Gateway Merchants like Lavomatic and Senate reported increased business during the run of the show.

Tracey Lynn Conrad, Chair of the Arts and Entertainment committee for Mayor Mallory's Young Professionals Kitchen Cabinet, recently organized an event for Young Professionals at ETC with the Young Philanthropists' Society of Cincinnati, and was impressed with the theatre and the neighborhood.  "We saw 'Next to Normal' and then walked down to the Lackman for a drink," says Tracey, "The cast and crew joined us at the bar after the show, and the place was packed.  It was great to see how the district itself was working together to make a great evening for everyone." Tracey notes that the sold-out show meant that some people were on the wait list for the event.  "Everyone talked about how cool the theatre was.  Ensemble Theatre is a great asset to our city."

With more shops and restaurants opening each month in Over-the-Rhine, the synergy between arts and business in the neighborhood will continue to grow. “We’re proud to have been a pioneer in this community,” says Meyers, “We want everyone to celebrate its success with us.”


Making Waves: Madcap Puppet Theatre Inspires Westside Pride

Located in the heart of Westwood for 30 years, Madcap Productions Puppet Theatre creates original live puppet theatre entertainment and education for young audiences and families.  Using stories and puppetry techniques drawn from cultures all over the world, Madcap Puppets aspires to positively impact young audiences during their formative years when creative and magical imaginations are developing. The nationally-acclaimed organization reaches into communities around the region and across the country with almost 700 performances each year in schools and community centers, sometimes performing with local orchestras. 

Since becoming Artistic Director of Madcap Productions Puppet Theatre in 2006, John Lewandowski has made it his mission to expand the local audience for puppetry by collaborating with other arts organizations, bringing fans of classical music, theatre and puppetry all into the same space.  Local examples include last season’s “pocket opera” with the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra and the production of “The Dragon”, a play for adult audiences, with Know Theatre Tribe. These multi-organziational experiences connect artists and audiences across disciplines and neighborhoods, encouraging Westside fans of Madcap to visit venues in Downtown Cincinnati.

Throughout the year, Madcap Puppet Theatre opens its puppet studio to a variety of groups, including local Girl Scout, Boy Scout and Cub Scout troops for workshops and badge-earning activities in puppet-making and puppeteering. Yet, as the organization continued to expand and the small studio, office, and rehearsal space began to fill with puppets, Lewandowski had to consider whether Madcap would have to move from its long-time home.
That’s when a board member of the Westwood Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation said, “Oh, do I have a place for you!”  

“We had been trying to purchase the old Cincinnati Bell Building on Harrison Avenue,” explains Sister Ann Rene McConn of WestCURC.  “It was built in 1924 as a switching station, but the architect clearly had an artistic eye and made something beautiful as well as practical. The three story building is over 20,000 square feet, and each floor has expansive open space, perfect for multiple uses. There are unique artistic touches, like Rookwood tile, adorning the building interior.

After being used for some time as an annex to the local library branch, the building sat shuttered for a few years and was starting to fall into disrepair.  WestCURC believed they could raise support to purchase the property, if they had an end user in mind that could spark more development in the neighborhood.  “When we heard that they needed a new space, we started a campaign to encourage them to stay here,” says Sister Ann Rene.  “Madcap is treasured by the neighborhood.”


Madcap Puppet Theatre

Madcap Puppets with a local Girl Scout troop

 Sister Ann says that when John Lewandowski saw the Bell Building, he fell in love with the gorgeous structure.  “We are imagining a place that can provide performance and studio space for Madcap and include the only regional/mid west permanent exhibit of over 500 puppets, as well as a national center of Puppetry Arts” says John. “The local civic leadership understands that the arts bring people into the community who are invested in making neighborhoods great.  That’s why we feel it is so important as an arts organization to develop strong ties with local community leaders.”

WestCURC has submitted an application to the City of Cincinnati’s highly-competitive Neighborhood Business District Improvement Fund for a grant to purchase the Bell Building. They hope to hear news in December.  “It’s a different type of proposal, one that could immediately have an impact on the community. We believe that Madcap will be an important vehicle for redeveloping that particular corner of the neighborhood," said Sister Ann Rene. 

"There’s no incentive to shop a new business district if you don’t have something worth coming to see.”  Sister Ann Rene and the other members of WestCURC believe that Madcap’s new theatre would draw families and neighbors together to share in the home-grown success of this unique arts organization.


Making Waves: Community Combines, Creates Center!

Kennedy Heights Arts Center

In 2003, hundreds of people rallied together to create the Kennedy Heights Arts Center. Serving the Pleasant Ridge, Kennedy Heights, and Silverton neighborhoods, the center was established by the community to provide a public resource for the creation of art. It has since had a transformative effect on the entire neighborhood.


The Center is located in a Victorian wood-frame house, originally built in 1875 as a private residence for Lewis Kennedy, then the mayor of Kennedy Heights. It served as a funeral home for several decades, but by 2003, it had been vacant for almost 10 years and was seriously dilapidated.

When community members learned it was in danger of being razed to make way for a storage facility, they organized to save the building, going door-to-door to gather donations and volunteers. Early in the process, the idea emerged of turning the house into a community arts center—a place with gallery space, room for arts classes and performances, and gathering space for neighbors and friends.

The idea caught fire as more and more people joined the cause. The City of Cincinnati offered a $50,000 grant to acquisition the property, provided that supporters could match the amount. In the end, more than 40 families pooled their resources to put up the $50,000 collateral on a loan—an incredible personal investment that was repaid to them in full.

For the first four years of the Arts Center's existence, volunteers did everything. Hundreds of people put their own sweat equity into the renovations. Volunteers painted inside and out, sanded floors, fixed doors and windows, and more.

Until 2008, the center was run entirely by volunteers, including many local artists who developed gallery shows and classes for neighborhood children and adults. As these programs grew in popularity, the Center hired its first full-time Executive Director.

Community members continue to assist with a variety of functions; from bookkeeping to catering to staffing the Center on Saturdays. When an energy audit revealed how much the center was spending on water, a local engineer designed and built a rain water collection system using donated supplies. Now, rain water from the center’s sizable roof is collected in giant storage tubs donated from the local Coca-Cola bottling plant and used to water the gardens and grounds throughout the summer.

Lee DeRhodes, the Center’s volunteer gardener, lives in the neighborhood just a few blocks away. “He is here every day tending the garden,” says Ellen Muse-Lindeman, the center's Executive Director. “It’s truly a labor of love for him, but the whole
neighborhood shares in the beauty of it.” The garden has won awards and recognition from the Cincinnati Horticultural Society, Kennedy Heights Community Council, and Home Trends magazine.

Ellen says the extraordinary turnaround of this one facility and its success as a place for art shows, classes, and performances, has had a “catalytic effect” on the surrounding neighborhood. Richard Cooke, a founding board member of Kennedy Height Arts Center, purchased an old gas station near the center that had become run-down and frequented by criminals. Now in the rehabilitated space, Green Corner Studios and Marketplace combines artist gallery and studio space with community gardens and a weekly local farmers’ market. Last spring, the center announced a new partnership with the Cincinnati Art Museum and the Kennedy Heights Montessori School to renovate a 32,000 sq.-ft. Kroger building into a cultural center. The new space will house part of the museum’s collection, artist studios, classrooms, and an event center.

“I think the Kennedy Height Arts Center has played a vital role in this ongoing neighborhood development,” muses Ellen. “We proved that this is a viable area for arts and business, with lots of grassroots support for projects that improve the neighborhood and the lives of everyone here.”