Making Waves: Playhouse and Arts Centers Bring Neighbors Out to Play

Lily and Fans at Miami VOA

Mark Lutwak, Director of Education at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, recently sat down with ArtsWave staff to talk about the Playhouse’s “Off the Hill” program.

Conceived in 2009, Off the Hill brings Playhouse productions to local community arts centers for public performances, bringing neighbors together to enjoy a show for the whole family. Piggybacking on the Playhouse’s school touring program, the education department tours three plays each year: one for younger children (ages 5-8) and their families, such as this year’s original River Rat and Cat or adaptations of children’s classics such as Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse ; one for older children (ages 8-12), such as this year’s What’s Buggin’ Greg, a transformational comedy loosely inspired by Kafka’s Metamorphosis; and one for teenagers, including radical adaptations of classics such as Cyrano, and original plays dealing with provocative themes, such as this year’s WAR. Shows are cast primarily from the Playhouse’s acting intern company of young professional artists.

In the 2010-2011 season, Off the Hill partnered with 18 community arts centers to bring three professional plays into 19 neighborhoods, including Anderson, Oxford, Clifton, Mariemont, Sharonville, West Chester, Kennedy Heights, Covington, and more. Over 4,500 adults and children enjoyed the performances and activities at the arts centers—many of whom do not regularly attend Playhouse. “Off the Hill” is supported in part by ArtsWave Presents, a program that connects arts organizations and regional audiences.

“What we’ve discovered is that there’s no one way to do this,” says Mark. “Each arts center is different. They have different resources, histories, and different relationships to their communities.” As a result, each performance becomes a unique community engagement event.

Playhouse has discovered that one of the keys to success is expanding the event beyond just a performance of a play. Mark works with each arts center’s staff and volunteers to find ways to involve other groups directly in the event—“cross-pollinating” the community with people from different backgrounds and interests and giving them all a stake in the success of the event.

“We’ve had Greek dancers, fencing schools, martial arts demonstrations, you name it,” says Mark with a smile. “They bring their own audiences from the community and create a festive atmosphere.”

Food is an important component, too, and a great chance for local restaurants and bakeries to show off their skills and attract new business. For a performance of Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse at The Grove Banquet Hall in Springfield Township, a neighborhood family-owned business, Meals-To-Go, served purple iced cupcakes and offered two amazing door prizes—special cakes designed like Lily’s purple purse and her red boot—to promote their new cake line.

Cupcakes at Springfield

Kim Flamm, Springfield Township’s Projects, Events and Communications Coordinator, said audiences loved the extra treats. “This was a win-win for our local business. It added “a little extra something” to our performance, and Meals-To-Go received two birthday cake orders at the event! Especially during these tough economic times, we like to showcase our local businesses and promote shopping local whenever possible. It was wonderful to know that Playhouse in the Park supports the same mission.”

DisTroy at Springfield

As Off the Hill begins its third season, Mark is enthusiastic about the future of the program. “Every play presents new opportunities. Each has a different inherent appeal and marketing strategy. The approach must be fresh each time. Beyond that we need patience, because we are trying to build something new.”


Making Waves: Covington Makes the Carnegie a Center for Community

The arts create a surprising ripple effect of benefits in our region: bringing people together and making neighborhoods exciting. Making Waves features stories about the impact of the arts -- theatre, dance, music, museums, galleries, festivals, arts centers and more -- in our community and is posted every Thursday on My.Arts.Blog.

In the heart of Covington, The Carnegie Visual and Performing Arts Center is a multidisciplinary arts venue for all ages, providing theatre events, educational programs and art exhibitions to the Northern Kentucky and Greater Cincinnati community. Currently the largest arts venue in Northern Kentucky, this former Carnegie Library originally constructed in 1904, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


Inside that classic facade, artists and community members come together for unique events like The Art of Food, an annual exhibition of art created from and inspired by food; or Suits That Rock, a rock concert featuring CEOs of local companies channeling their inner rock stars. The Art of Food at the Carnegie - picture by Mikki Schaffner


Outside its walls, The Carnegie’s influence radiates from its historic facility to the entire neighborhood. More than a decade ago, the City of Covington recognized that The Carnegie provided a central hub for the community that could anchor a growing arts and culture district. Since 2000, the community has invested over $9 million in the blocks surrounding The Carnegie—from the revamping of The Carnegie’s historic Otto M. Budig Theatre, to the new urban housing project being built adjacent to The Carnegie, to the new Covington Latin School across the street, and “Cathedral Square.”


Executive Director Katie Brass notes that The Carnegie’s leadership in transforming this area of Covington helped drive the community’s renovation of the Carnegie’s front plaza, creating a more open and inviting street presence. The recently renovated 465-seat Otto M. Budig Theatre, backstage and office annex, an outdoor sculpture garden, and the Eva G. Farris Education Center and the new front plaza and marquee complete the Carnegie Campus.


RJ Caldwell, General Manager of The Avenue Lounge on Madison Avenue, says “I was there when they cut the ribbon on the new front plaza, and I was surprised to see all these supporters, not just the people who had contributed to the project, but people from the community who were there to celebrate at 10 am on a Wednesday.” He notes that the improvements to the historic building have made the area safer, well-lit, and more attractive to visitors. “The Carnegie has had a very positive effect on Covington. Like many cities, Covington has struggled in this economy. To stand out, our arts help position this as a vibrant and diverse community, and the Carnegie is a vital part of that.”


art of food at the Carnegie

Suits that Rock at the Carnegie - picture by the Carnegie


The Carnegie works with its neighbors to encourage visitors to spend the whole evening in Covington. The bank branch across the street allows Carnegie patrons to use its parking lot in the evenings. Restaurants partner by offering dining discounts before and after events. Local businesses feature posters for upcoming plays prominently in their windows.


“We started cross-promotions with the Carnegie originally because of our owner’s personal interest in the arts,” says RJ, “But we soon recognized that our organizations share an important clientele in Covington’s tight-knit professional community.” Working together at gallery openings, wine tastings, and other events, the two organizations discovered natural synergies that built both their businesses.


Exciting gallery and theatre events lead more people to discover what The Carnegie and Covington has to offer. Katie reports that just this past year The Carnegie's theatre increased attendance by 45%. Over the past 4 years, The Carnegie's education programs have doubled and they will double again next year. Overall attendance has increased from 31,460 in 08-09 to 46,386 in 10-11.


As the neighborhood continues to grow and flourish, The Carnegie looks for new ways to connect to other businesses, non-profits, and community groups, including Cincy World Cinema, and ThunderSky, an organization dedicated to giving adults and children with disabilities access to art experiences. A place for neighbors to come together and an attraction that draws visitors to discover Covington, the Carnegie Visual and Performing Arts Center creates community through the arts.


ArtsWave Surprise Singing with Bootsy Kicks Off MidPoint Music Festival

An invitation to participate in one of ArtsWave’s signature unexpected events brought people together from across the entire region. Surprise guest and beloved Cincinnati musician Bootsy Collins led people of all ages in singing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” with a fresh, funky beat and new lyrics.

An invitation to participate in one of ArtsWave’s signature unexpected events brought people together from across the entire region. Surprise guest and beloved Cincinnati musician Bootsy Collins led people of all ages in singing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” with a fresh, funky beat and new lyrics.


An invitation to participate in one of ArtsWave’s signature unexpected events brought people together from across the entire region. Surprise guest and beloved Cincinnati musician Bootsy Collins led people of all ages in singing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” with a fresh, funky beat and new lyrics.

“For our third annual Ta Da, ArtsWave is celebrating Cincinnati’s incredible music scene.  People in this region participate in these events in a big way. The initial invitation didn’t reveal what participants would be creating, yet hundreds of people agreed to help out,” said Mary McCullough-Hudson, President & CEO of ArtsWave.

Previous Ta Da events include the flash mob ‘Splash Dance’ on Fountain Square in 2009, and the Paint the Street event in Over the Rhine in 2010. ArtsWave organizes community engagement activities like the Ta Da to celebrate the creative things happening in our city that bring people together and make our neighborhoods exciting.

Participants had to pledge to keep the secret via the online sign-up for the ‘Ta Da 2011’ surprise. Yesterday was the first time they learned that the activity would involve singing, and an advance team of local singers gathered for a short rehearsal with Bootsy on Wednesday night.


Advance Team Secret Rehearsal with Bootsy Collins


Tonight, singers gathered on Twelfth Street in the MidPoint Music Festival Midway near the CAC stage. They talked in small groups and explored the Box Truck Carnival produced by ArtWorks.

The evening started as one might expect at a music festival, with local band Marvin & The Experience, playing on stage. The band was in on the secret and helped out by playing a familiar song. When the crowd began singing the traditional words to the classic Mozart tune, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”, Bootsy appeared and began a call and response with special lyrics written for the occasion.  After just a few minutes of singing, everyone cheered and dispersed to discover the music, art, theatre, and more all around.

Art Parades- bringing communities together!

We celebrated art in our region with 14 different art parades this past weekend! ArtsWave staffer Mike Boberg recounts his experience at the Kennedy Heights parade. Check out our slideshow of all the different Art Parades below.

Shark at the Art ParadeOur second annual Community Arts Centers Day event, supported by the Haile/US Bank Foundation and programmed in part by ArtWorks, featured 14 communities hosting “Art Parades”.  As I drove up Kennedy Avenue towards the Kennedy Heights Arts Center on Saturday, August 27th, I had no idea what to expect.  Would the crowd just be parents of the kids who created a Gargantua Tarantula float, or would others come out, too?  Would the ice cream generously provided by United Dairy Farmers be enough to meet the demand, or would they have a lot of leftovers?  At least the weather was cooperating, I thought, as I parked in the old Kroger store lot and headed on foot to the Center.

When I arrived, I was surprised at the number of people who were already there creating sidewalk chalk masterpieces, playing with their dogs, or just setting up lawn chairs as they awaited the arrival of the parade, which began in Pleasant Ridge and marched east to the Center.  Then, I heard the unmistakable Samba beat that could only be Baba Charles leading “the band” as parade participants drew closer and closer, not yet cresting the hill to the west.  Suddenly, the musicians appeared, followed by dozens, then scores, then hundreds of participants. 

They just kept coming:  Kennedy Heights Arts Center summer camp kids pushing or riding in their man-powered “floats” created just weeks before; parents and children from the neighboring Montessori school; girl scouts and boy scouts from local troops; dancers from arts innovation movement; a woman with a giant parrot; they just kept coming.  And the crowds along Montgomery Road continued to grow as the parade drew ever closer.  There were people parking their cars and darting across the busy street to get the best vantage point for the approaching parade, while others arrived towing their kids in wagons from their homes nearby. 

As the parade participants arrived at the Center and turned into the driveway, the energy level was palpable!  Over 400 individuals came together for the parade, spilling across the center’s lawn. I was completely overwhelmed at the variety of people from different backgrounds who were there celebrating both art and their community. 

This was one of those “goosebump moments” when you can see first-hand how the arts really do bring people together to share in a common experience.  Whether strangers or long-time neighbors, people talked, laughed, enjoyed UDF ice cream, took pictures of all the kids in their “art” costumes and admired the incredible floats that had been created during summer camp.  In one word, it was phenomenal!

I would be remiss if I didn’t thank Ellen Muse-Lindeman, Executive Director of  Kennedy Heights Arts Center, Michael Stout and all at ArtWorks, the Haile/US Bank Foundation and UDF for their generous support of Community Arts Centers Day: Art Parades!    In my eleven years at ArtsWave, events like Sampler weekend, Splash Dance on Fountain Square, and Paint the Street  have been times I have actually felt a part of something bigger, and  truly understood the power that the arts have to bring our community together to share in unique and fun experiences.  Now I can add the Kennedy Heights Art Parade to that list of powerful moments of sharing art and community.

Guest post by Mike Boberg, Director of Shared Services

Art Parades This Weekend!

Shark float for Art Parade

Community Arts Centers Day, an annual celebration of community arts centers throughout the greater Cincinnati region, brings people together with fun and free arts activities in their local neighborhoods. This year, ArtsWave, ArtWorks, and several community arts centers are partnering to create an exciting new summer tradition: Art Parades! On Saturday, August 27 and Sunday, August 28, 2011, participating organizations will host eleven Art Parades featuring participants of all ages celebrating their communities with creative costumes, masks, banners, musical instruments, and more! Local residents will parade their original art works around their neighborhood and then enjoy a FREE ice cream socia generously sponsored by United Dairy Farmers. Community arts centers and arts events like this make our region a better place to live, work, play, and stay.

Click here for a complete schedule of Art Parades.

More information on each Center’s parade and activities can be found at  The Shark float pictured above will appear in the parade in Kennedy Heights on Saturday.

Community Arts Centers Day 2011 is collaboratively organized by ArtsWave, ArtWorks, and the centers with generous financial support from the Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation. Ice cream generously donated by United Dairy Farmers.