'Getting Outside of Myself'

How ArtWorks trains the next generation of local artists

I’ve always been able to find art in Cincinnati. From seeing the paintings created by an art class at SCPA, where I’m currently a senior, to being inspired by exhibits at the Cincinnati Art Museum or the Contemporary Arts Center, it’s been fairly easy to nourish my passion for art in my hometown.

But then I visit New York City or even Pittsburgh and find art everywhere: sculptures, murals, installations and huge mosaics, little booklets offering the reader information about where art is across the city and who made it or what the piece is called. Back in Cincinnati, I start to wonder if art actually has a place in day-to-day life here.

I don’t despair, though, and I think I owe my enduringly positive outlook to ArtWorks. The nonprofit has brought art to Cincinnati for 14 years now, hiring area teens for summer jobs creating public art projects, among other art-related work.

As I did two years ago, I worked with ArtWorks again this summer as a journalism apprentice. As a part of the “Documentary” project, my fellow apprentice Alex Boeing and I toured the 14 summer projects and sought to document them all from start to finish. Boeing did this through film, using the footage he collected to create two short documentaries. My part of the project involved writing a blog and working on other pieces of writing.

Touring 14 ArtWorks projects meant seeing a lot of art. I met hundreds of artists and became involved with many of the organizations throughout Cincinnati that make sure art is indispensable in our city — from Visionaries & Voices in Northside, where an ArtWorks mural was painted this summer, to the Carnegie Center for Visual and Performing Arts, where ArtWorks Day was hosted.

ArtWorks has been transforming Cincinnati into a public art gallery neighborhood by neighborhood, project by project, piece by piece. This summer, nine new murals were added to the 18 that had already been painted throughout Cincinnati, in neighborhoods from Roselawn to Over-the-Rhine. In addition to these works of art, three projects were done in partnership with Ronald McDonald House to bring artwork to the rooms, hallways and lobby of the local House. Another project, Stage Crew, painted vibrant backdrops for Children’s Theatre’s traveling theater productions, while a final team, Tapestry, designed and created screen-printed tapestries for a new entertainment space in Tower Place Mall downtown.

Besides honing artistic skills from blending paint to measuring scale and proportion, Art- Works apprentices learned how to work with other people, handle their time and money and 38 become better public speakers and profes sionals.

Each project made a presentation of their mural or project design to community members and ArtWorks staff before beginning work on creating the actual art. This simple aspect of the ArtWorks summer — collaborating with other apprentices and learning from lead artists in order to present a professional plan to client neighborhoods — has an important outcome:

I watched many teens transform over the course of the summer from shy, bashful artists to vibrant and proud ones.

Aaron Sisk, 17, of Madisonville worked this summer on the Central Parkway mural, a five-story-tall portrait of former City Councilman Jim Tarbell. The mural adds a dynamic new dimension to the walls that line Central Parkway, many of which already sport ArtWorks paintings.

“Many of the community members that passed our mural thought (Tarbell) was a fitting image to portray in that area,” Sisk said.

The answer, it turns out, is Peanut Jim, a peanut vendor and street character from decades gone by.

Any neighborhood in the Greater Cincinnati area is able to apply for an ArtWorks mural. One goal of MuralWorks, created in tandem with Mayor Mark Mallory, is to paint a mural in each of Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods.

“The ArtWorks murals are definitely making a positive impact on Cincinnati,” said Ellen Platt, a sophomore at Ohio Wesleyan University who completed her third summer for ArtWorks. “They provide beautification of the city and encourage people to have pride in their neighborhood. Artworks is probably one of the major reasons for my continuing to study art in college — it showed me the positive effect art can have on people and communities.”

Polly Wilson worked on one of the Ronald McDonald House projects this summer and said ArtWorks helped her decide to attend the Kansas City Art Institute this fall. From painting one wall or one small piece of canvas to transforming Cincinnati into a canvas of its own, she said, “working as an ArtWorks apprentice enabled me to get outside of myself to be a part of something much bigger than me.”

SECRET ARTWORKS is one of ArtWorks’ main fundraising events, featuring the exhibition and sale of 5-by-7-inch works of art from local, national and international artists. Each work sells for $75, but the artist’s identity is kept secret until the work is purchased. The event is 5-9 p.m. Friday and the Westin Hotel downtown. Find Avery’s blog and Alex’s documentary and get “Secret ArtWorks” details at www.artworkscincinnati.org.

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