After two impactful years of operating a storefront and studio space on Oakley Square, the Visionarium has closed its doors for the last time.
The Visionarium opened in 2017 as an extension of Visionaries + Voices, a local nonprofit that has worked with artists with disabilities since 2003. Through its studios in Northside and Springdale, V+V currently provides resources, studio space and exhibition opportunities to around 130 artists across Cincinnati. And in June, the group crowdfunded more than $3,500 to send V+V artist Curtis Davis and his work to New York City’s White Columns gallery for a solo exhibition.
Initially, the Visionarium was a way to increase V+V’s visibility throughout Cincinnati as well as offer artists more streams of revenue. “We were trying to expand the space we had and expand professional opportunities, be it teaching opportunities or opportunities to sell art and merchandise,” says V+V Creative Director Karen Boyhen. “We actually had a three-pronged goal in opening this space: to teach awareness of Visionaries + Voices, become integrated into the local community and also to make money. So we made two of the three (goals).”
The Visionarium’s interior looked more like a clubhouse with a gift shop than a traditional retail space. In front, the airy, light-filled store was home to original work by V+V artists — everything from canvases and prints to T-shirts, earrings, magnets and wrapping paper. The studio’s back half made room for workspaces and walls lined with art supplies. The bright, cheery Visionarium was a welcome addition to the Oakley community, too. Under the direction of Visionarium manager Julia Lipovsky, it played host to birthday parties, community art classes and, most recently, a kids’ summer camp.
“Our other spaces, although great, are a little bit hidden off the beaten path,” says V+V Education Director Seana Higgins. “It was a way to bring a little slice of the studio magic that we all get to see all the time out into the public.”
“You can’t walk into any other store and buy art off the wall in this very intimate manner,” adds Education Coordinator Drew Yakscoe.
The Visionarium was also home to V+V’s Teaching Artists Program (TAP), which, since 2011, has graduated 27 artists as art teachers themselves who now instruct classes throughout Cincinnati’s public and private schools. TAP will continue outside of the Visionarium, most likely through the Northside studio where it began.
“It was just cool to see all that creativity come together and see people in the community in turn getting positive inspiration by people with disabilities,” Boyhen says.
Despite the good intentions and hard work poured into the Visionarium over the past two years, the space ultimately faced the sometimes-difficult realities of running a small business.
“There’s not one thing that ‘happened,’ per se, but we’re experiencing a lot of loss because of it and I think that that is really hard,” Higgins says. “We lost some staff that opted to resign after it was announced. We’re losing this space that we literally built ourselves and having to take it apart.”
“It’s a two-edged sword,” adds Boyhen. “It’s necessary because I think it got to the point where we didn’t want to have V+V negatively affected.”
The team can agree, however, that the risk was worth the reward. “Anyone who works for a nonprofit — I don’t think we do it because it makes us lots of money,” Higgins says. “We’re all here because we’re feeling called to this work.”
“Our artists in the studios are good enough to make bank,” Boyhen continues.
“And some of them do,” Higgins says. “They’re just people in the world doing their thing.”
While the physical Visionarium may be no more, its steadfast spirit will live on through the work of the artists and staff who were able to craft a space for creativity and community outreach in its brief stay in Oakley. Now, the team says, they’re looking forward to the future of V+V, whatever it may bring.
Having celebrated its 16th anniversary Aug. 3, V+V has plans to honor the Visionarium’s mission in new ways, including opening an online store and a retail space at its Northside gallery and seeking out more wholesale partners and licensing opportunities for artists.
“Cincinnati’s a great place to try stuff out. Although this is hard, we were able to do it,” Higgins says. “We’ll figure something else out and have some other wacky idea to try.”
For more information on Visionaries + Voices, visit visionariesandvoices.com.