f you consider yourself to be a creative person in Cincinnati and haven’t heard of People’s Liberty yet, get thyself to Google. Or at least walk across the street next time you’re at the Dojo Gelato/Colonel De end of Findlay Market to check things out at The Crown building — People’s Liberty’s temporary home until updates are made to the Globe Building next door. The new Over-the-Rhine-based nonprofit (a philanthropic arm of the Haile/U.S. Bank Foundation and the Johnson Foundation) is making a name for itself in its first year of existence by doing something no other local arts organization has: investing directly in individuals — not organizations or businesses, but people — to make their creative visions for this city come true.
And artist/designer Jason Snell’s inaugural installation Good Eggs at People’s Liberty’s Globe Gallery next month will be the first tangible assertion of the organization’s progressive approach to cultivating the work of unconventional creatives.
Due to construction delays on the Globe Building and the constraints of installation timelines, this year People’s Liberty approached only a select group of artists. Snell submitted an application for a Globe Gallery installation grant that covers up to $15,000. Snell came up with the idea with his wife, senior development officer for 3CDC Sara Bedinghaus, while brainstorming ideas to make things better in the neighborhood that they both work in and clearly care for.
Snell’s “creative shop” We Have Become Vikings is in the heart of OTR and, like his wife, Snell seems wholly invested in the community for which he’s currently creating this unconventional installation of vintage vending machines filled with plastic eggs that contain a small “treat of sorts”: buttons, badges, temporary tattoos. But the crucial element inside the egg is the “Good Deed” that buyers are encouraged to perform — anything from picking up litter to giving your neighbor a hug — which Snell and People’s Liberty hope will engage buyers in positive community exchanges.
The eggs cost either a quarter or two, depending on the machine. Regarding the cost, Snell says, “We wanted them to give something so they would feel a part of the community, a part of the movement, ownership if you will.” The badges and tattoos, then, “allow the user to feel and commentate this in their neighborhood, to spread the word of Good Eggs,” he continues. And both Snell and People’s Liberty Operations Director Jake Hodesh speak of the potential for taking Good Eggs outside the gallery and into other cities.
In fact, the Good Eggs website reads, “The process of constructing the first good eggs vending machine will be documented in the form of an instructable downloadable instruction kit + an online video, so that any community can learn how to reproduce this program, as efficiently and affordably as possible.” According to the online manifesto, “A good deed can go a long way to improve morale throughout a community.”
Snell says the money will go back into the machines and the community. But beyond making more eggs and repairing the inevitable technical glitches that come from relying on old machines, the exact plan for the money raised by Good Eggs is “something that’s still to be determined,” Snell says, which seems apt for a philanthropic organization that is breaking new ground with its very first exhibition.
People’s Liberty, led by CEO Eric Avner of the Haile Foundation (“the beacon of arts in Cincinnati right now,” in Snell’s words), has taken a consciously non-traditional approach to its Globe Gallery artists in the form of unconventional art installations. Snell’s is just the first of three artist grants for 2015 at the Globe Gallery, and the next up is filmmaker and artist C. Jacqueline Wood’s “Microcinema” of avant-garde, outside the mainstream experimental film and video.
Vending machines purchased from a local vendor whose real name is — get this — Michael Vending are currently being painted by Snell and Art Academy painting students (with oversight from Snell’s Temple bandmate/Art Academy assistant professor Jimmy Baker and Galen Crawford, the school’s director of student services), and the school is allowing them to use studio space at the Academy to work on the project before Good Eggs’ March installation.
By mid-March, 800 square feet of the gallery will be filled with more than 30 rehabbed/repurposed vending machines of all shapes and sizes. Snell says the unconventional gallery will be painted to look like “Willie Wonka’s urban funhouse,” with photos documenting the construction process on the walls, painting on the glass storefront windows and machines that can be left out on the busy sidewalks during the day and brought in at night.
The investment that People’s Liberty has committed to during its first five years will include 21 people per year within the I-275 beltway directly effected by the organization’s financial support. But it also aims to provide workspace and a possible lending library for creative thinkers to be empowered to change the issues they see within their own communities.
Because their first few grantees are on a yearlong Haile Fellowship, according to Hodesh, “We could have the first two [Globe Gallery artist] installations before we see the fruits of the labor of the grantees.”
“It’s important to see that these opportunities are a tangible reminder of how [People’s Liberty seeks to] draw people in to participate and respond,” he continues.
As with much of the development currently happening in Cincinnati’s historic urban district, the long-term effect of so much financial investment can only be speculated at this point. People’s Liberty has planted roots in the heart of Over-the-Rhine, an area that (depending on one’s political leanings) is either precariously poised on the brink of questionable gentrification or healthy redevelopment — but the organization seems determined to affect positive change.
Jason Snell’s Good Eggs art installation at the Globe Gallery will be People’s Liberty’s first visual indicator of the organization’s commitment to the community, and if things go the way the artist plans, his chickens will come home to roost in all the best ways.
GOOD EGGS is scheduled to open to the public March 27 (Final Friday). More info: goodeggs.info.