If it Exists in Cincinnati, ArtWorks Will Paint it

I have this recurring dream in which I go out for a walk or drive in Cincinnati and every place I go and everything I use to get there, from my feet to a car or bus, has been decorated or designed by ArtWorks.

Aug 28, 2013 at 9:15 am
ArtWorks Art Car
ArtWorks Art Car

I have this recurring dream in which I go out for a walk or drive in Cincinnati and every place I go and everything I use to get there, from my feet to a car or bus, has been decorated or designed by ArtWorks.

For some time now, I’ve been trying to figure out the roots of this strange psychedelic hallucination of a dream. I think I’ve finally got it. I feel this way because ArtWorks slowly but surely is decorating or designing virtually every element of Cincinnati’s urban streetscape. Especially objects that are considered “street furniture.”

A recent conversation with Cait Barnett, the marketing manager of the downtown-based arts nonprofit, yielded this update on activities scheduled to be underway or completed in September alone. 

This summer, the most visible of ArtWorks’ 10 new public art murals has been “Martha, the Last Passenger Pigeon” on a building at 15 E. Eighth St., Downtown. It is based on a painting by local wildlife painter John Ruthven, who was the guest artist on a project overseen by a professional artist working with student apprentices, and is the latest of ArtWorks’ special Downtown Masters murals. It will be dedicated at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 18.

To celebrate completion, Over-the-Rhine’s Art Academy of Cincinnati is displaying the canvas that inspired the mural through Sept. 27 as part of John A. Ruthven: In the Audubon Tradition. There will be a 5-8 p.m. Final Friday reception on Aug. 30.

Ruthven’s project has garnered enough attention for Martha — whose death at the Cincinnati Zoo on Sept. 1, 1914, brought the species to extinction — to probably merit a monumental statue here to rival St. Louis’ Gateway Arch. That’s unlikely to happen anytime soon, but Martha herself may be coming back next year. 

A skinned and mounted version was long displayed at Washington’s National Museum of American History, but now is in storage. A spokesman for the museum, part of the Smithsonian, said Martha could go on display there next year as part of a display on the centenary of the passenger pigeon’s extinction. Meanwhile, a Cincinnati Zoo spokesperson said it is talking with the Smithsonian about bringing Martha here, where it has a memorial to her. 

(Incidentally, ArtWorks — which works with sponsors — has a crowd-funding website for its mural and other projects at power2give.org.)

Meanwhile, September will also see the growth of Art Cars. Since 2010, as part of Clifton’s Streetscapes: A Street Painting Festival, ArtWorks has had its young artists imaginatively paint cars. It was a fun project, but attracted little attention outside of that neighborhood event. 

This year, ArtWorks is moving Art Cars to a site that will get that attention — its carnival-esque outdoor Midway at the MidPoint Music Festival, Sept. 26-28. Five cars have been chosen from applications; the owners pay $750 to have the cars painted live (after a design has been selected) at the Midway.

I’m hoping ArtWorks will expand this program into an annual Art Car Parade, like Houston and Louisville, Ky., have done, and invite Art Car enthusiasts from around the country to come and compete. Many turn their cars into fantastical sculptural objects that are a real treat, a moveable feast for the eyes. ArtWorks said that’s under consideration for next year. Let’s hope that idea picks up steam; maybe someday Art Cars and the new streetcar can parade up the Vine Street hill side by side. 

Also in September, you’ll start seeing posters crop up on 24 Downtown Metro bus shelters as a result of a partnership between ArtWorks and Queen City Metro (with sponsor Downtown Residents Council). Cincinnati had ordered the removal of all advertising in its bus shelters effective Jan. 1 of this year. The idea was hatched to replace that with something more useful to society, such as posters promoting the reading of literature. 

ArtWorks worked with the library to get reader ideas about favorite books. Then, artist Ryan Little, a teaching artist and six student apprentices designed posters inspired by the books but that don’t look like cover illustrations. Subjects range from Homer’s The Odyssey to Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, with a variety of children’s and adult books in-between. ArtWorks, by the way, is still raising money for its $5,000 share of the project online.

There’s an expression people use when they say they want to have a good time — “Let’s paint the town red.” Don’t say it to anyone at ArtWorks. They’ll really do it.

CONTACT STEVEN ROSEN: [email protected]