Making Price Hill’s Library an Avant-Arts Center

Steve Kemple sees and does things differently as library manager of the Price Hill branch of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

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click to enlarge Steve Kemple - Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Steve Kemple
Just three weeks into his job, Steve Kemple doesn’t fit the traditional image of a library manager. He sees and does things differently. For instance, confronted with the new task of interviewing a job applicant for a staff position at his Price Hill branch of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, he sent out a Facebook message seeking advice: “How many ties should I wear?”

But that trait might be just what the branch needs. It’s a gorgeous 108-year-old Carnegie Library that sits as the centerpiece of a park-like setting at 3215 Warsaw Ave. And that could also be what Price Hill, a low-income neighborhood that’s home to many minority children, needs to thrive in America.

He sees the library as more than a repository for books and computer access or merely as a place for kids to shelter after school. He sees it as a potential arts institution — one that can work with Price Hill Will’s MYCincinnati youth orchestra and the new Percussion Park. 

“I want the Price Hill branch to be a hub for the arts,” he says. “All these kids coming into the library after school with all this energy — what if I can turn them into performance artists?”

He’s already at work turning a basement space into a high-tech meeting room. But beyond that, his ideas get really creative and involve area artists. He’d like to project video art off the interior spaces of the building, which features a square ceiling with a skylight above the main desk and a series of rooms to the sides. “Maybe the kids could make video art or could curate video art,” Kemple says.

Kemple was featured in CityBeat’s 2013 Cool Issue — wearing a gorilla suit — because of his innovations as the Main Library’s music librarian. He started a CD of the Month Club, a bi-monthly “Listen to This!” themed recorded-music listening session and a series of live-music/performance-art events under the banner Experimental Music at the Library. He intends to continue the latter in Price Hill with after-hours concerts — the first is slated for June 21.

Kemple sees his activities as part of the overall community-building going on in the neighborhood. “I don’t want the library to go it alone,” he says. “Everything we do will be with another partner. I want the library to be part of the infrastructure of arts organizations in Price Hill.”

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