Longtime Over-the-Rhine Residents Use BLINK to Make a Statement About Community Inclusion

The projection mapping and performance art piece “Time for an UPdate?” — part of the Storefronts installation series — spotlights issues of community, belonging and the Over-the-Rhine economic boom that some longtime residents feel has left them behind

Oct 10, 2019 at 2:14 pm
click to enlarge The 'Storefronts' art installation 'Time for an UPdate?' - Photo: YouTube screenshot
Photo: YouTube screenshot
The 'Storefronts' art installation 'Time for an UPdate?'

BLINK is a four-night light and art experience spanning 30 city blocks through Over-the-Rhine, downtown and, new this year, across an illuminated Roebling Bridge into Covington. It is returning to the area by popular demand after the event’s inaugural event in 2017.

Part of the official BLINK manifesto reads: “The people of the future city are unified and enlightened.”

It begs the response: How are those bonds of unity formed? And to whom does a better tomorrow belong?

One grassroots effort will address these questions in “Time for an UPdate?,” a projection mapping and performance art piece, not affiliated with BLINK but conceived and orchestrated by residents in Over-the-Rhine. (“UPdate?” will occur all four nights of the event.) An installment of the ongoing Storefronts series produced at the Miami University Center for Community Engagement on Vine Street, the work will spotlight issues of community, belonging and the Over-the-Rhine economic boom that some longtime residents feel has left them behind.

Centering around the idea of a town crier as a messenger, one performer will lead a call and response as a narrative animation is projected overhead, prompting other artists to share in real-time personal reflections on memory and dreams for the future of OTR.  

In the words of Mary Clare Rietz, a MUCCE facilitating artist, the center is in a “highly visible, dramatically gentrified section” of OTR. What’s in the storefront windows, she explains, gives a clue as to what’s happening in a neighborhood and how it’s perceived. Storefronts aims to ensure that the entire community is represented.

With plenty of new bars, retail developments and luxury apartments in the area, the need for affordable housing has not been entirely forgotten. But, “UPdate?” collaborator Tony Drummond asks, “Affordable to who? Affordable housing is not low-income housing. This place got diverse so quickly. I hope the right person will see that it’s pushing people out.”

Collaborator Key Beck adds that pricing isn’t the only factor in displacing community members.

“When I was growing up and I had family that lived down here, you would basically only see neighborhood people,” they say. “If the environment seems inhospitable and it doesn’t feel like your neighborhood anymore, then you start to question, like, ‘Do I belong?’ ”

While all residents in OTR are neighbors in a technical sense, the artists behind “UPdate?” express remorse for losing touch with a community-centric way of life that values new and old residents equally. Their goal is to help find common ground between the increasingly commercial area and the people who call it home.

Sunflowers are a vital motif in the projection mapping: a symbol of fresh, living things, healthy and whole. There’s a metaphor to be found here. On good days, sunflowers rotate out to bask in the light of the sun. In stormy weather, they turn inward toward one another, protecting and ensuring the survival of all.

“That’s what we need to do here,” Drummond says. “Come together.”

Although they’re not officially affiliated with BLINK itself, the team is eager to share in the excitement of the weekend.

“We want a beautiful neighborhood. We want to be a part of these celebrations,” says Beck. “Some of these creative ideas and wonderful, beautiful reasons why (people) want to come to Over-the-Rhine are some of the same reasons why we live here.”

What’s important, they emphasize, is that the upward momentum of BLINK will inspire permanent, positive change for residents.

Collaborator Janet Albright-Captain says she wants audiences to recognize that while artistic, “UPdate?” isn’t about entertainment, but rather “the people who still live here after BLINK is over.” She’s optimistic, and it’s clear that the sun will continue to shine on the entire community even after the electric whir of BLINK’s technicolor light fades away.

“We’re planting a seed,” she says. “A seed that’s spreading.”

“Time for an UPdate?” will begin at 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Sunday (Oct. 10-13) at 1300 Vine St. in Over-the-Rhine. Read more about Storefronts and Miami University Center For Community Engagement and visit the Facebook event page for more “UPdate?” info.