The Arts as Hero

A research project gives rise to a film about Cincinnati’s thriving arts scene


’ve seen the future,” Prince sang back in 1989 on the soundtrack to Tim Burton’s Batman, “and it will be …”

Gotham City was on the cusp of change; a hero had arrived on the scene to usher in the new. Cincinnati has been waiting, always on the verge of its own bankable opportunity to step into the future as a lively and engaged urban market. 

Every city needs a hero.

When I moved to the Queen City in late 2000 from Philadelphia, Cincinnati couldn’t contain its desperate desire to find a cool hip sibling, a role model whose suave moves could be imitated in the mirror during late nights filled with restless urban dreams of people coursing through the downtown arteries fueling the communal pulse — the sights and sounds of life. Philadelphia’s Center City, thanks to a bold, visionary mayor (Ed Rendell), had found its groove. In their own ways, so had Seattle, Asheville, N.C., and Austin, Texas. 

We were looking for our hero, and at that time Richard Florida, professor of Regional Economic Development at Carnegie Mellon University, swooped in with his cape and utility belt full of data about “the creative class,” his mythic branding label for the legendary legion of taste arbiters that every city needs to sustain itself. We hung on every word of this urban studies theorist as he delivered (in The Rise of the Creative Class) pearls of wisdom about creative types and the cities they inhabited.

His research told him that creative centers thrive not “for such traditional economic reasons as access to natural resources or transportation routes” or “because their local governments have given away the store through tax breaks and other incentives to lure business. They are succeeding largely because creative people want to live there. Creative centers provide the integrated eco-system or habitat where all forms of creativity — artistic and cultural, technological and economic — can take root and flourish.”

And now, that hero and the hopeful promise we had nearly given up on has seemingly arrived on the scene.

Born of a report — the Topos Partnership’s “The Arts Ripple Effect: A Research-Based Strategy to Build Shared Responsibility for the Arts” — and nursed from the bosom of creativity, Radius is the brainchild of Possible Worldwide, a WWP Digital company, with multiple Cincinnati-based partners. 

Radius: A Short Film is the world’s first game-sourced movie, shot during the 2011 MidPoint Music Festival, Final Fridays, the Emery Theatre’s 11.11.11 opening and other arts events and edited from more than 2,000 crowd-sourced images. The film captures an anonymous citizen’s investigation into the rise of an urban superhero in the tradition of Joseph Campbell, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, who invigorates his local community. 

The filmmaking principles at Possible Worldwide, led by chief creative officer Hank McLendon and integrated campaign director Matt Bledsoe, placed life-sized superhero cutouts on top of iconic downtown buildings (such as the Contemporary Arts Center and Know Theatre) to attract attention and build awareness that would encourage people to use the SCVNGR smartphone game app (by scanning displayed QR codes). More than 300 people, enticed by free music downloads from bands performing at MidPoint and the chance to appear in the film, submitted the photos that would become the raw footage used to create the world and the characters of Radius. 

What immediately strikes viewers is the comic book aesthetic that dominates the film. For a generation growing evermore comfortable with the reality of playing games, watching movies and reading interactive magazines on a variety of mobile devices, Radius feels like an organic melding of format and graphic content. People and the settings pop off the screen, similar to the immersive sense one gets from three-dimensional effects technology, coming from the decidedly low-fi approach of building a scale model from the photos of local businesses and venues and layering in images of people in those environments. Imagine the dynamic visual stylings of films like 300 and Sin City employed in the service of a story about the ripple effect of the arts throughout a community.

Everything about Radius circles back to the message, rooted in the report commissioned by ArtsWave, one of Cincinnati’s leading arts advocacy and funding organizations. 

In discussing the report, which is gaining national attention on par with Florida’s findings from more than a decade ago, Margy Waller, senior fellow with Topos and the project manager for the ArtsWave initiative, states: “People really value a couple things, and they believe that the arts can accomplish these things. One is that the arts make places immediately vital, vibrant and exciting. They can tell their own stories about how the arts changed a neighborhood, a block or the downtown area. That’s true all over the country. Secondly, people are hungry for things that bring them together. They understand that communities need events that bring them together.”

Following the February premiere screening in Cincinnati of Radius, individuals and local arts partners like Know Theatre, The Emery Theatre and Park + Vine took to Facebook and other social media to embrace the film’s impact on the community. As other urban centers gained access to the film, the buzz grew. Mark Alan Hughes tweeted about wanting to “Retrofit Radius” for a GED to Ph.D. project sponsored by Philadelphia’s current mayor, Michael Nutter. 

Suddenly, the Queen City is the envy of national scene, thanks to Radius, our new hero. But if Radius teaches us anything, it is that we are the heroes we’re seeking. We are the community of arts makers and lovers who dare to dream and to see ourselves represented in motion-captured images of our social network. Who needs a cape and a cowl? 


Visit to view RADIUS: A SHORT FILM and a behind the scenes video.

Scroll to read more Movies & TV articles

Join CityBeat Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.