Best Of 2017

Best Contemporary Church Steeples

When Crossroads church started its restoration of the fire-damaged and vacant 1873 Old St. George Catholic Church in Clifton Heights near the University of Cincinnati, it knew it needed to somehow replace the two 169-foot-tall steeples that were destroyed in a 2008 blaze. After all, they were landmarks. But how to do it without reverting to Disneyland-ish imitation of architecture past? The answer was to be true to our times while respecting the past. That was done by building new steeples of the same height and scale as the originals, but made of modern perforated steel panels with a powder-coated paint finish to match the patina of the copper detailing on the church masonry just below. The steeples are internally illuminated with dimmable LED fixtures programmed to light up at dark. The resulting steeples are satisfying for all people, making the church a truly illuminating place — whether you go inside or want to just watch from a distance in the dark. Crossroads Uptown, 42 Calhoun St., Clifton Heights, 513-731-7400,

Arts & Culture
Art: Phil Valois

2. Art Academy of Cincinnati

3. The Pendleton Art Center

2. Contemporary Arts Center

3. Taft Museum of Art

2. “Charley Harper’s Beguiled by the Wild”

3. “Swing Around Rosie”

Best All-Grown-Up Birthday Party

ArtWorks keeps artsy teens employed in the summertime creating cool murals all over town. In 2016, they added eye-catching walls celebrating boxer Ezzard Charles, astronaut Neil Armstrong, sharpshooter Annie Oakley and dynamic singer Rosemary Clooney, to name just a few. (There are currently more than 100 murals around the city.) The program marked its 21st anniversary and celebrated adulthood with a big, sprawling party on Nov. 18, 2016. It was called “21 Candles” and turned out hundreds of supporters for a good time in a hangar at Lunken Airport. It was a night of noisy festivities with 21 performers dressed up as candles — including flame-shaped wigs. ArtWorks, 20 E. Central Parkway, Over-the-Rhine, 513-333-0388,

Best Ambassador for Poetry

There are many reasons why when choosing its first Poet Laureate, Cincinnati got it right in bestowing the honor to Pauletta Hansel. A lifelong devotee to poetry in both her teaching and her writing, she has taken an often-honorary position to new heights with a philosophy of inclusion and participation. Making good on her promise to offer writing experiences for both adults and youth to explore the nature of our city and its communities via her Cincinnati Walking Sonnet and Writing the Neighborhood projects, as well as making them easily enjoyed via her website, Hansel has also reminded us that poetry need not be merely a passive act; it can also be a means to unity.Pauletta Hansel,

Best Architectural Artwork You Probably Haven't Seen Yet

For almost three years now, the builder/artist Mark deJong has been transforming a Camp Washington three-floor, shotgun-style domicile into the Swing House, a large-scale art installation in which the interior has been almost completely opened up — no stairs, no floors, no rooms with walls. But the center attraction is a new 30-foot-long swing with ropes secured to an iron beam across the ceiling. You can swing virtually from end to end, imagining the generations who have lived there previously. It’s a trip through time as well as space. DeJong has been inviting people for special occasions, but envisions a well-attended open house this summer when he’s finally finished. He also promises to get the word out about it through both social and traditional media; until then he’s letting the anticipation grow organically. 

Best Architectural Recreation of Noah's Ark

Since — despite what Ken Ham says — nobody knows what Noah’s Ark really looked like or even if it actually existed, forget that humongous “life-sized” behemoth of a recreation at Northern Kentucky’s Ark Encounter and go for something more human-scale and charming. Like the small ark with cartoon-like animal figures parked outside the All Creatures Animal Hospital in Mount Washington. Life-sized? Who knows? But definitely friendly and cute — it’s an ark animals would like. All Creatures Animal Hospital, 5195 Beechmont Ave., Mount Washington, 513-231-2345,

Best Art Gallery Inside a Skate Shop

If you’ve never been inside The Galaxie Skateshop in Northside, you may have steered clear because teen (and adult) skateboarders can be intimidating if you’re not one. But that would be a big mistake. Not only would you be missing out on a local community of beanied athletes and the nicest guys in town, you’d also miss some of the best gallery openings in the city. Each month, owner Zach Kincaid selects an artist to feature on the walls of his shop. Sometimes the artist is a prolific wildlife photographer, like Jordan West, but there is much variety in the choices. The Galaxie Skateshop, 4040 Hamilton Ave., Northside, 513-542-3400,

Best Art on Wheels

POPP=D ART gallery borrowed the food truck concept and hit the road last summer and fall to bring art to overlooked neighborhoods. People’s Liberty grantees Janet Creekmore, Melissa “Mellkat” Mitchell and Ben Jason Neal renovated a cozy 1963 Rainbow camper and filled it from floor to ceiling with locally made pieces measuring no more than a square foot. Prices were small, too, at $100 or less, making POPP=D ART the best deal on wheels since some genius thought up Taco Tuesdays. The three partners say to look for more “art that moves” in 2017, especially as they team exclusively with the Contemporary Arts Center this fall to continue to engage communities. Until then, find the camper at the Cincinnati Art Museum, Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park & Museum and other artsy spots. POPP=D ART gallery,

Best Art Show Honoring a Great Calypso Singer

At Clay Street Press, artists Carmel Buckley and Mark Harris worked together to honor Trinidad’s legendary Mighty Sparrow by recreating the fronts and backs of his many recordings on 228 album-size ceramic tiles, crafting a lively and colorful memorial to the still-alive world ambassador of Calypso, whose first album was issued in 1958. The show, Sparrow Come Back Home (named after a 1962 album), traveled from Cincinnati to the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. Clay Street Press, 1312 Clay St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-241-3232,

Best Art Show Using Light as a Material

Into the Ether, an exhibit organized by the Dayton Art Institute, gave visitors a chance to see some visually stimulating and thought-provoking work involving artificial light as a substantial if ephemeral element in the work. It offered work by such top names in the field as James Turrell, Robert Irwin and Erwin Redl. In its review of the show, CityBeat said it could just as well be called Into the Mystic for the intense emotional and spiritual qualities of its best work. Dayton Art Institute, 456 Belmonte Park N., Dayton, 937-223-5277,

Best Artist Statement of the Year

For their contribution to Aural Latrinalia: The Bathroom Show, the exhibition of sound art installed in six public restrooms around town, the duo Intermedio — Sam Ferris and Justin West — had this to say about their piece “Outdoor Inhouse” at the Weston Art Gallery: ‘‘ ‘Outdoor Inhouse’ engages the controlled, plastic quality of contemporary elimination and its isolation from natural environments while referencing a recently abandoned architectural staple of daily life prior to indoor plumbing.” Basically, a box housed inside a bathroom stall in the Weston Art Gallery featured a motion-activated field recording of nature sounds, captured inside an old rural outhouse, timed to coordinate with the time of day one entered the installation to answer their own call of nature. Weston Art Gallery, 650 Walnut St., Downtown, 513-621-2787,

Best Artistic Statement Involving Houseplants

Wave Pool, the Camp Washington art gallery known for unconventional exhibitions with a community-building component, came to the rescue of sick Cincinnati houseplants — and their distraught owners — with a summer project called People via PlantsRichmond, Va.-based artists Valerie Molnar and Matthew Spahr invited people to drop off their ailing friends and then return in a couple weeks to find them (hopefully) magically transformed into jolly, healthy green botanic role models after the artists applied TLC (including 12 hours of plant-appropriate music daily). For closing night, there was a dance party for people while the plants just relaxed and enjoyed their new life. Wave Pool, 2940 Colerain Ave., Camp Washington,

Best Artistic Tribute to Henry David Thoreau

Hamilton’s Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park & Museum, in a brilliant stroke of innovative programming, invited Minneapolis-based theater company TigerLion Arts to stage Nature, a “walking play,” amid its open space. Actors playing Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson discussed their mutual love of the natural world with the help of an ensemble of other actors, who also played pipes, flutes and drums. It was a play, a concert and a walk in the park all at once — one might even say it was a truly Transcendentalist experience. Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park & Museum, 1763 Hamilton-Cleves Road, Hamilton, 513-868-8336,

Best Avant-Garde Performance

How can anyone who attended possibly forget the Contemporary Arts Center’s presentation of Tanya Tagaq, the Canadian/Inuit throat singer whose wild, seemingly trance-induced singing style channels both her native traditions and also Yoko Ono in her prime? With her Jazz-oriented accompanists, she provided a riveting live soundtrack to the 1922 silent film Nanook of the North, which documented (with great liberties) the lives of the Inuits of northern Canada. It was postmodern deconstruction with a streak of reverence. Contemporary Arts Center, 44 E. Sixth St., Downtown, 513-345-8400,

Best Brave New Opera

Fellow Travelers wasn’t only an opera with legs — it had balls. Cincinnati Opera took a risk staging the world premiere based on Thomas Mallon’s novel of a doomed gay love affair during the 1950s Lavender Scare, and rumors flew about offended patrons withdrawing support. But the opera played to full houses and the international press coverage praised the story, the performers and the production. Gregory Spears’ score skillfully conveyed unfulfilled longing and more prosaic emotions, and the youthful cast headed by Aaron Blake and University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music alum Joseph Lattanzi delivered compelling performances, thanks to the long-overdue debut of conductor Mark Gibson. Cincinnati Opera,

Best Chance for a Movie Filmed in Cincinnati in 2016 to Be Good

Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos and Colin Farrell, the director and star of the dark, edgy, dystopian comedy (and surprise hit)The Lobster, were in Cincinnati to film the follow-up, the promisingly titled The Killing of a Sacred Deer. Farrell toldIndieWire that it makes The Lobster “seem like a kids’ movie” and also called the film “bleak.” Sounds like a cinephile’s delight to us!

Best Community Theater Imitating Broadway

The idea of seeing the landmark hippie-era Rock musical Hair at a tiny community theater in Newport is uninspiring. But after the last actor took his bow and three hours had flown by at a performance CityBeat witnessed, we walked away asking when the next Footlighters, Inc. show was coming to the Stained Glass Theater. The venue is nestled inside a historic church, with actors as passionate as if they were on Broadway. The sheer joy that each performer displayed during the musical renewed faith in community theater as a powerful artistic institution. Stained Glass Theater, 802 York St., Newport, Ky., 859-291-7464,