Best Of 2017

Best OTR Makeover

For more than a century, Memorial Hall has stood quite literally in the shadow of Music Hall, just a few steps south of it on Elm Street in Over-the-Rhine. In 1978, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but it wasn’t often used because it lacked air conditioning and had barely minimal amenities (especially restrooms). But after an $11 million renovation, it’s in the shadows no longer. Today it’s a full-fledged player along the Elm Street arts corridor. Its modernized theater has a more accommodating stage for performers and more comfortable seating for 550 audience members (retaining antique chair frames from 1908). There’s new heating and cooling, an upgraded kitchen and catering space, first-floor rooms outfitted for receptions and audiovisual presentations and modern enlarged restrooms. Lots of musical and entertainment events, as well as private gatherings, are on tap. Memorial Hall, 1225 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-977-8838, memorialhallotr.com.

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, artworkscincinnati.org.

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, paulettahansel.wordpress.com.

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, all-creatures.com.

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, galaxieskateshop.blogspot.com.

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, poppedart.gallery.