When others were abandoning ship in Over-the-Rhine in the early 2000s, Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati — already a decade into occupying an old bank building on Vine Street — chose to stick it out. Nearly two decades later, it’s a neighborhood anchor and recently became even more substantial because of the organization’s growth into three more spaces south of its original performance venue. It now has a spacious bar, an elevator, a rehearsal hall and commodious offices and shop space for employees. Even better, the expansion preserved the historical flavor of the 19th-century buildings — exposed brick, old window frames and more. For a theater that’s all about new plays, it’s showing genuine affection for the past. Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, 1127 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, ensemblecincinnati.org.
2. Art Academy of Cincinnati
3. Contemporary Arts Center
2. Contemporary Arts Center
3. American Sign Museum
2. “Cincinnati Toy Heritage”
3. “Swing Around Rosie”
4. “Mr. Dynamite”
5. “Dream Big and Fly High”
6. “Martha, The Last Passenger Pigeon”
7. “Homecoming (Blue Birds)”
8. “Little Sure Shot”
9. “Lookin’ Good”
10. “Ezzard Charles: The Cincinnati Cobra”
Music Hall reopened its doors after a 16-month renovation for a community-wide free open house last October, sponsored by ArtsWave’s resident arts organizations, including the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Cincinnati Opera, Cincinnati Ballet, May Festival and Cincinnati Pops Orchestra. The arts organizations put on the ol’ razzle-dazzle for the thousands of visitors who poured in to pore over the reimagined space, including the beautiful new Corbett Tower, now free from awful drop ceilings. After so many months of constant updates, 3CDC renderings and hungrily consumed peeks behind the scene, it was pretty rad for community members to check out not only the fresh space and all its new facets but to also get reacquainted with (or first encounter) the truly singular experience of watching live performances in such an awe-inducing space. Music Hall, 1241 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine, cincinnatiarts.org.
Prominent in so many of Michael Scheurer’s works, eyes seemed to follow visitors all around Signature Scheurer, the Weston Art Gallery’s nearly 50-year retrospective of his drawings, paintings, paper collages and multimedia assemblages. The largely self-taught (and, unfortunately, still largely unknown) Cincinnati artist and antiques dealer has long seen possibilities others miss as he acquires damaged books, discarded photos, stray beads, junked toys, Bollywood posters, handwritten letters, scientific illustrations, maps and bits of fabric. Once Scheurer has his treasures in his apartment, his keen eye then zeroes in on the disparate pieces that, somehow, were always meant to share the same canvas. Kudos go to curator Kelly O’Donnell for including Scheurer’s childhood drawings from the 1970s in the retrospective. They were a sweet reminder that too many of us lose our creative vision as adults. But not him. Weston Art Gallery, 650 Walnut St., Downtown, westonartgallery.com.
Cincinnati has its share of art galleries, but Wave Pool, situated in the post-industrial, onetime blue-collar neighborhood of Camp Washington, has a different approach than any other. It’s not like a commercial gallery with a stable of artists. Instead, founders Skip and Cal Cullen created a dynamic nonprofit in 2015, where art intersects with community and acts as a catalyst for social engagement and artistic development. Their goal is to integrate contemporary art into the neighborhood’s daily life — so they do projects with food equity, events to help artists get seen and a lot of endeavors in which artists go out and work with various groups to create. They were the first venue to feature Still They Persist, FemFour’s collection of protest art from the historic 2017 women’s marches; they operate The Welcome Project, a social enterprise that blends a café with a boutique to empower immigrants and refugees; and they transformed the gallery into a “Gathering Space” in August that functioned as a temporary bookstore, tea shop and living room for events including Poetry and Pie, The Sleep Show slumber party and conversations about creativity. Cal is now the art center’s executive director while Skip is exhibitions director for Visionaries + Voices. Cal continues to see art as a change-maker, engaging with artists whether or not they have studios nearby. Wave Pool, 2940 Colerain Ave., Camp Washington, wavepoolgallery.org.
Michael Solway, director of the Carl Solway Gallery in the West End, revisited the 1960s and found it still mind-blowingly trippy with his Distant Horizons: Pioneers of Psychedelic Art show, featuring work by Isaac Abrams, Tony Martin, Ira Cohen and the collective USCO (especially member Gerd Stern). As art history has evolved, Psychedelic art hasn’t fared as well as such rival contemporary movements as Pop, Minimalism and Conceptual. But there’s a revival/rediscovery going on nationally now, and the Solway exhibit showed why — the works had fascinating colors and design, a sense of humor (sometimes) and a sense of awe at the beauty of life and the power of expanded consciousness. Carl Solway Gallery, 424 Findlay St., West End, solwaygallery.com.
The Queen City is famous for its proud German heritage. And in 1989, Cincinnati became sister cities with Germany’s Bavarian capitol of Munich — the same year the Berlin Wall fell. It’s been over 28 years, and since that time, Cincinnati’s National Underground Railroad Freedom Center has managed to pick up a chunk of that history in the form of a chunk of the wall itself. Gifted by the city of Berlin in 2010, it was brought here to reflect upon those who “through courage, cooperation and perseverance worked collectively to demolish a modern barrier to freedom.” This piece of Cold War history is on permanent display outside the Freedom Center and facing the Ohio River — itself a former barrier. The wall is a symbolic reminder of past struggles and a message not to take freedom for granted. And with a new president, the Freedom Center is approaching its 15th anniversary with reinvigorated commitment to that mission. National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, 50 E. Freedom Way, Downtown, freedomcenter.org.
Local comedy troupe Future Science performs its brand of multimedia sketch comedy the last Sunday of every month at MOTR Pub. The general concept amounts to having “scientists” deliver presentations that will be of little to no use to anyone, save — for example — those curious as to what size pot is best for cooking a human head. The shows start at 10:30 p.m., when most people are going to bed in preparation of starting their workweek. “That should give you an idea of what kind of people our demographic is,” says Logan Lautzenheiser, a core member of the troupe. Along with Lautzenheiser, the Future Science crew features Andy Gasper, Wayne Memmott, Karl Spaeth and Chris Weir, with regular appearances and video contributions by local playwright Ben Dudley. When the whole gang is working seamlessly together, their performance style is heightened by the straight-faced dedication to absurdity. All shows are free. Future Science, facebook.com/futurescienceshow.