Best Of 2018

2. Findlay Market

3. Music Hall

Arts & Culture
Illustration: David Wilson


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”

Best Acoustic Upgrade
Hailey Bollinger
click to enlarge Best Acoustic Upgrade
Hailey Bollinger

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.

Best Art Gallery to Really Understand the Importance of Community Engagement
Hailey Bollinger
click to enlarge Best Art Gallery to Really Understand the Importance of Community Engagement
Hailey Bollinger

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.

Detail, "Hello Dali" by Isaac Abrams
Cal Kowal // Courtesy of Carl Solway Gallery
Detail, "Hello Dali" by Isaac Abrams
click to enlarge Best Artistic Argument for LSD
Cal Kowal // Courtesy of Carl Solway Gallery

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.

Best Bit of the Berlin Wall in Cincinnati
Kellie Coleman
click to enlarge Best Bit of the Berlin Wall in Cincinnati
Kellie Coleman

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.

Best Book for Bookers
Hailey Bollinger
click to enlarge Tamia Stinson - Hailey Bollinger
Hailey Bollinger
Tamia Stinson

Tamia Stinson knows the image-making community — photographers, stylists, creative directors, makeup artists, fashion designers, models and more. She also knows the advertising agencies, branding companies and design firms that hire them. These two sides of the creativity equation can’t always find each other and, as a result, local talent frequently travels to get top assignments and local firms often bring in talent from out of town. To help solve this problem, Stinson invented Tether, a community resource for creatives to connect to each other and opportunities so they can not only work but also thrive in Cincinnati. Stinson received a $100,000 fellowship grant from People’s Liberty philanthropic lab to launch her vision and Tether has manifested as a glossy photographic and editorial sourcebook — the “Tether Directory” — that, as Stinson says, “shows the breadth of what Cincinnati’s image makers can do,” from commercial and lifestyle shoots to beauty and fashion photography. “If you’re a photographer tasked with pulling together a shoot for a client, you’ll be able to build the team you need — the stylists, the models, the hair and makeup artists — from our book.” Tether, tethercincinnati.com.

Those missing the glow of BLINK can look forward to one building shining more brightly this fall. Just a couple weeks after October’s huge light festival called attention to the architectural features of Over-the-Rhine, the Woodward Theater announced that it won a $150,000 grant from the Partners in Preservation: Main Street campaign to recreate its 1913 electric marquee. The money will allow a team to fashion 52 rosettes like those that housed light bulbs outside the old movie house 105 years ago and make other upgrades. The Woodward finished eighth in online voting among 25 sites vying for a share of $1.5 million. On Nov. 2, 11 winners were announced, proving that good things can happen in just a blink. Woodward Theater, 1404 Main St., Over-the-Rhine, woodwardtheater.com.

The Vocal Arts Ensemble delivered a stunning performance of Considering Matthew Shepard, composed by VAE artistic director Craig Hella Johnson. In 1998, Shepard was a college student at the University of Wyoming when he was brutally beaten and tied to a fence outside of Laramie. He died six days later, and became an icon for the LGBTQ+ community. Using Bach’s passion oratorios as a model, Johnson set texts by Shepard and his parents, Hildegard von Bingen, Michael Dennis Browne, Lesléa Newman, Hafiz and Johnson himself. Scored for piano, string ensemble, percussion, clarinet and guitar, the musical styles range from a cowboy’s high lonesome yodel to church chorales and a concluding gospel-infused chorus. The VAE is never less than excellent but it gave this extraordinary work the sense of commitment and urgency that it merits. Vocal Arts Ensemble, vaecinci.org.

Know Theatre’s producing artistic director Andrew Hungerford also happens to be a scenic and lighting designer, and his imaginative work repeatedly enhances productions at the Over-the-Rhine theater. He spends time in other cities (his wife, a writer, is based in Los Angeles), but it was pleasing to read a favorable notice of his work in a December issue of The New Yorker for an evolving production of Hundred Days, an unconventional Indie Rock opera by the husband-and-wife team of Abigail and Shaun Bengson about a marriage accelerated by awareness of a fatal illness. It hit a home run with local audiences during the 2011 Cincy Fringe and again in a full-fledged staging in the summer of 2015. The New Yorker’s kind words were for the New York Theatre Workshop’s 2017 production and praised Hungerford’s “inventive lighting.” Nice for New Yorkers to get a taste of what’s a regular occurrence in Cincinnati. Know Theatre, 1120 Jackson St., Over-the-Rhine, knowtheatre.com.

You can’t walk a hundred feet in downtown Cincinnati without seeing a mural plastered on a nearby building. And, chances are, you have ArtWorks to thank for that. Every summer the award-winning nonprofit works with local youth to create public murals across the Greater Cincinnati area, ranging from historic-photo-based renderings of men on a barge in the Erie Canal to vibrant recreations of Charley Harper wildlife masterpieces to homages to the city’s icons like Rosemary Clooney. ArtWorks is documenting those 132 public murals in a 192-page hardback edition begging to be displayed on your coffee table. Transforming Cincinnati features over 100 images of the large-scale artworks from the program’s humble beginnings in 2007 through 2017, and you can follow along by reading about favorites like “The Cincinnati Strong Man: Henry Holtgrewe,” “Armstrong ” and “Mr. Dynamite.” One-hundred percent of the proceeds from the $49.99 book go straight to ArtWorks, and you can pick it up from 11 different retailers in the Tristate or from a link on ArtWorks’ website. ArtWorks, 20 E. Central Parkway, Downtown, artworkscincinnati.org.

Best Contemporary Art Clowns
Hailey Bollinger
click to enlarge Best Contemporary Art Clowns
Hailey Bollinger

This past summer, the Contemporary Arts Center caught the zeitgeist with its presentation of Ugo Rondinone’s let’s start this day again exhibit, in which life-size clown sculptures posed within a gallery to emphasize their introspection and melancholy. In a world that seems increasingly divided between scary clowns and jovial ones, Rondinone provided a third choice: silently contemplative clowns. His exhibition saw 45 of these unsettlingly life-like sculptures — with closed eyes, red noses and Pierrot-white faces, dressed in a riot of neon, sequins, tulle and teeny, tiny black hats — lost in a surrounding world of color so intensely alive it should make them want to jump and dance… but they didn’t. To accommodate Rondinone’s pensive and passive clowns, the CAC’s walls, floors and ceilings were painted the most intense hues this side of a mountain range of boulder-sized gumballs. It made for a weird contrast as you wandered through the kneeling, seated, reclining sculptures, which were almost constantly having their photos taken by a human counterpart mimicking their action for Instagram. If you didn›t take a selfie with a Rondinone clown, did the exhibit really happen? Contemporary Arts Center, 44 E. Sixth St., Downtown, contemporaryartscenter.org.

Using scrap paper gathered and glued together from his day job at Kroger, Cincinnati-based artist Courttney Cooper makes complex, large-scale drawings in ballpoint pen of aerial views of the local landscape, informed by an intimate knowledge of his hometown. He has been heralded in Cincinnati and shown at the Cincinnati Art Museum and other local galleries. But his work recently made a trip a few hours north to Chicago’s prestigious Western Exhibitions, which hosted its first Cooper solo show in late 2016. The show was so well received that Cooper is now officially represented by the gallery, but he remains a vital participant of the local arts scene.

"Homecoming (Blue Birds)"
Hailey Bollinger
"Homecoming (Blue Birds)"
click to enlarge "Homecoming (Blue Birds)" - Hailey Bollinger
Hailey Bollinger
"Homecoming (Blue Birds)"

Yes, the BLINK festival itself was great, but the parade that kicked off the four-day light-show celebration was truly something to behold. Streets overflowed with spectators from all over the city and beyond who came to watch more than 2,000 participants fully embrace their weird and get legit lit on a Thursday night in Over-the-Rhine. No, really. Lighting up in some capacity was a requirement for the parade entrants. DANCEFIX members dressed like glowing unicorns. Visionaries + Voices contributed larger-than-life fantastical characters; New School elementary students made lanterns. Marching bands, art collectives, civic groups, choral groups and many, many more participated in the nighttime parade, supported by battery packs and LEDs, with Cincinnati’s favorite funky bassist Bootsy Collins and wife Patti leading the whole crazy, raucous, good-hearted, brightly lit shebang. BLINK, blinkcincinnati.com.

"See"
Cincinnati Art Museum
"See"
click to enlarge "See" - Cincinnati Art Museum
Cincinnati Art Museum
"See"

The wondrous Ana England: Kinship exhibit at the Cincinnati Art Museum bolstered the argument that STEM education (focused on science, technology, engineering and math) can be broadened to include the arts and be referred to as STEAM. England, who led the ceramics program at Northern Kentucky University for three decades, has long been inspired by conversations with her physicist father. For Kinship, she repeatedly drew upon patterns present throughout the universe, asking us to notice that the whorl of a fingerprint resembles the cross-section of a tree, which looks like the spiral of a galaxy, which looks like the whirl of a hurricane. The show not only connected the land, sea and sky, it also brought fans of art and science together. Cincinnati Art Museum, 935 Eden Park Drive, Mount Adams, cincinnatiartmuseum.org.

Best Expansion of a Performing Arts Facility
Hailey Bollinger
click to enlarge Best Expansion of a Performing Arts Facility
Hailey Bollinger

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.