Best Of 2021

Socially-distant bumper cars on ice. Here’s hoping they become an annual attraction.

Since 1998, Rabbit Hash, Kentucky has been electing dogs as mayors of the unincorporated hamlet instead of humans. And on Nov. 3, 2020, a six-month-old French bulldog named Wilbur caused a national stir when he was declared the new ruler, unseating the former mayor: a pitbull named Brynneth Pawltro. Adding to the attraction, Rabbit Hash’s election system is openly corrupt — voters can cast their ballot more than once, and each vote equals a monetary donation to help with the town’s historical upkeep. And while previous elections have attracted news coverage (and even a one-hour TV special on Animal Planet), the 2020 election seemed to be just what people wanted to read while the country tore its collective hair out waiting for the presidential election results. Thankfully, Mayor Wilbur is anything but divisive. And he’s ready to take charge of Rabbit Hash. “The duties of the mayor,” says his owner Amy Noland, “are to show up in town and gnaw on a bone.”

Best Amusement Park Accolades
Photo: Provided by Kings Island

Kings Island’s Orion giga coaster — one of only seven giga coasters in the world — won USA Today’s Best New Amusement Park Attraction in this year’s readers poll, beating out rides at Disney, Six Flags and Universal Studios. To be specified as a “giga coaster,” a ride must have a height or drop of 300 to 399 feet. To put that into perspective, Kings Island’s Eiffel Tower is 315 feet; Orion’s first drop is 300.

The Simpsons’ episode “The Road to Cincinnati” follows Principal Skinner and Superintendent Chalmers on an “800-mile” voyage to the Queen City for an administrators’ convention. As it’s set in Cincinnati, the episode features some iconic local spots including the Roebling Suspension Bridge, Duke Energy Convention Center and a flying pig wearing a Reds uniform — holding a sign which reads, “Welcome to Cincinnati: Birthplace of Pete Rose’s Gambling Problem.” There was even a cameo by the Clifton Skyline (although the 3-ways were served in bowls and not on plates). Apparently, while researching the episode, The Simpsons’ crew scored some “sweet mail-order Skyline chili,” and when the pandemic hit, Executive Producer Matt Selman happily took it home to ride out “the end of times.”

Anila Quayyum Agha (b. 1965), All the Flowers Are for Me (Red), laser-cut lacquered steel and lightbulb, 60x60x60 in, Alice Bimel Endowment for Asian Art, 2017.7
Photo: Courtesy Cincinnati Art Museum
Anila Quayyum Agha (b. 1965), All the Flowers Are for Me (Red), laser-cut lacquered steel and lightbulb, 60x60x60 in, Alice Bimel Endowment for Asian Art, 2017.7

Pakistani-American artist Anila Quayyum Agha’s super popular sculptural installation All the Flowers Are for Me (Red) returned to the Cincinnati Art Museum (on view until May 30, 2021). First on view at the CAM in 2017, this immersive artwork features a decorative 5-foot laser-cut cube, which illuminates and splays geometric and floral shadows across the floor, walls and ceiling of the gallery.

Hundreds of celebrities have received strange drawings from local comedian Alex Leeds of Dumb Celebrity Drawings, who has the uncanny ability to convey simple-yet-esoterically contrived irreverent jokes and jabs at their intended recipient. And celebrities tend to autograph and return the drawings with a shocking frequency. Some recent items of mail? Alec Baldwin signed a drawing of Tina Fey dressed up as Sarah Palin for SNL; Willem Dafoe signed a picture of his face on the Dafoe Code; and ’90s Hip Hop star Coolio autographed and sent back an illustration of a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos. Just another reason to support the USPS.

This holiday season, Cincinnati’s Dad Skate Squad — a group of 40-plus skateboarding dads (and sometimes their kids) who started riding together each week during COVID-19 with the goal of “spreading positivity and good vibes in our communities and putting smiles on peoples’ faces” — turned into the “Santa Skate Squad” to donate new skateboards, skate shoes, helmets and other accessories to kids in need. They partnered with local nonprofits like the Brighton Center and CityLink to help distribute the goods.

For the past 39 years, Marquicia Jones-Woods has devoted her life to the children of the West End. Born and raised in the neighborhood, Jones-Woods — known affectionately as Ms. Quicy — began her outreach when she was just a teenager. She started hosting beautification projects with the kids — painting rocks and benches, planting flowers, picking up trash — and taking them to Bible study, where they could get a free meal. Then she added in the arts, creating short plays and dances to “keep them engaged,” she says. “The dance piece took off.” Thus the Q-Kidz Dance Team was born. But it’s about more than movement. The community studio on Linn Street also offers a support system — a place where kids can get hands-on attention, positive reinforcement, even help with homework. “It’s really not about dance. It’s about providing a better life,” Jones-Woods says. Q-Kidz performs frequently locally — you’ll see them onstage at Music Hall, the Aronoff Center, in the Opening Day Parade, BLINK — and they travel across the country to cities like New York, New Orleans, Atlanta and Los Angeles to take part in (and win) dance competitions and events. Q-Kidz dancers have also been immortalized on film in the highly acclaimed 2015 indie movie The Fits. The organization will turn 40 this May.

ish, Cincinnati’s nonprofit Jewish and Israeli arts and culture group, created a calendar of creative virtual and streaming events to connect community this year — especially important because they were unable to host their annual in-person ish Festival. Programming ranged from High Holidays in a Box (featuring local honey and artwork to celebrate Rosh Hashanah) to ishUES interactive art and culture workshops to The Secret Singer, a local version of The Masked Singer, just in time for Purim.

The popular Newport Dog Park was forced to close in 2020 due to overcrowding and infrastructure issues, which led to greener pastures. The community teamed up with the City of Newport to raise funds and resources to reopen the park even bigger and better than before — just 500 feet away and behind the Campbell County Public Library’s Newport Branch. The off-leash dog park is twice the size of the former park and features a separate space for small dogs. Concrete pathways and community walking paths wind throughout, along with “pet-friendly benches” and landscaping. The new park also features a dedicated parking area for visitors, plus a water fountain.