Best Of 2023

  1. Findlay Market
  2. Union Terminal
  3. Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden
  4. Music Hall
  5. John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge
  6. Spring Grove Cemetery
  7. Krohn Conservatory
  8. Over-the-Rhine
  9. Cincinnati Art Museum
  10. Eden Park

Arts & Culture

Arts & Culture
Here are the 2023 Best Of Cincinnati® Reader and Staff Pick winners for Arts & Culture.
With over 800 artists, curators and other participants involved in staging some 100 exhibitions in about 90 venues, it’s a challenge for any one artist to really stand out for presenting lens-based art in a radically new and different way at the FotoFocus Biennial. But on evenings at Camp Washington’s CampSITE Sculpture Park, Liz Roberts’ site-specific Post Blonde installation succeeded. She presented her varied driving-oriented images — including excerpts from road films— on a makeshift screen of salvaged car windshields and also on cars parked in the park. The effect was eerie, causing transfixed visitors to think about the allure of the wide open road as well as its inherent dangers. fotofocus.org.
  1. The City Flea
  2. Summer Cinema series
  3. Opera in the Park

Period rooms often recreate homes too distant in the past for us to relate to beyond our silent admiration for their individual antique objects. But two shows in 2022 brought such rooms — and their potential — into the 21st century by making the lives of their inhabitants seem relevant and modern. Cincinnati Art Museum's Unlocking an Art Deco Bedroom by Joseph Urban recreated a bedroom he had designed in the Roaring ’20s for a teenage girl living in a Chicago high-rise with her wealthy parents just ahead of the Great Depression. Likewise, Binky Brown's Funeral Pyre at (DSGN)CLLCTV recreated the exciting, wildly creative workspace of pioneering comix artist/sign painter Justin Green, who died in Cincinnati last year. Both of these displays were temporary but deserve to be permanent somewhere in Cincinnati. cincinnatiartmuseum.org; dsgncllctv.com.

Cincinnati ranked on Moviemaker Magazine’s best places to live and work in the film industry again this year. Over the course of 2022, five feature films were shot in the Queen City. The film that seemed to draw the most attention in Cincinnati was Wise Guys, which follows a feud between two gangsters, both played by Robert De Niro. Parts of Downtown were transformed into 1950s New York for the filming of the movie. Locals were recruited as extras, apparently along with Cincinnati’s treasured Arnold’s Bar and Grill. The only thing cooler than a feature film being shot in your neighborhood is when you get to see it on the big screen as it debuts.

Jane Austen: Fashion & Sensibility
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Jane Austen: Fashion & Sensibility

Last summer, Jane Austen fans had the chance to see costumes from beloved film adaptations of the author’s novels at the Taft Museum of Art. Traveling from London, England, Jane Austen: Fashion & Sensibility featured dusters, capes, dresses, tailcoats, trousers, trimmed bonnets, spencers (cropped jackets for women) and other items worn in films like Pride & Prejudice, Emma, Sense & Sensibility and Mansfield Park. While the majority of the exhibit was housed in the Fifth Third Gallery, many of the costumes were placed intentionally by curator Tamera Muente throughout the Taft historic house. Visitors could stroll through the space and be greeted by gorgeous outfits at nearly every turn. Also on display was a 7’x13’ wall-sized map of London made in 1746, about half a century before Austen began writing. The highly detailed map highlighted the spots Austen frequented, including her go-to tea shop and her brother’s flat on 10 Henrietta Street. taftmuseum.org.

Krohn Conservatory provides Cincinnatians with an urban oasis of well-tended, lush foliage. Backdropped by a burbling waterfall, a stroll through the Krohn’s plant houses (fern, palm, orchid, desert and bonsai) might just be one of the best ways to destress in the city. But between July and October, the conservatory welcomed even more color into its space via Prismatica, an art installation featuring large interactive kaleidoscopes. Guests could peer into the prisms, casting the plant life (and themselves) into a sphere of color. The show also included placards explaining the science behind color as well as prompts encouraging visitors to engage visually with their surroundings. Both playful and soothing, Prismatica was part of Krohn’s ongoing efforts to bring in more exhibits throughout the year. cincinnati-oh.gov.

Tucked away in Devou Park, the Behringer-Crawford Museum is a bit of an overlooked local gem — but it shouldn’t be. Dedicated to showcasing Northern Kentucky heritage, the stated mission of the BCM is to collect, present, study and enjoy the area’s natural, cultural, visual and performing arts heritage. Founded in 1950 as the William Behringer Memorial Museum, it initially showcased the collection of oddities its namesake acquired on his travels, including a stuffed two-headed calf born on a Kentucky farm. (The bi-brained bovine now serves as the museum’s mascot.) Today, visitors can continue to pay tribute to those curiosities while exploring exhibits dedicated to everything from regional paleontology and steamboat history to folk art and fashion. Climb aboard a 19th-century streetcar or watch toy trains whiz by in an elaborate, miniature urban display. Upstairs, the museum has space for rotating attractions, including this winter’s White Christmas exhibit, featuring costumes and ephemera from Irving Berlin’s classic holiday film on loan from the Rosemary Clooney House in Augusta, Kentucky. Check the BCM’s schedule for slice-of-life history lectures, which explore offbeat topics ranging from murders and classic cars to local landmarks. bcmuseum.org.

You might think that after 16 years Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s annual holiday show, Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and Then Some!), would be worn out. But the classic theater company keeps it fresh and timely with topical references to local and national politics, pop culture and current events. Directed for many seasons by Jeremy Dubin, it’s refreshed annually with a cast of jokesters drawn from Cincy Shakes’ acting company. Rubbery comedic veteran actor Justin McCombs keeps audiences in stitches with his childlike persistence in believing as well as with his misinterpretation of BHCs (beloved holiday classics, for those in the know). The show has become a regular must-attend outing for office groups, families and anyone else who’s weary of predictable holiday offerings. cincyshakes.com.

Last August, Cincinnati Jewish arts organization ish hosted Trashion, an immersive eco-art fashion experience at the Mockbee. Described as “Hunger Games meets Harry Potter’s Yule Ball on Project Runway,” Trashion featured teen-designed clothing that celebrated creative fashion design and promoted waste reduction and sustainability. The event was hosted in the spirit of vogue balls in drag culture, and those who participated created their own “house,” developing a general theme for the designs created by their group. In addition to the upcycled costume fashion show, the event had music, circus performers and a silent disco. instagram.com/t3cinci.

The University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music’s musical theater department demonstrated the irreplaceable gift of live performance with three outstanding productions in 2022. Stephen Sondheim's Sunday in the Park with George paid tribute to the epic composer/lyricist, who died in November 2021. Performed in the 170-seat Cohen Family Studio Theater, it was a poignant, wonderfully staged celebration with exceptional performances, terrific use of projections and a great four-piece pit band led by keyboardist Julie Spangler. Later, Bock and Harnick's romantic musical comedy She Loves Me received the sweetly ditzy staging it deserved, with every word — both sung and spoken — perfectly articulated by the outstanding cast. Finally, an astoundingly high-voltage, stunning production of Something Rotten featured jaw-dropping performances that were especially notable for their vocal artistry and physical endurance. It all was better than Broadway, and at a fraction of the ticket price. ccm.uc.edu.

On the last Sunday of every month, MOTR Pub in Over-the-Rhine hosts Word of Mouth, one of the most approachable open-mic opportunities for poetry that yields honorable and bright material. Unlike other open mics, there are no signups here — it’s a read-the-room kind of situation in which participants take turns and walk up to the microphone when the time is right. Yeah, it sounds like a recipe for disaster or awkward silence, but it really isn’t. Participants are always graciously respectful of others and thoughtful in their delivery. Every month a poet is featured, and Cincinnati’s poets laureate and other noted authors have been known to show up. The mic is open before and after the featured reader presents, and time in between allows discussion. After all, the Word of Mouth motto is, “Show up. Mouth off. Pay attention.” motrpub.com.

Lloyd Library and Museum is a treasure trove. Tucked away downtown, it’s stocked with historical and contemporary books, journals and prints related to botany, natural history, medicine and visual arts. The research library at Lloyd also hosts exhibits throughout the year, fielding topics like birdwatching, insects, the intersection of humanity and nature, medical cannabis and more while showcasing items from their collection and outside art pieces. And if you’re looking to add foliage to your social feeds, Lloyd Library’s Instagram (@lloydlibraryofficial) doesn’t disappoint — each post unearths fascinating scientific illustrations and prints from the library’s stacks. Whether in person or online, Lloyd sparks curiosity, champions natural history and is downright cool. Lloydlibrary.org.

Not only is Krohn Conservatory’s annual end-of-year Celestial Holiday show a tradition — it also keeps getting better. In 2022, Friends of Music Hall commissioned Applied Imagination, the Kentucky company that creates the conservatory show's model-train journey and the exhibits that accompany it, to add a vividly detailed and beautiful 8-foot model of Music Hall to its annual exhibit. Although a miniature compared to the real Music Hall in Over-the-Rhine, the small version still seemed larger than life to those who busily photographed it or posed by it. cincinnati-oh.gov/cincyparks; friendsofmusichall.org.

Edgar Tafur, whose reputation as a highly regarded modernist sculptor continues to grow since his 2007 death, was born and raised in Colombia and did some important work locally while teaching at the University of Cincinnati. One such piece used to be located outside the old Temple Sholom in Amberley Village, with its abstracted figuration placed along a horizontal concrete wall. When the Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati demolished the building after the congregation moved in 2016, it saved the wall, but time and weather had taken their toll. So in 2022, a thorough cleaning with water from a tank truck was applied to bring out the beauty. For the best experience, art lovers should view the sculpture from a distance (it can be seen from Ridge Road, across from the Mayerson JCC). thejewishfoundation.org.

The American Sign Museum, a local institution with a national glow, has done some great things for the city and the preservation of times past. The museum’s ever-expanding collection contains signs and styles across a multitude of times and places. The collection, naturally, includes plenty of signs with a Cincinnati connection, like the sign belonging to the now-demolished Cincinnati Gardens that went across the side of an arena, amongst a warehouse full of similar advertising art. This past year, the museum also saved signs belonging to the long-running costume design house Schenz Theatrical Supply that supplied theater costumes and the White House Easter Bunny costumes for decades; the beloved Clifton music venue Mad Frog, which closed after 26 years and was demolished last year; Clifton restaurant Lydia's on Ludlow Avenue which closed in 2020; a Graeter's storefront sign; and a large Kahn’s factory sign, among many others. americansignmuseum.org.

On Sept. 6, 2022, the King Records studio buildings, located at 1536-1540 Brewster Avenue in Evanston, were officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places. From the 1940s into the early 1970s, the Cincinnati label produced several celebrated and legendary musicians, including James Brown, Bootsy Collins, Philip Paul and Otis Williams. Being placed on the national register will not only provide certain tax credits, easements and grants for those developing the property, it also gives King Records even more "gravitas," says Charlie Dahan, coauthor of King Records' nomination proposal. The achievement also cements King Records’ status as an iconic fixture in the nation's music history. kingrecords.org.

Local author Holly Brians Ragusa’s debut memoir Met the End folds together national, local and personal history to tell the story of her late father, John Powell, whom serial killer Donald Harvey murdered along with dozens of other victims. After a motorcycle accident, Powell was recovering at Drake Hospital, where Harvey worked as a nurse. Brians Ragusa writes that it was journalists, whistleblowers and a coroner’s instincts that led to Harvey being caught as a serial killer, the events of which were spurred by Powell’s death. The author calls Met the End a true-crime survival memoir, penning something that stays true not only to her own experience and that of her family’s, but also cuts away the sensationalism of Harvey’s notoriety to capture Powell’s life as a loving father to three children. Met the End is insightful, often poetic, well researched and a vulnerable read that deserves a spot on your bookshelf. hbragusa.com.

Plan B Art Project at Ombré Gallery
Photo: Provided by Ombré Gallery
Plan B Art Project at Ombré Gallery

In response to the potential reversal of Roe v. Wade in June, an Over-the-Rhine art gallery hosted an exhibit featuring wearable art and jewelry meant to ignite conversations surrounding reproductive rights. Plan B Art Project at Ombré Gallery showcased more than 40 artists and pieces of contemporary, handmade jewelry, including pins, earrings and necklaces, inspired by the fight for reproductive rights. A quarter of the proceeds from the exhibit went toward Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio. planbartproject.com.

Do you remember where you were when you found out that Cincinnati’s favorite hippo would become a big sister? It seems like yesterday that Fiona the hippo stole the hearts of Cincinnatians — and the world — when she was born prematurely at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden in 2017. Now six years old, Fiona still has superstar status but is learning to share that spotlight with her new little brother, Fritz. The baby hippo was a surprise, as Bibi, the matriarch, had been on birth control when meeting the male Tucker for the first time. Cincinnati has since welcomed Fritz to its favorite hippo family. Born in August, Fritz quickly became a delight for both zoo employees and animal fans, with the public even deciding Fritz’s name through an online vote. cincinnatizoo.org.