Over the years, little has changed at 2823 Massachusetts Ave. in Camp Washington. Of course, I'm talking about the outside of the building. Inside is a different story.
On Jan. 6, an opening-night crowd of friends, colleagues and arts supporters crowded into the old DiLeia Gallery for Unit 2, a series of three exhibitions curated by Steve Zieverink, Ryan Woods and Marcus Knupp. The old DiLeia space is the working studio the three share. Zieverink felt that the space could be regularly converted into a retail gallery. Woods and Knupp agreed, and Unit 2 was born.
Crowds of arts patrons aren't new to the building. Last fall, Saw Theater sold out four weekends of performances of their new multimedia piece, Account Me Puppet, at their second-floor performance space.
It's true that the arts can be a catalyst for the renewal of an urban neighborhood.
And we're not just talking about downtown or Over-the-Rhine. The more art, artists and arts patrons coming to Camp Washington, the better off that neighborhood is.
Local artists should feel excited about Unit 2. Any additional opportunity to see new work by area artists is a good thing.
"We don't have a lot of money, and this is the only way we can exhibit," Zieverink says, speaking at Unit 2 on a recent afternoon. "We need more places like this. There are a lot of artists in Cincinnati."
The initial outlook after the November 1996 opening of DiLeia was also optimistic. But a lack of financial support forced the gallery to close with a self-effacing crash at a July 1999 awards ceremony.
Now, DeLeia's spirit continues with Unit 2. Suddenly there's new life for one of Cincinnati's boldest arts spaces.
Unit 2 boasts an impressive gallery space. More importantly, the work by the assembled artists — Aaron Butler, Tommy Reuff and Zieverink — is even more impressive.
A shadowbox by Reuff titled "She Has My Eyes" uses found items like an antique photograph, strands of hair and old laboratory equipment to make a sly, artistic statement about genetics. Butler mixes worn bathroom tiles and sexual imagery in stunning fashion. The most abstract work belongs to Zieverink, who layers applications of paint and tar into subtle patterns.
Unit 2 is a retail show. The artwork is priced, and Zieverink is making himself available for weekday appointments. One of his goals is to see the art sell.
Memories of DiLeia's demise diminish the expectations for Unit 2. The hope is that this studio/gallery space continues to surprise everyone involved. Of course, that depends on support from Cincinnati's arts community. Since Zieverink, Woods and Knupp will be using the old gallery for their working studio space, there's little need for a deep-pocketed arts angel to fund their exhibitions. Basically, Unit 2 looks to be self-sufficient.
Unit 2 is about second chances. It's also about Cincinnati supporting local artists and eclectic programming. Granted, we've seen stories about young artists creating new opportunities to show their work before. Chances are you've read a few in this very column.
In nearby Brighton Corner, David Dillon and other artist-members of Semantics Gallery continue to thrive in their storefront gallery space. Semantics is proof that there's a future for more projects like Unit 2.
Talking with Zieverink and Reuff, soaking in the exhibition, I'm reminded that the arts are capable of breathing life back into a depressed city neighborhood. I'm also reminded that some of the best arts ideas often emerge from grass-roots efforts. Unit 2 continues with two new shows, one curated by Woods on Saturday and a closing exhibition curated by Knupp on Jan. 20. The challenge for Zieverink, Woods and Knupp is to do additional shows again and again and again.
The doors to DiLeia were closed once. The hope here is that the space will never close to the public again.
Unit 2 is an arts opportunity too good to waste. It's also what's necessary to keep Cincinnati from losing emerging artists.
It's about youth and new ideas — things that Cincinnati needs more than ever.