21st Century Arts: A Year of Failures and Successes

Despite political controversies and an arts leadership shackled by its insistence on political neutrality, Cincinnati's cultural community continued to grow and diversify this year. Both the Cincinn

Despite political controversies and an arts leadership shackled by its insistence on political neutrality, Cincinnati's cultural community continued to grow and diversify this year. Both the Cincinnati Opera and Ensemble Theater of Cincinnati enjoyed highly successful seasons. Music Director Designate Paavo Järvi was poised to jolt the moribund Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (CSO). Under the leadership of new director Timothy Rub, the Cincinnati Art Museum enjoyed a boost in attendance. Finally, after numerous delays, groundbreaking for architect Zaha Hadid's breathtaking Contemporary Arts Center appeared to be imminent.

Still, many encouraging arts projects remained in early planning stages. The Emery Theatre struggled to find funding to renovate its auditorium into a much-needed mid-sized performance hall. The Art Academy of Cincinnati dealt with its planned move to Over-the-Rhine in deliberate fashion. Attempts to fund a Regional Cultural Alliance, as well as increase the budget of the City of Cincinnati Arts Allocation, continued to be challenged.

If anything, 2000 was the year that articulated the need for an arts activist worthy of the city's cultural community.

Of course, everyone went gaga over the Big Pig Gig. But lessons taught over the past year proved that the local arts community is about more than the pigs.

JANUARY. School for Creative and Performing Art students join the debate between Drop Inn Center advocates and supporters for Erich Kunzel's proposed Greater Cincinnati Arts and Education Center. An article in an SCPA newspaper offers the students' perspective: "Drop Inn or Drop Out — Advocates for the Homeless Question New School Proposal." Students have been promised a new school for a long time. In a public relations battle, both SCPA and Drop Inn Center groups solicit the students' support. The debate is far from over, but at least the students' voices are being heard.

FEBRUARY. A Jan. 28 fax announces the resignation of Cincinnati Arts Association President Elissa O. Getto at a time when critics are impatient with CAA's management of the Aronoff Center. Getto leaves with her head held high for a post at the Westport County Playhouse, a job she subsequently resigned. Eleven months later, her replacement at CAA has yet to be named.

MARCH. ArtWorks promotes the Big Pig Gig as a funding source that could enable the summer arts and job training program to grow and create satellite programs outside Cincinnati. Concerns about Cincinnati's willingness to support both programs are pushed aside. The pig publicity machine becomes unstoppable. Time will prove that Cincinnati eventually chooses the pigs over ArtWorks when it comes to funding support.

APRIL. Cincinnati Bell discontinues its free maintenance of area arts organizations' Web sites, then — with the help of the Cincinnati Institute of Fine Arts — strong-arms local arts organizations into putting a positive spin on their decision. For Cincinnati Bell, a longtime sponsor of the Fine Arts Fund Sampler Weekend, it's proof that a tough, realistic business stance can make even a Cincinnati institution into a villain.

MAY. CityBeat's fourth annual State of the Arts issue asks, "Is an Avenue of the Arts in Cincinnati's Future?" The proposal outlines The T (see "Teeing off" in this week's issue, page 63), intersecting downtown corridors of high-profile arts organizations through Walnut Street downtown and across 12th Street in Over-the-Rhine. Meanwhile, at a Fountain Square rally celebrating local tourism, Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken gushes about riverfront sports stadiums.

JUNE. The temporary exhibition space, VOLK/ Contemporary Summer Project Initiative, quickly becomes the summer's most exciting arts event. Wearing its cultural heart on its sleeve, VOLK proves that a grassroots effort can succeed in Cincinnati with little money and no institutional support.

JULY. On the morning after its sold-out weekend of Aida, Cincinnati Opera Managing Director Patty Beggs shares the good news: The Opera broke all previous records for subscribers, ticket sales, donor contributions and gift shop sales. Overall attendance for the summer's nine performances reaches 98 percent. The company's growth proves that Cincinnati Opera needs a renovated Emery Theatre with an expanded stage appropriate for opera. Sadly, funding sources still haven't been identified.

AUGUST. The front page of the Aug. 7 Cincinnati Post announces, "Newport tower plans revived." An artist's rendering spells out the latest details for the maligned Millennium Tower project. It appears that Newport's erection refuses to go away.

SEPTEMBER. Spanish artist Eduardo Monteagudo and Art Academy freshman Kimberly Flora demonstrate that Cincinnati can be a place where artists come to transform their lives. For a city struggling to retain its young artists, Monteagudo and Flora offer much-needed inspiration.

OCTOBER. Järvi proves to be everything the CSO wants: He's young (just 37), European, handsome, articulate and relatively hip. But he has his work cut out for himself in trying to energize the sleepy symphony.

NOVEMBER. I finally admit to being tired of Big Pig Gig merchandise, the media hoopla and the endless barrage of pig-oriented events. Here's proof of the negative impact of too much hype. More importantly, it's determined that the Big Pig Gig auction won't help create the type of endowment ArtWorks needs.

DECEMBER. At a Dec. 11 meeting, the board of trustees of the Regional Cultural Alliance — a proposed regional arts office that would market our cultural assets to Tristate residents as well as to tourists — discusses withdrawing its request for Hamilton County funding. After years of planning, meetings and fund-raising, heavy criticism of the project and the role played by County Commissioner Tom Neyer Jr. by the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) helps flush the RCA's hopes down the drain.

CONTACT STEVE RAMOS: [email protected]

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