A Year Later, the Arts Remain Dedicated to Over-the-Rhine

The anger over Timothy Thomas' fatal shooting by Cincinnati Police last April increases in light of the trumped-up charges surrounding his arrest record. The Coalition for a Just Cincinnati's "Artis

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The anger over Timothy Thomas' fatal shooting by Cincinnati Police last April increases in light of the trumped-up charges surrounding his arrest record. The Coalition for a Just Cincinnati's "Artists of Conscience" boycott continues to gain momentum. Racial tensions continue to build, and Over-the-Rhine remains ground zero for trouble. Significant improvements to the historic neighborhood have yet to occur.

Yet many artists and arts organizations continue to hold themselves accountable for Over-the-Rhine. The arts have a history of trailblazing into chancy, urban neighborhoods. With Over-the-Rhine, the post-riot commitment from many Cincinnati artists and arts organizations has reached new levels of community dedication. Their loyalty doesn't come easy.

On April 10, 2001, street rioting threw Over-the-Rhine into chaos. The neighborhood had settled down a few days later, but the effects of the riots are long lasting.

There are those people who would recommend to Jay B. Kalagayan, director of The Know Theatre Tribe, to relocate his multi-racial theater company from its Over-the-Rhine performance space at Gabriel's Corner (1425 Sycamore St., at Liberty Street) to a safer neighborhood. Know Theatre suffered a severe drop in attendance after the riots that's only recently improved. Asked about the Artists of Conscience boycott, Kalagayan says he doesn't support it.

"It seems to be isolating the city," he says, speaking at an Over-the-Rhine coffeehouse. "Instead of boycotting the city, they should be educating their audience and organizing their own events. I don't want to speak too badly about the coalition. They support our shows. But I don't think they're being very clear."

A large white banner hangs from the top floor of the Pembrook Building, located at the corner of 12th and Jackson streets, declaring the large factory building the future home of the Art Academy of Cincinnati. Art Academy President Greg Smith says lease negotiations with BarrelHouse Brewery, the building's first-floor tenant, remain.

Relocating the Art Academy from Eden Park is a long and complex endeavor. Still, that outdoor banner is the academy's boldest gesture yet when it comes to declaring their commitment to Over-the-Rhine.

Plans for a new School for Creative and Performing Arts (SCPA) have reached a new level of certainty. A private group of SCPA fundraisers has an extended deadline until July 2003 to raise $26 million.

Asked if the new SCPA is a guarantee even without the $26 million, Paul Bernish, spokesperson for the SCPA fundraising group, says the school will be built regardless of what's raised privately. Reaching the goal will move up the new school's construction schedule and ensure a world-class arts school.

Anger has subsided over plans for the new SCPA to relocate the Drop Inn Center from its current 12th Street location, as current drawings allow the Drop Inn Center to remain. A new SCPA, Bernish says, would be the catalyst for future Over-the-Rhine development.

"We are at a point where our city could tip one way or another," he says. "We can have a strong central city filled with cultural attractions, or we can have a shell. I think most people who live in the city don't want the latter to happen."

Like much of Cincinnati, there are spots in Over-the-Rhine that are calm and pristine. Step into the lobby of the Emery Apartments, and you'll be convinced that Over-the-Rhine is on the mend. Walk down 12th Street, Cincinnati's version of the Bowery, and you'll be reminded how much work still needs to be done.

The Cincinnati Opera recently announced a $3.3 million plan to renovate historic Music Hall's underused north hall space into the Corbett Opera Center. Now we wait to see what will happen to Washington Park and the area surrounding the 100-year-old landmark.

Another round of Over-the-Rhine street violence, unfortunately, could make Music Hall an exclusive island unto itself.

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