All Tomorrow's Parties: Hoping for a Better Future for Cincinnati

The great "what's next" is the topic of choice whenever I get together with a group of friends. We make up dream shows that should appear at the new Contemporary Arts Center (an exhibition by Matthe

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The great "what's next" is the topic of choice whenever I get together with a group of friends. We make up dream shows that should appear at the new Contemporary Arts Center (an exhibition by Matthew Barney, America's leading avant-garde artist) and pile unfair civic responsibilities on the shoulders of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center (the erasure of years of racial tension with an extravagant opening-night gala).

Our hope for a cooler future in Cincinnati lies with brick, mortar and large panels of glass, because there aren't many influential people worthy of role model status. I'm confident there are some talented men and women working behind City Hall's better-known faces, though you wouldn't know it listening to council members' self-congratulatory pronouncements.

Daily homicide reports make talk about here-and-now Cincinnati depressing. It's like 1988 Detroit on many sidewalks around town.

Northside's Hamilton Avenue is getting scary with relocated crack dealers and prostitutes. Peebles Corner in Walnut Hills is filthy with so much hand-to-hand drug trade that Cincinnati Police are having a hard time looking the other way. Is it any wonder the scotch bottle is empty by the time my friends and I try to check off the city's laundry list of problems — downtown boycott, ongoing exodus of young talent, high crime and a lowdown dirty public perception of the city we call home?

Cincinnati today stinks like two-day underwear.

Cincinnati tomorrow promises to be one wild party, since matters can't get any worse. So we wait for better days.

The great "what's next" promises something for everyone. Baseball fans look longingly at the Great American Ball Park, convincing themselves that its future will be different than the Bengals' football palace a few blocks away. Art lovers await the cultural triple crown of the new CAC, expanded Taft Museum of Art and Cincinnati Art Museum's salute to homegrown culture, the Cincinnati Wing.

Before you dismiss the Cincinnati Wing as a place to take your grandmother for afternoon tea, let me remind you that new work from local artist Mark Fox will be part of the inaugural show. Just don't ask me about the collection of work by political cartoonists that replace Fox's installation at the end of July. It's too hokey to mention.

Foodies, myself included, watch the impending re-opening of an expanded Findlay Market house with great excitement. A splashy new market will undoubtedly attract crowds of suburban first-time shoppers, because it deserves nothing less. That's the great thing about Cincinnati tomorrow — wishing is enough to make it so.

My choice for favorite "what's next" continues to be the relocated Art Academy of Cincinnati, set to open in an existing building at the corner of 12th and Jackson streets in Over-the-Rhine. Some of the reasons are obvious. An Over-the-Rhine-based Art Academy marks the return of a major educational institution to the city's core.

The better reason lies behind the business stories about downtown development. Academy President Greg Smith says his organization chose Over-the-Rhine because it was the right neighborhood, not because it was the right civic thing to do.

"I don't think of it (Art Academy relocation) in terms of the economic development of Over-the-Rhine," Smith says, speaking at the school's Mount Adams offices. "We chose a place that was important to us. ... There's a cultural component to Over-the-Rhine with opportunities available to students and faculty.

"Our mission is not economic development. But if you have a mission, like relocating a 130-year-old art school, and it has economic benefits, why not promote that?"

During the remainder of our conversation, Smith pulls out the May 18, 2000, issue of CityBeat and flips through the cover story announcing the Art Academy's Over-the-Rhine plans. A lot of ideas have fallen by the wayside over the past two years, but the Art Academy is one of the few developments still standing.

Fall 2005 remains the target date for the first classes in the renovated Over-the-Rhine building. It promises to be a great tomorrow. For now, promises are all we have.

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