Artistic Empowerment: Local Versus Corporate

Cincinnati offers sundry artistic avenues that successfully empower local artists within their representative milieu, with relatively low costs and proven results.


ocal galleries and creative commercial endeavors sometimes charge nominal application and participation fees, but they stray significantly from pay-to-play models and don’t typically result in thousands of dollars in profits per event — and any revenue stays local. Cincinnati offers sundry artistic avenues that successfully empower local artists within their representative milieu, with relatively low costs and proven results.

Compared to more mainstream galleries and museums, alternative art spaces are typically ephemeral and rarely last more than five years, but they are excellent proving grounds for emerging talent. Some are dedicated spaces, and others like Live-In and Hobohaus galleries might be an artist’s studio or loft in which they invite the public on a regular basis, showing art that might not have another viable venue. Cincinnati even has long-standing experimental art galleries like semantics gallery in Brighton, which is headed into its 20th season of operation — largely maintained by a host of volunteers. They regularly show student work and allow independent curators access to the space. (,,

From 2003-08, Publico, another experimental art space in town, exhibited the work of internationally renowned artists like David Ellis, Ryan McGuinness and Rita Ackerman, and it never charged an entry fee for artists or audiences aside from the occasional donation to help touring musicians with travel costs. During the gallery’s brief yet formative run, organizers hosted video screenings, poetry readings, installations and exhibitions in a raw space inside artist Paul Coors’ living room — but never all at once. Publico’s reputation as a viable alternative art space landed the collective several exhibitions within the confines of the art institution as well as commission work from area businesses and collectors.

Traditional fine art galleries sometimes charge nominal entry fees to consider pieces for juried competitions that aren’t supported by sponsorships or endowments. Manifest Creative Research Gallery and Drawing Center uses a blind jury consisting of six to 12 active professional volunteer advisors with backgrounds in art, design and art history, and the gallery documents the results in the annual publication of International Drawing Annual, an exhibition-in-print offering selected artists tangible evidence of their accomplishments. (

Crafty Supermarket, a bi-annual juried indie craft show, brought more than 4,000 shoppers through its holiday event at Music Hall in November. Its organizers, Chris Salley-Davis and Grace Dobush, receive an average of 200 applications per show, choosing 50-85 different artists for each event. They charge a $10 nonrefundable application fee that goes toward a $110 table fee if for any artist selected to participate. They also seek out sponsors to help keep the fees low. (

Cincinnatians have flocked to The City Flea since its inception in 2011. The curated urban flea market runs from May through December at various locations, including bustling outdoor events at Washington Park in Over-the-Rhine during summer months. Vendor fees range from $55-$125, depending on the size of the market location and size of vendor space. The Flea prefers vendors selling unique, creative and visually interesting products, specifically avoiding “booths that sell one item only or products that ‘sales agents’ are selling all over the country.” (

Dana Hamblen of Northside vintage boutique Chicken Lays an Egg regularly puts on fashion shows at Memorial Hall and Northside Tavern, enlisting hair and makeup artists, musicians, jewelry and accessory designers to participate in a free public exhibition of her vintage wares. Hamblen, a practicing musician who works in client services for creative firm Lightborne in Over-the-Rhine, creates a cohesive event by choosing complimentary visual and audio components that enhance her own carefully curated parade of vintage clothing. Artists pay nothing to participate and often receive a financial return in the shape of future sales and legitimate exposure, as Hamblen’s events often attract local press coverage. (

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