Spend time with Arie Vandenberg, founder and chief operating officer of the biweekly arts newspaper ArtSpike, and you'll leave convinced he knows every young female waitress in town.
Vandenberg, a gangly thirtysomething with short brown hair and bookish glasses, looks more graduate student than Mr. Big, but that doesn't stop him from being a player. After all, he's a newspaper publisher in a town with few newspapers.
More importantly, he's the publisher of a paper popular with the desired young creative class. As long as issues of ArtSpike lie around coffee bars and galleries, he's a big man on campus.
Actually, Vandenberg is a publisher in limbo. The cold truth is that ArtSpike ceased publishing after March 3 and might never print another issue.
"I have to warn you," Vandenberg says before taking a seat at the Cincinnati Art Museum café. "I was out late last night, and I may be foggy."
It's a balmy Saturday afternoon at the start of what will be the month that makes or breaks Vandenberg's publishing career.
ArtSpike is essentially out of money, and he's placing his hopes on a Cincinnati Empowerment Zone loan to provide much-needed funds.
Vandenberg relocated ArtSpike offices from Norwood to Main Street in Over-the-Rhine to qualify for the loan. The fact that the paper covers Over-the-Rhine artists and galleries is a plus.
He expects to hear from the loan board by the end of March. He's optimistic about getting the $60,000, although other members of the ArtSpike team, including Editor in Chief Melissa Huelsman, are unconvinced that a shiny bag of money is coming their way.
"It hurts me that we're not able to publish this month, because I know there are lots of people who really like ArtSpike," Vandenberg says. "They depend on ArtSpike for quality arts coverage they don't find anywhere else."
For now, he's placing his trust in the loan. He says the money will be used to boost circulation, increase the number of spots where you can pick up ArtSpike and, most importantly, hire a sales manager.
If there is an ArtSpike backup plan — meaning what to do if the Empowerment Zone money doesn't come through — it's finding cash by any means possible, such as private investors and local foundations. Vandenberg's job is to convince people that ArtSpike is a win-win proposition, a good investment and a worthy cause.
So far he's met some matter-of-fact resistance.
"When you do a for-profit company that's focused on the arts as we do, there aren't any venues for grants or funding," he says. "I think the time is coming when for-profit arts companies will get funding, but that time hasn't come yet. It really sucks when you talk to these really rich people who support the arts and you say you're for-profit, and this huge wall comes down."
The first issue of ArtSpike hit the streets in June 2002, a year after Vandenberg co-founded the alternative newspaper X-Ray with Steve Novotni.
Vandenberg is a Cincinnati native, a self-confessed hometown boy who hasn't traveled away from southwestern Ohio as much as he would have liked. He grew up in Walnut Hills and attended UC. He's a booster, no different from the businessmen and political leaders who populate the dining rooms of downtown business clubs. The difference is that Vandenberg is an advocate of all that's underground, alternative and fringe.
If there's a key to the demise of ArtSpike and Vandenberg's life as the playboy publisher, it's that the people he supports are incapable of helping him and his newspaper. Basically, a young artist has no money for newspaper advertising.
Vandenberg and I catch up a couple of days later at an Over-the-Rhine coffeehouse close to the office he hopes will be the start of a new era for ArtSpike. He's still optimistic, although the timeline for the return issue of ArtSpike has been pushed back again.
Before leaving, he hands me his business card: "Arie Vandenberg, ArtSpike Publisher." It's his legacy for what he was and what might have been — a sign of past glories of wine, women and a pocket of notoriety.