Building Bridges

Shared art spaces enhance community and opportunity for local creative professionals

click to enlarge Brandon Hickle and Aaron Kent
Brandon Hickle and Aaron Kent


hen Aaron Kent graduated from the Art Academy of Cincinnati in 2009, he, like most artists, had few resources.

“When you graduate, you have no studio; they pat you on your back, give you your diploma and say, ‘Good luck,’” says the former sculpture major.

Today, Kent is one-third of DIY Printing, a screen-printing business housed in Essex Studios in Walnut Hills that does commercial prints on T-shirts, posters and bags. It also offers a free co-op for artists who cannot afford or house their 4-by-8-foot vacuum table, with a printing arm (to ensure paper stays flat), or the 4-foot-high, 3-foot-deep washout booth (to properly dispose of ink).

While co-working sites are the newest trend for freelance office-goers looking for cubicle-free workspaces with shareable materials (i.e. printers, Wi-Fi, conference rooms), it’s nothing new for the visual artist. Community has connected with art since the coliseum was erected in Ancient Rome for public events, or since the term “community art” was birthed in the 1960s to mirror the era’s social change. It’s seen in municipalities’ grassroots efforts in neighborhood art centers and, today, is a flexible term, incorporating public art as well as collaborative.

“Understanding the location of space and sharing it is very prolific,” says Flavia Bastos, Ph.D., director of graduate studies in visual arts education and associate professor at the University of Cincinnati. “In a creative practice, there is a lot to gain when viewing others’ work, as well as learning, conceptualizing and thinking through problems together.”

The starving artist, who is often studio-less and resourceless, can turn to shareable workspaces in Cincinnati, like DIY Printing to screen print, Core Clay to sculpt and Losantiville to create three-dimensional products. By providing mutually beneficial opportunities to artists who would not otherwise have access to the tools, materials and spaces, these collectives inspire collaboration and growth in Cincinnati’s arts community at large.

Common Senses

DIY Printing’s immobile tools were hand-built by Kent to cut costs. He estimates purchasing all the studio’s equipment could cost up to $15,000. They are available to artists who display their seriousness through a portfolio interview, in exchange for printing help and allowing the studio to sell half of the artist’s prints for studio profit. 

Artists, who supply their own ink and paper, can use the 2,000-square-foot space through scheduled appointments to screen print on posters, while other materials, like T-shirts, cost to print. Kent offers advice, whether on formatting paper transparency or teaching artists to print from home. 

He formed DIY Printing in 2010 while working in a Walnut Hills apartment next to Core Clay studios on Gilbert Avenue. His childhood friend and owner of the studio, Laura Davis, recommended he move into the artists’ communal living space, which she purchased in 2009. She calls this 10-unit apartment building a “hippie commune of the new millennium.” It houses nine artists, including Davis and Kent, and one studio. The studio’s two artists-in-residence live in the apartment building and receive free space at the studio for a year in exchange for helping to manage the studio.

“Generally speaking, artists improve the environment,” Davis says. “They look at the community around them and find a way to add beauty. They make great neighbors.”

About 50 artists, who work intermittently, share the 5,000-square-foot working space in the basement of Core Clay. For $50, artists receive a 2-foot-deep, 3-foot-wide shelf to store work, and for $80 artists receive up to six shelves. A month’s training provides artists with a key to the studio and 24-hour access to the expensive, large tools that must be maintained, like the 15 pottery wheels, a Skutt Kiln, bucket glazes, an extruder and a slab roller. Small, inexpensive tools such as sponges, trimming tools and wire cutters — which tend to deteriorate — are provided by the artists.

“Our dream is to create a community of artists that fosters creativity and practicality in the arts and grows a long-term group of contacts for artists,” Davis says.

Here, artists can sell pieces from the locked storefront, which is accessed by ringing the bell, or create projects together for studio shows, like the Sept. 19 display at The Brew House in Walnut Hills (which Davis recently purchased with her brother). 

They can swap job leads or techniques and develop work, objectively, with the advice of peers. From 6 to 9 p.m. on the third Thursday of the month, the studio hosts a critique open to anyone — not just Core Clay members. 

Live and Learn

Core Clay offers twice-a-year workshops led by local artists, as well as beginning and advanced classes throughout the year on such skills as coil and slab formation and the pottery wheel.

DIY Printing joined the Art Academy of Cincinnati in 2012 to offer beginning screen print classes and open sessions at their studio. It’s part of the school’s Community Education department, which offers an average of 75 courses, year-round, for artists of varied skills and ages (some starting as young as age 5). Classes range from $45 several-day-long workshops to $250 eight-to-10-week courses, which include materials. 

About 20 artists, housed in Essex Studios, teach through the Art Academy of Cincinnati or individually, like watercolor artist Karen Kelly, who offers $5 weekly open studios to advise and collaborate with artists of different mediums. “When you touch people through education and you create projects, your network grows,” Kent says. “It furthers your work like you never thought before.”

Sandra Gross opened Brazee Street Studios in Oakley in 2009 to build a similar community, reminiscent of her graduate school classes at Miami University. “And I was tired of teaching glass out of my basement,” she says.

The studio offers daily glass classes, which range from $15 open houses to $500 guest-artist-led courses. Curriculum includes how to blow and make kiln-formed glass. Some of the 25 artists, who rent individual space in the studio’s three buildings, offer classes in their workrooms on their mediums, including steel, mosaics and paint.

It was education that brought three UC College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning (DAAP) students to form a co-op in 2009. When John Dixon returned from an unpaid internship with native Cincinnati industrial designer Paul Loebach in Brooklyn, N.Y., he mused about creating a co-op similar to Loebach’s. Uninterested in working for a company, Dixon contacted fellow industrial design graduates at DAAP to form Losantiville on Main Street in Over-the-Rhine.

There are now eight paying members, who create three-dimensional, machine-made products and intermittently work in a shared space with shared tools. For $175 a month, members can use the space and communal resources. That includes common tables, an 80-watt laser cutter and a 10-inch sliding table saw. Members supply their own hand tools (like wrenches and hammers), as well as computers and desks for individual work.

This month, they moved into Christian Moerlein’s former icehouse on West McMicken Avenue, which is three times the size of their 1,800-square-foot Main Street location. This fourth floor space will eliminate the current storefront, which proved confusing for walk-by customers looking for an unlocked shop, but will supply a showroom to display members’ work and possible space for additional artists. Here, the large woodworking tools (like their table saw and parallelogram jointer), which are now housed in a former glass shop a street behind Losantiville, will be located in the same space with an insulated wall separating the shop from the office.

Digital manufacturing company Such + Such left Losantiville in July, as production outgrew the space. Other Losantiville businesses, like The Launch Werks, aren’t ready to expand, but can easily contract work to other members as jobs produce. The Launch Werks co-founder Noel Gauthier enjoys the close proximity to fellow industrial designers to bounce ideas off and collaborate when necessary.

“I’ll walk out to get a cup of coffee, and see someone working in the front room, ask some questions and maybe help them work for a while,” Gauthier says. “It’s a fluid co-working space — I’m totally hooked on that style of work.”

Office Artspace

Unlike DIY Printing, Losantiville (owned by Dixon, Chris Heckman and Matt Anthony) and Core Clay don’t make a profit or even use the studio name, unless promoting studio shows. Rent is used to pay for the space and shared tools, so artists can create their work to sell, mostly, on their own.

“You have to pay to play,” Heckman says.

Core Clay and Losantiville also house businesses, whereas DIY Printing only helps artists on a project basis. About 10 professionals use Core Clay studios, often selling under pseudonyms, like Davis’ Amphora Studios. At Losantiville, each of the eight artists has his or her own business, like Dixon’s Dixon Branded, a furniture and design firm. These communal workspaces differ from workroom rentals — studios are typically more, ranging from $195 to $750 a month, depending on size. These “offices for artists,” as Davis calls them, provide no shared tools or workspaces and can be used for any medium. They do offer networking opportunities, though, including client and gallery opening updates. The Pendleton Arts Center’s more than 200 artists, housed in its four-building Over-the-Rhine complex, showcase and sell work at Final Fridays (as well as galleries and stores on Main, Sycamore and Clay streets in Over-the-Rhine). They also open the doors the Saturday following Final Fridays.

Essex Studio’s Art Walk features work from the studio’s more than 120 artists at the Essex Place building quarterly. Collaborative projects are often featured at these events, through DIY Printing open studios or last year’s public craft stations in the building’s hallways. Co-op members with DIY Printing are invited to sell work at Art Walks or other DIY Printing shows for free. 

Some Essex “offices” include multiple artists, too, like The Art Circle, where 17 watercolorists and some color pencil artists share a studio, working intermittently and every Tuesday morning on group or individual projects.

“The product and process of making art are intertwined and equally important,” Bastos says. “The principle is just as important as the practice.”

Brazee Street Studios facilitates similar collaboration, despite the studio’s lack of communal workspaces. Often, artists of different mediums work together, like when Gross made glass shades for lamps made by a steel artist from the studio. It even hosts craft swaps for artists to exchange tools and materials.

“Art can be very solitary,” Gross says. “It’s great to learn how we can work collaboratively in art as well as life.”

City Made

Last summer, Brazee Street Studios launched a portfolio-based website for Cincinnati artists to market their work in a centralized location — like Craigslist, for artists. Starting in November, clients looking for specific mediums or projects can search through the 40 artists at They hope to add as many as 45 artists for each of the 17 listed mediums. Local gallery owners and art organizations jury artists’ submissions, and the next round of applications are due at the end of September.

The Launch Werks co-founders Gauthier and Anthony joined the board for CNCY MADE last spring to highlight the city’s artists as well. Gauthier believes Cincinnati can be a product-manufacturing hub the way it has become a hub for branding and tech startups.

CNCY MADE publicizes small-batch manufacturers operated locally to foster businesses, encourage local consumption and prompt developers to build and launch additional commodities in the Queen City. The coalition is following other metropolises’ guides, like Made In NYC or SFMade (San Francisco), by creating a comprehensive resource guide, which is not yet complete. The 20 local companies involved so far include Findlay Market, VisuaLingual (a design and print studio in Over-the-Rhine) and Noble Denim (a men’s jeans and sustainable clothes company located downtown). Plus, Cincinnati’s low cost of living supersedes most small businesses’ burn rates, Gauthier says.

He continues his mission through work at the Haile U.S. Bank Foundation’s First Batch program, where he is project coordinator. This manufacturer incubator, housed at Losantiville, helps two recently graduated DAAP industrial designers to create and launch their initial product line, or first batch. The six-month program initiated at the end of May and hopes to run again next spring. 

“It’s for designers who have reached the number of products they can make out of their living room,” Gauthier says.

When leaving the program, designers will have about 20 copies of their product, as well as prices and company growth estimates, which they can share with the investor connections First Batch provides.

Practices to create such functional art ended after the Industrial Revolution, Bastos says, when people no longer sewed their own clothes or built their own furniture. Instead, consumers bought them, and art became a distant practice designed for galleries, not everyday use. The resurgence of the DIY Movement and communal workspaces reclaims, what she calls, an intrinsic need.

“We have a natural hunger to make things,” Bastos says. “When humans are engaged in art, it gives an enhanced experience for the maker and the viewer. With art, life is more enjoyable and complete.” ©

Local Communal Workspaces for Artists

Brazee Street Studios: Provides 25 artist studio rentals for $1 per square foot, ranging from 200 to 3,000 square feet. Houses Brazee Street School of Glass, which offers classes to create glass art; and gallery One One, which displays local and national artists and bi-annual studio shows. 4426 Brazee St., Oakley, 513-321-0206, [email protected],

DIY Printing: Commercial silkscreen printing studio working with paper and fiber goods. Offers artist-in-residence program, open studios, classes (in conjunction with the Art Academy of Cincinnati) and free co-op. Essex Studio No.188, 2511 Essex Place, Walnut Hills, 513-304-6695, [email protected],

Essex Studios: Provides about 200 studio rentals for varied business (i.e. artists, a church) from $200 to $750 per month, depending on the size and number of windows. Hosts quarterly Art Walks to display more than 120 artists’ work; outside artists can apply for shows. 2511 Essex Place, Walnut Hills, 513-476-2170, [email protected],

Losantiville: Collaborative for industrial designers or anyone who makes three-dimensional products. Space and some tools are shared for $175 monthly. Offers gallery in new location, starting Oct. 1. 111 W. McMicken Ave., Over-the-Rhine, [email protected],

Core Clay: Clay studio with rented communal workspaces starting at $50 per month for a single shelf. Offers artist-in-residence program, studio- and guest artist-led classes, open critiques and studio-sponsored shows. 2533 Gilbert Ave., Walnut Hills, 513-961-2728, [email protected],

Pendleton Art Center: Provides 140 studio rentals for artists in Over-the-Rhine, and 30 in Middletown with locations in Ashland, Ky., and Rising Sun, Ind. Prices start at $195 per month. Contributes to Final Fridays, from 6-10 p.m. the last Friday of each month, to display and sell work at the Over-the-Rhine location, and Art in Action, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. the Saturday following Final Fridays. 1310 Pendleton St., Pendleton, 513-421-4339, [email protected],

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