Can the Arts Play Ball?

The last Opening Day Parade I watched was from the front seat of my car. I was stuck in traffic somewhere close to Findlay Market. It was a beautiful spring morning, but I remember being in no mood

Apr 2, 2003 at 2:06 pm

The last Opening Day Parade I watched was from the front seat of my car. I was stuck in traffic somewhere close to Findlay Market. It was a beautiful spring morning, but I remember being in no mood for a parade. I was on my way to a movie screening or some work-related appointment, and the Cincinnati Reds were preventing me from getting where I needed to be. So I sat, fumed and waited like some crotchety old man for the parade to pass and the traffic to move forward. By the time I drove out of Over-the-Rhine, I was convinced that the Opening Day Parade was more headache than street party.

As I write this it's Opening Day 2003, and the parade crowds are more jubilant than ever thanks to a new ballpark and the fresh paint of on-field hope that comes with it. I'm heading to another movie screening, although this time I'm smart enough to avoid downtown and Over-the-Rhine until the start of the late afternoon game.

Going to the game never crossed my mind. It's not that I'm anti-baseball — I just have other present-day priorities.

I've followed this year's Opening Day festivities closely. It's impossible not to. Billboards promoting the new stadium hover over city streets. There are special pullout newspaper sections on the Reds and non-stop radio and TV coverage. Opening Day coverage is everywhere and, for that fact alone, I'm mesmerized by the hoopla.

Away from the traffic snarl, I now understand that Opening Day is the rare public event that unites Cincinnati, East side and West side, black and white, rich and poor. The understood stipulation is that Opening Day devotees like baseball, but, even if you consider the sport to be unformed napping, I know of few people who take serious issue with it.

Basically, it's hard to take issue with something that attracts such a diverse crowd. Sure, full-time rabble-rousers at the Coalition for a Just Cincinnati will boycott Opening Day. Then again, the coalition has reached a political stalemate where members feel committed to play the devil's activist against anything and everything related to the city's core. The group is firm to the point of being redundant, and I don't know what they can do to regain my confidence, except maybe staff a float in the parade.

I've been thinking about the Opening Day Parade for two reasons. The practical truth is that all the media hype makes it impossible for me to ignore the launch of the Reds' 2003 season. The contemplative truth is that I'm trying to determine the equivalent of Opening Day for the local arts community. So far I'm batting zero.

I struggle to think of another local event that grabs the public eye as fiercely as Opening Day. Let me be more specific: I struggle to think of an arts event that attracts half the attention of a Reds' season opener.

The annual Fine Arts Fund Sampler Weekend is the closest arts competitor, but it can't boast of a single event that rallies people like the Opening Day Parade. The weekend stinks of exclusivity and gives off the impression that this is what good parents do to educate their children, instead of the idea that it's a fun, citywide party.

There's no parade planned for the May opening of the new Contemporary Arts Center (CAC), despite the fact that one could be staged in a fun and funky manner. I do remember the block party the CAC threw to celebrate its groundbreaking. A crowd of downtown office workers and familiar arts supporters gathered on Walnut Street for a raucous midday party.

A large public event that appeals to everyone and anyone would be a good step to overturning the snobbish perception that accompanies art and helping all people feel a sense of ownership with their local arts institutions.

There's something undeniably attractive about the Opening Day Parade and all that surrounds it. The arts need to create their own version of one, and fast.