Cathy Springfield turns visibly excited when she talks about the characteristics of a good arts advocate. Her voice raises a few decibels. She gestures wildly with her hands.
Talking with Springfield is a theatrical experience — what one expects from the director of Xavier University's performing arts department.
Springfield and Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati Artistic Director D. Lynn Meyers are the main forces behind Monday's town meeting for artists, arts administrators and arts activists. Anti-arts conservatives like Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen and Uncle Carl Lindner always have their say on cultural issues. Springfield feels it's time for pro-arts forces to have a community forum for improving their standing at City Hall.
"We want to bring a clear and focused presentation to City Hall," Springfield says, speaking quickly. "We want to be able to say, 'This is what the arts bring to Cincinnati.' We want this meeting to be about passion.
We want to hear what each artist wants the city of Cincinnati to become."
Some local arts groups consider it risky to publicly promote the arts to political officials. Earlier this year, the Cincinnati Institute of Fine Arts, the area's leading arts funder, reneged on a tentative plan to sponsor a political forum for Cincinnati City Council and Mayoral candidates to address their platforms on the arts. Later, the League of Cincinnati Theaters also failed to sponsor a similar forum.
Neither the Institute nor the League of Cincinnati Theatres wanted to risk offending potential funders with public political debates. Monday's meeting, Springfield says, is for artists, arts administrators and arts patrons who feel differently.
"This forum could become a wonderful resource for the groups that are already in place," Springfield says. "We want to share information. We don't want this to become a bitch session. We want to hear what people have to offer."
The year 2001 has been tough on Cincinnati. On April 10, a violent crowd of protesters, angry about teen-ager Timothy Thomas' fatal shooting by Cincinnati Police, led a series of street riots. Downtown is languishing. Our sports teams are awful. Only the arts provide Cincinnati with bragging rights. This is the message Springfield wants to take to City Hall.
Early in his campaign, Cincinnati mayoral candidate Courtis Fuller talked about his support of a downtown "avenue of the arts." Closer to Election Day, Mayor Charlie Luken's "Blueprint for a Better Cincinnati" spoke about city government taking a leadership role in funding a marketing campaign for cultural tourists. As the newly elected "strong" mayor, Luken recently named Councilman Jim Tarbell to chair a permanent arts committee of city council.
Asked if City Hall is finally recognizing the arts' importance, Springfield puts it like this: "I think there are members of council who are taking notice, but we have to make the arts a part of their everyday lives."
The next few months will test the integrity of Luken's pro-arts commitment. During this time, Springfield and her fellow arts advocates will also monitor Tarbell's actions as the city's new arts czar. There are plenty of questions to ask Luken, Tarbell and other council members: Will the "avenue of the arts" ever become a reality? Will City Hall support the Art Academy of Cincinnati's plans to relocate to Over-the-Rhine? Will City Hall make an offer to keep the Playhouse in the Park's proposed black-box theater project in Cincinnati? What is the future for the city funding to the arts?
Springfield says local politicians need to understand that they receive plenty of bang for their buck when it comes to funding the arts. More importantly, if Cincinnati is ever going to experience a rebirth, she's confident the arts are going to play a major role.
In Springfield, Cincinnati's arts community is gaining a much-needed leader. To convince City Hall that the arts play an integral part in everyone's lives, she's looking for a few good messengers.