Cover Story: It's A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Cool People

Sep 13, 2006 at 2:06 pm
Ray Cushing

Brett Cushing

Cool Transplant: Brett Cushing

School is cool — especially, as we've said time and time again, UC's College of Design, Art, Architecture and Planning (DAAP). This fall the college welcomes one of the state's most creatively driven youth.

At 18, incoming freshman Brett Cushing has already sold rights to her designs to Mighty Fine Inc., a novelty T-shirt manufacturer and vendor of the club kid retail chain Hot Topic. Industrious? At 15, she created her own design business and ran it out of the basement of her parents' Cleveland-area home. So what might her endeavors include at UC?

"Ultimately, my goal is to go into time-based media and integrate all these other concepts — movies, TV, video — to make (my designs) more interactive," she says. "I wanted this major, but I never knew what it would be called."

Her designs are mystical. She was inspired to create her signature dark fairies and animals, she says, when she saw other like-minded images at the 2003 Ohio Renaissance Festival.

She creates via digital painting, where she zooms in and "paints" onscreen pixel by pixel with a stylus.

"What's interesting about digital media is that it doesn't have a lot of respect from the visual art world," Cushing says. "The preconception is that all you're doing is downloading clip art."

Cushing wouldn't have been aware that UC was an option had it not been for a teacher's recommendation to look into DAAP's digital design program. And she comes by way of a full ride thanks to her Cincinnatus Scholarship, an award based on academics and service that covers tuition, fees, housing and books.

College plus running the business, Cushing decided, would be too much for her alone. That's when she contacted Hot Topic with hopes to sell, not expecting a reply. And before long a deal was made — all online. (JESSICA CANTERBURY)

Cool Diversity: Roula David and Michael Spalding

For all those who complain about Cincinnati being a provincial and sleepy backwater town, there are comparatively few who actually do something about it. Happily, downtown denizens Roula David and Michael Spalding are in this move-the-needle, make-it-happen, shape-the-future minority.

Their new restaurant, Vinyl (1203 Sycamore St., Over-the-Rhine), opened in August in the former Diner on Sycamore location and is bringing new life to the Main Street entertainment district. The restaurant serves modern American cuisine with a global twist, designed for tapas-style sharing. In a nod to the restaurant's diner past, this includes updated versions of traditional diner food such as gourmet mini-burgers made with Kobe beef.

In creating Vinyl, David and Spalding set their sights higher than opening just another restaurant. Spalding is a former DJ and manager at Beluga. David has an interesting culinary background — her family owns the Gold Star Chili restaurant chain, and she's worked at the Pavilion, Jump and Red. Together, they sought to create a restaurant that combines innovative cuisine with sleek, stylish design and a cutting-edge musical experience.

Vinyl offers music-themed dining events such as Bossa 'N Brunch, and DJs spin tunes seven nights a week. Spalding, who's passionate about underground and alternative music, aims to use Vinyl as a platform to bring different kinds of music to the area.

Interesting food, a stylish setting and cutting-edge music from around the globe all housed in a sleek, retro, old-fashioned diner downtown — it doesn't get much cooler around these parts. (CRAIG BIDA)

Cool Breeze: Brad Schnittger

"Basically, I didn't want Justin Jeffres to get the job," Brad Schnittger, co-frontman of local rockers The Sundresses, says of the Cincinnati mayoral campaign he launched last spring. It was a farce, of course — if his residency in Covington at the time didn't prove that, his small-money, no ass-kissing style certainly did. But his passion for merging indie ideals into corporate and political mainstreams has yet to dwindle.

"They're doing it in Austin," he says. "We were down there (for South By Southwest), and I was watching Austin's local government programming. This (politician) was pretty mad about the fact that police were handing out tickets to musicians for stopping in front of venues to load in and I thought, 'Wow, why can't we have that kind of support here?' "

Although elected office might still be a ways off, Schnittger is brimming with initiatives. He gazes across the gray river, nimbly plotting points and envisioning a series of jewels in the sloping, crown-shaped valley. He shifts his unlikely fedora (stuck with a gold Bengals pin) and gestures toward the floor and the long-forgotten subway tunnels beneath the city.

"I love Cincinnati for what it was and what it could be, not for what it is now," the 27-year-old says. "I love it here, regardless. That's why I've stayed."

And his banner yet waves. The All Night Party ( encapsulates Schnittger's ideology and invites those interested in a brighter future for area artists to join. But in addition to ANP's cheeky descriptor ("anti-political-party party") and official slogan ("Some Sort of Organization"), Schnittger laughingly reveals that it's loosely patterned after "a terrorist organization" — primarily in its take-it-or-leave-it calls to action.

"Truthfully, I might be the only member of the All Night Party," he says. "Ever. And I'm fine with that."

Despite all-too-common complaints about the lack of support for grassroots music in Cincinnati, Schnittger plugs on, creating the dreadfully sensual Blues Rock that garners invitations for The Sundresses from the nation's most sought-after venues and festivals — like the recent Southpark Music Festival in Colorado.

Remaining unfettered by music's "middle men," he and his bandmates manage, promote, record and distribute their music independently. "In this day and age," he says, "there's not much you can't do for yourself."

He pauses, deftly flicking open a can of beard wax and twisting a dab into the handlebar mustache that he's grown rather fond of since he "vowed not to shave until we finish a new record." In a piano lounge engulfed in the flames of a late-day sun, there's a sudden and nearly imperceptible breeze.

Cincinnati's artistic future is in good hands. (HANNAH ROBERTS)

Cool Inspiration: Kristen Barker

At the ripe old age of "almost 29," Kristen Baker is on a mission to change the world. Someone has to lead the charge, so why not this passionate young woman?

"A big goal of mine was to see the world as clearly as I could," Barker says, "to listen to as many different stories from as many people as I could."

This came out of her high school volunteer efforts at the Peaslee Neighborhood Center, where she helped kids in the "homework room." "At that time, Main Street was being 'revitalized.' It was being gentrified. People weren't actually evicted, but the rents were being raised so high that they couldn't afford to live there anymore. These weren't 'people,' they were Michelle and Keesha.

"I started going to some city council meetings. At one I heard a politician say, 'The poor people are the problem. We just need to get them out.' It was a big eye-opening thing."

An internship during her senior year in college with the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center evolved into the full time position she's held there for five years. Her title is "Staff," but she's not in it for the job title. "I'm really inspired by a lot of efforts that are currently underway, by the plan the Drop Inn Center has to work with affordable housing to end homelessness in the city. I'm thrilled about the (union efforts by local) janitors, how they're organizing and how far they've gotten in such a short time."

Barker's big effort this fall is the "Class Matters" workshop designed to help people notice the effects of class on their lives, including how it effects their activism and coalition-building. The workshop will be held Nov. 17-18 at the Peaslee Center (215 E. 14th St., Over-the-Rhine).

"I want to be a part of the solution," Barker says, "to be intimately involved in the solution." (MARGO PIERCE)

Cool Stubbornness: Gary Wright

Gary Wright doesn't believe in resting on his laurels. If he did, he might have been satisfied when he was part of a group that successfully pushed to have his then-employer, Procter & Gamble, begin offering domestic partner benefits for its workers in 2000.

Or Wright might have stopped after his efforts as co-chair of Citizens to Restore Fairness (CRF), when he led a coalition that persuaded voters in 2004 to overturn Article 12. An amendment to the city's charter passed more than a decade earlier, Article 12 had rescinded Cincinnati's human rights ordinance and prevented local officials from passing any laws aimed at protecting people on the basis of sexual orientation.

But Wright wasn't done yet. Remaining active with CRF, the group this year lobbied Cincinnati City Council to pass a new anti-discrimination ordinance that offered legal protection to gays, lesbians and transgendered people in housing and employment matters.

This summer, Wright and CRF challenged the validity of more than 1,000 signatures on petitions circulated by Article 12's supporters in their bid to once again overturn the anti-discrimination law. After the challenge, the pro-Article 12 faction dropped its referendum and is facing a criminal investigation into possible fraud and forgery.

Ever mindful that political battles are never truly completed, Wright now is working to register another 6,000 gay-friendly voters to supplement the 20,000 registered during the repeal campaign a few years ago. CRF hopes to create a large enough base of supporters to forestall future efforts by anti-gay groups.

Despite his extensive work, Wright is quick to credit CRF's army of volunteers and like-minded groups, such as the National Conference for Community and Justice, for whatever success that's been achieved.

"A whole bunch of people decided the time was right," he says, referring to the two-year campaign that resulted in overturning Article 12. "Over the years, many people began to realize (the law) wasn't a good idea, including the business community and some religious leaders."

Wright, 53, lives in East Walnut Hills with his partner. He recently began his own consulting business, Wright Futures, but vows to remain involved with political and social issues.

"We're working to get people out on Election Day," he says. "We continue our efforts. We can never get complacent and stop." (KEVIN OSBORNE)

Cool Nerd: Richard Hess

Richard Hess, who has chaired the drama program at UC's College-Conservatory of Music for a dozen years, laughs that anyone would think a "theater nerd" is cool.

"I'm really an old fart," he claims, but that's belied by his success with students. He was named UC's Ernest Glover Outstanding Teacher in 1999.

If you need more evidence, just look back to June and the 2006 Cincinnati Fringe Festival. Hess directed the fan favorite The Catholic Girl's Guide to Losing Your Virginity (it's earned a one-week run at the Cincinnati Playhouse in January), and he conceived and staged (UN)Natural Disaster, which recently won two Cincinnati Entertainment Awards, including recognition for the year's Best Alternative Production.

"Being a teacher and director and artistic creator and cheerleader is what I'm good at," Hess says, "and the more I practice what I do the better I become at it. I really, really love my job and the chances I'm afforded in Cincinnati to work with the best actors and most talented theater artists. I love what I do."

Asked about his inspiration, he says, "My best ideas come from listening to other, smarter people around me — and not being afraid to use an idea that I didn't originate. My best ideas are those that are not looked for actively, but those that are listened to when they come knocking."

And just why is theater a cool art form? "It breathes, it challenges, it's communal, it's ancient and new, and it's never the same twice."

For more evidence this fall, check out Hess' directing role in the CCM comic drama The Lady's Not for Burning Oct. 26-29. (RICK PENDER)

Cool Swinger: Will Turbyne

Will Turbyne, an unapologetic East Coast liberal from New Hampshire, says he began building things with his father and grandfather when he was just old enough to swing a hammer. Today he designs and builds scenery and sets for the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company (CSC).

He moved to Cincinnati five years ago after earning his master's degree while working at the acclaimed Alabama Shakespeare Festival. He jokes, "I must have an obsession with being overworked and underpaid."

But he quickly explains, "We work in the theater because we have to. It's a drive that comes from inside us. There's a lot of other things I'd like to do, but somehow theater keeps its place at the top of the list."

Part of that draw comes in how theater artists work together. "Most of my best ideas come from the collaboration with playwrights, directors, actors, designers, production staff. It's amazing to watch a single idea bounce through all the different minds working on a project. Characters inform costumes, lights inform scenery, a particular line informs props."

He thrives on creativity. "Looking at things from a different angle or to serve a different purpose is a great source of inspiration. Looking at ceiling tiles and seeing walls, for instance, or turning cheap plastic easels into trim details on a cast iron stove made from plywood."

Theater is about telling stories, he says. "It's live, it's happening, it's real. And it's not just the actors — it's as much the audience."

And by the way, Turbyne is a wholly integrated guy. "People who are committed and passionate about whatever they do are cool," he observes. And his side business — custom woodworking and fine furniture — is still about swinging a hammer.

Turbyne's scenic design for As You Like It is now on view at CSC through Oct. 8. (RICK PENDER)

Cool Moonlighting: Forkable Feasts

Stu Schloss and Randi Bloch grew up together. Each moved on to different law schools and returned to Cincinnati to practice.

Schloss (pictured) is a prominent real estate, estate and corporate lawyer, while Bloch is known as the top divorce attorney in town. The friends have different law interests, work at different firms, yet they have one thing in common — both are raging foodies.

For the past five years, Bloch and Schloss have been taking culinary courses at Cincinnati State in their (not so) spare time. Both are yet to graduate, though Schloss promises that both attorneys will attain their degrees in the next year or so. Rather than wait, though, they've ventured out and found a degreed chef, Shannon Estey, to head up their new undertaking — an Oakley take-out/catering business aptly named Forkable Feasts.

Take-out places aren't so uncommon. Yet the idea and goals behind Forkable Feasts is a little more savvy than most. There's a conscious effort in Bloch and Schloss' undertaking; that is, they want to make their take-home dining experience as simple as fast food but with something fabulously new: nutrition.

Within their selection of foods, Bloch and Schloss will have food made especially for diabetics and for weight watchers, including the points menu. They'll pay attention to taste as well as content, using fresh ingredients from local farmers, local livestock and local cheese manufactures. Everything will be fresh — crisp and clean as a top-notch restaurant.

To go even further, the chefs will take the time to pair their dinners with special wines (half-bottles, if you like), a few desserts and other amazing sides, with a smart, coherent taste plan to go with each meal. Forkable Feasts will allow its work-weary customers to a healthy, nutritional meal as quickly as you can say, "Supersize me." (LAURA JAMES)