Cover Story: Seeing the Arts 20/20

Enjoy the Arts/START celebrates its 20th anniversary with a bang

Jymi Bolden

Lisa Mullins wants to "drive people to the arts in droves."

Even if you wear eyeglasses as thick as Coke bottles, you're sure to be seeing 20/20 this fall. As in "20 Days & 20 Nights," or "20/20," a non-stop arts festival organized by the cultural organization Enjoy the Arts/START.

The three-week arts festival, which takes place at different venues in more than a dozen city neighborhoods, kicks off Sept. 24 with performance artist Denny Dent, who creates giant-sized pop art and is described as "the world's only Rock & Roll painter."

Before the doors close on this festival Oct. 13, you'll be able to indulge — often for free or almost always at discount — in anything from opera and sculpture to "cocktail choreography," gallery hops and performance poetry. A total of 50-plus local arts groups are participating in order to better showcase the diversity of the arts community in the region — theater, dance, music, museums — all tailored to young adults and the family audience.

Everyone, from large museums to fringe theatrical troupes, is involved in the cultural craziness.

"It's the idea of Lori Wellinghoff," says Lisa Mullins, executive director of Enjoy the Arts. "It was born of the challenge I issued that we not commemorate our 20th anniversary by having a black-tie event but by doing something that was all about our mission."

Wellinghoff is a volunteer who, with help from the Fine Arts Fund, organized the entire three-week shebang. The concept was hatched in March — "We work fast," laughs Mullins.

"We sent a request for proposals to arts organizations large and small, established and emerging," Mullins recalls. "We knew the idea of 20/20 wouldn't fly without a buy-in from the arts community, and the response has just been fantastic."

Among the offbeat offerings of 20/20 are an all-night scavenger hunt at the Cincin-nati Art Museum involving the museum's nude sculptures. Be careful where you reach.

There's fun for the family, as well. An Omnimax Film Festival, for instance, features a unique one-night screening of three of the most popular Omnimax nature films ever shown at Cincinnati Museum Center: Blue Planet, The Living Sea and Everest.

Enjoy the Arts was pioneered by the late Irma Lazarus to make the arts more appealing and accessible to students and young people. Both Enjoy the Arts and START are programs that exist year-round for full-time students and people age 30 and under. The cost of membership is $25 for Enjoy the Arts, the student program, and $40 for START, the non-student program.

Fear not if you're neither a student nor under 30. For the 20 days and nights that begin Sept. 24, you can purchase a "Passport" for $50. If you attended every event, the "Passport" would provide hundreds of dollars in savings.

"We wanted to equip people who don't qualify for either of our programs so they can be members for the duration of the event," says Mullins, who points out many events are conveniently clustered in certain city neighborhoods on certain days. "We want to drive people to the arts in droves."

Of course, if you're a student or under 30, an ETA or START membership is the way to go. It's cheaper, lasts a year and the participating arts organizations in 20/20 are extending other perks to members all through the year.

Mullins sees this festival as the perfect launch for the fall arts season.

"Art is a common denominator," she says, adding that she also sees a future for the festival beyond this year's 20th-anniversary celebration. The hip urban event, she says, could stretch one day into a Spoleto Festival on steroids. (Spoleto is the famed cultural arts festival held annually in Charleston, S.C.)

A few caveats: Tickets for 20/20 events must be purchased from the sponsoring organizations, not Enjoy the Arts; the Passport or ETA/START membership are the only things you can buy at the ETA offices. Passports aren't required for admission to individual events but simply provide a discount.

A full one-third of the 60 scheduled events are free.

20 DAYS & 20 NIGHTS runs Sept. 24-Oct. 13 throughout Greater Cincinnati. For ticket information, call 513-621-4700 or check out

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