Cover Story: The 25 most influential people in Cincinnati arts

CityBeat's fifth annual ranking of the people who are leading the local arts -- for better or worse

Ed Stern

Perhaps it's appropriate for a ranking of influential people in the arts, but assembling this list is much more an art than a science. Of course, there's no way we can truly and objectively ascertain who has more or less power and influence in Cincinnati's complicated arts scene. But the exercise of trying to do so sheds some fascinating light on the lay of the land in the fall of 2001, 15 months since our previous listing (issue of May 4-10, 2000).

A lot has happened since then: Last year's No. 1 slot was assigned to Hamilton County Commissioner Tom Neyer Jr. because of the role he was playing with the evolving Regional Cultural Alliance. Sad to say, not only did Neyer's efforts to obtain funding sink in some rough political water (see RCA R.I.P.), but the RCA collapsed completely. In fact, some have attributed Neyer's recent decision not to seek reelection to the county commission to this chain of events.

Two others previously listed and entrenched in the RCA's departure — Otto Budig Jr. (16th in 2000 and 3rd in 1999) and David Herriman ("Other Influentials" in 2000 and 18th in 1999) — don't appear in this year's ranking either.

Cincinnati's April race riots affected every dimension of our city, including the arts (see Making Over-the-Rhine Arty and Civil Unrest Spawns Artistic Growth). The riots reflected the frustrations of young people in our city, and the arts can provide a forum for communication, expression and dialogue.

That caused us to think about individuals who influence young people through the arts, so you'll see some new names on this year's list — Happen Inc.'s Tommy Rueff, SCPA's Jeff Brokamp and David Dillon, whose avant-garde Semantics Gallery in the Brighton district is inspiring a new generation of young artists.

We find it sad that our list includes no minorities, especially given the many troublesome racial issues our community needs to address. In past years, we've ranked Dhana Bradley-Morton from the Arts Consortium, but in 2000 we said it was time for her to "step up and get more people to take notice of her organization." It's been three years since plans were announced to create a new facility for the Consortium, but we've not heard a peep from the West End.

We have hopes, too, for the Underground Railroad Freedom Center, but there's no one there — yet — making any impact on the arts scene.

Our fifth annual list has a better balance of men to women than in the past: 17 to 10 (a few rankings include more than one person). We also think it's interesting that four of the top five are artistic directors. That's good and bad: We're pleased to see our major arts institutions led by people who wield influence. But in a community that's prided itself on community support for the professional arts, we think it's unfortunate that there aren't more grassroots leaders and politicians stepping up to advance the cause.

Perhaps the Cincinnati City Council and Mayoral elections this fall will see new faces rise to leadership roles with the arts as central issues in their campaigns. We should live so long.

Notes: Last year's ratings are from CityBeat's issue of May 4-10, 2000. Although we at CityBeat do our best to influence the arts, we don't include anyone affiliated with the paper on this list.


Producing Artistic Director, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park

Stern is now in his 10th season at the Cincinnati Playhouse, making him the senior artistic leader among the city's largest arts organizations. Never one to rest on his laurels, Stern has continued to push the Playhouse's boundaries, with programmatic innovations such as the new cutting-edge "alteractive" series, launched in January, and other projects that have the potential to elevate awareness of the Playhouse on the national theater scene. He's fostered a spirit of collaboration among the theater community by championing the establishment of the League of Cincinnati Theatres in 1999, and he's been a force in pushing for stronger connections between the Playhouse (and many other arts organizations) in relationships with Cincinnati Public Schools. Beyond the Playhouse, Stern's voice is frequently heard on larger issues in the arts, from censorship and funding to the creation of new and needed entities such as the Regional Cultural Alliance, on whose board he served. LAST YEAR'S POSITION: 10 REASON FOR CHANGE: Everyone acknowledges the high quality of the theater Stern directs and produces at the Playhouse. He's the last person to seek a position of influence — in fact, we know he's aspired to drop off this list altogether. But he's become the "go to" guy in the arts, recognized by many in the larger community for his passion and his clear thinking. We can't think of anyone whose voice speaks more clearly or whose advocacy makes a bigger difference than Ed Stern.


Music Director, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra

With billboards and other marketing splashing his visage all over town, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra's new music director is poised to put some new energy into an organization that's not lived up to its potential in recent years. To be sure, under Jesés López-Cobos' directorship, the CSO rose to a quality of music-making that's the envy of orchestras around America, but the former maestro lacked the charisma to charm audiences. Järvi, an appealing and energetic 38-year-old, Estonian-born American citizen, is just what this city needed to get people excited about concerts at Music Hall. LAST YEAR'S POSITION: Not ranked. REASON FOR CHANGE: He's the new kid in town, but he has a marketing budget that ought to make him a household name.


Director, Arts Services Office, Cincinnati Institute of Fine Arts

For five years, Hallenberg has directed the quietly efficient Arts Service Office, which helps small and mid-sized arts organizations — full of creative energy but lacking in business experience — do a better job with tasks like marketing, fundraising and planning. She oversees the extremely effective Cincinnati chapter of Business Volunteers for the Arts, which identifies people with business expertise and matches them with arts organizations that would benefit from their skills. She's been the driving force on getting Cincinnati included in the National Arts Marketing Project sponsored by American Express, a program that offers potential grants up to $25,000 of additional funding for marketing to selected arts organizations. LAST YEAR'S POSITION: 4 REASON FOR CHANGE: The collapse of the Regional Cultural Alliance means Hallenberg's Arts Services Office is the only local entity that helps the arts with the task of spreading the word and operating productively. She makes the ASO a vital resource in the region, both in its programmatic assistance and in the way she provides individual advice and counsel to arts managers.


Artistic Director, Cincinnati Opera

Muni's fourth season with the Opera was its 81st overall. The summer season featured 10 performances of four operas — Madame Butterfly, Bluebeard's Castle/ Erwartung, The Magic Flute and the company's premiere of Verdi's Nabucco — including two weekends staged in repertory to accommodate increasing demand from regional audiences and opera tourists. LAST YEAR'S POSITION: 18 REASON FOR CHANGE: The success of the Opera's summer season proves Muni is tuned in to what people want: The performances played to 95 percent of Music Hall's total capacity, reaching 30,504 patrons in all (and generating the highest gross ticket income, $1.3 million, in company history). He creates thought-provoking productions and schedules them in ways the community likes. He pushes the envelope without turning people off. While he's connecting effectively with local audiences (70 percent of the season was subscribed, compared to 52 percent in 1996), he's also creating a reputation for the Opera far beyond the Tristate. We also commend Muni for his collaborative approach to his work — it's not unusual for one of his opera productions to feature choreography by the Cincinnati Ballet's Victoria Morgan, for instance — and he's frequently in attendance at productions and exhibitions by other arts institutions. That commitment to being part of the arts community adds to his influence.


Director, Cincinnati Art Museum

The dynamic and charming Rub seemed like a perfect choice for the Cincinnati Art Museum after several years under turbulent leadership and tight budgets. He's moved forward with confidence and poise, reaching out to the larger community and making sure that several exhibitions (which were lined up by the previous administration) have turned into blockbuster successes, especially the European Masterpieces: Six Centuries of Paintings from the National Gallery of Victoria, Australia, which had visitors standing in lines for hours last winter. They also turned out big crowds for an exhibition of photography by Gordon Parks at a time when Cincinnati needed to have more reason to explore black and white issues. LAST YEAR'S POSITION: 17 REASON FOR CHANGE: Rub's not resting on his laurels. This summer he and key members of his staff have been having conversations with people from the community about how CAM can do a better job. That kind of orientation and sensitivity to what the public wants will make the museum a more integral part of our community.


Executive Director, Cincinnati Institute of Fine Arts

McCullough-Hudson heads the organization that raises money for the arts every year through the Fine Arts Fund. This past spring, with the economy wobbling, she and her staff still managed to eke out a goal-equaling total of $9,175,000, the most they've ever raised. While many artists would like the CIFA to be more politically active, McCullough-Hudson stays focused on arts funding. She quietly steers her conservative and sometimes stuffy board — lots of corporate guys and wealthy patrons — in new directions that make a difference. Two years ago the CIFA created a new category of membership for mid-sized arts organizations, and it's making a big difference in the financial stability of those organizations. LAST YEAR'S POSITION: 20 REASON FOR CHANGE: Not only does CIFA raise the money for the arts, they decide who gets it. The annual allocation process is a subtle but powerful tool to steer organizations down paths deemed important by the Institute's board. That's led to greater financial stability, which is essential, but it can also be sometimes restrictive. While allocations are managed by volunteers, it's McCullough-Hudson who gives the process focus and direction. For instance, CIFA is filling a temporary position to coordinate a series of festivals in 2003, and several administrators — including Stern, Muni and Contemporary Arts Center Director Charles Desmarais — are interviewing candidates. That's evidence of McCullough-Hudson building involvement and shaping some important activities.


Executive Director, Happen Inc.

Some people have sparks of inspiration and do nothing about them. Not Rueff, who is making a difference with Happen Inc., the non-profit outreach organization he created in 1998 after selling his share in an ad agency he helped found. Rueff leads a Spartan lifestyle, one that would impress a Tibetan monk (see " Giving 'Til It Hurts," issue of Aug. 17-23, 2000). His goal is to unleash the creative energy found inside every child — a spark he first saw at his art studio when a group of children were given the opportunity to draw. Happen mixes art education and creativity for a diverse class of adult/children teams. These days the organization partners with Project Connect, which serves homeless children. The Fine Arts Fund also has provided funding support. Rueff's intention is to use art to give kids a sense of self-esteem, and that's precisely the kind of attitude that will make a difference in our troubled city. LAST YEAR'S POSITION: Not ranked.


Principal, School for Creative and Performing Arts

Brokamp took the reins at SCPA in 1997, following on the heels of a controversial principal who riled parents and brought more attention to herself than to the talented kids who fill the Sycamore Street edifice with boundless artistic energy. Under his leadership, SCPA has gotten back to the business of giving a good education to students in grades 4-12 (test scores are better than ever) within a context that encourages creativity. It's places like SCPA, where black and white kids work side-by-side with respect and commitment, that tell us the arts can make a difference in a city where racial divisiveness is often the byword. Brokamp sets the tone, and, as efforts continue to relocate SCPA to a potential location near Music Hall, his role in the arts scene will continue to be important. LAST YEAR'S POSITION: Not ranked.


President, The Cinergy Foundation

Our gas and electric company continues to provide energy to the arts through the Cinergy Foundation, and Hale is the decision-maker there. He reviews almost as many as 1,500 requests annually for funding, and he often gets personally involved with organizations benefiting from his benevolence. LAST YEAR'S POSITION: 2 REASON FOR CHANGE: Hale continues to be one of the city's most influential funders. He serves on many boards, and he's always willing to explore new concepts: He was a motivator behind the Big Pig Gig which gave Cincinnati many smiles last summer. This year his profile has been a bit less, but he's still there making things happen.


Richard and Lois Rosenthal Foundation

Since selling their Cincinnati-based business, F&W Publishing, the Rosenthals have redoubled their involvement in the arts. The CAC's new building will be the Lois and Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art, thanks to a $5 million gift. Dick chairs a new committee for the Cincinnati Institute of Fine Arts focused on marketing, the first time CIFA has dabbled in that kind of activity. But most striking is the new home for the Rosenthal Foundation at 123 E. Liberty St. in the heart of Over-the-Rhine, which is also an education and activity center for kids called Uptown Arts, offering free classes in dance, art, theater and music. The Rosenthals have their critics — some wondered why Uptown Arts shut down for the summer, a season when kids from OTR could have used a diversion; the official explanation was they needed time to regroup and get geared up for a new burst of activity this fall — but we think their hearts are in the right place and they work hard to make a difference in a town where too few people do that. LAST YEAR'S POSITION: 12 REASON FOR CHANGE: No change.


Director, Contemporary Arts Center

Desmarais is working hard to put the CAC on the national and international arts map with the new facility designed by innovative architect Zaha Hadid. Now that the land purchase is resolved and ground has been broken, it looks like Cincinnati will have a true work of art where art of the next 10 minutes can be viewed. We give the iconoclastic director high marks for keeping his building in the spotlight and people aware of his organization. LAST YEAR'S POSITION: 13 REASON FOR CHANGE: No change.


Artistic Director, Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati

When Timothy Thomas was shot in April, it happened about a block from ETC. Meyers and her staff weren't able to get back into the theater for nearly a week once the riots broke, scrambling to rehearse a production of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Dinner With Friends that played to sold-out audiences when many were still dubious about returning to Over-the-Rhine. Meyers' tenacious and principled leadership has led to larger recognition for her and ETC: The YWCA named her a Career Women of Achievement, an honor seldom bestowed on folks in the performing arts. LAST YEAR'S POSITION: 19 REASON FOR CHANGE: Meyers totally gets what it's all about to be an arts institution anchored in Over-the-Rhine. Of course she wants everyone to come and enjoy the thought-provoking and sometimes raucous theater she stages: The June production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch brought Rock music and theater fans together when not much else was going on. But she also wants the theater's presence to make a difference to the neighborhood, so ETC will be involved in a variety of outreach activities to connect with at-risk youth in local schools. Meyers' commitment regularly shows how the arts can play a role in the kind of changes our city so desperately needs.


Arts Writer/Theater Critic, The Cincinnati Enquirer

Her weekly column is read with fear and trepidation by arts administrators all over the Tristate, as they turn to page 2 of Tempo on Sunday morning to see if their organization is the target of her not-so-gentle nudging or occasionally harsh criticism. The aggressive Demaline sometimes gets the facts wrong in her effort to be out first with information (we can't imagine who she's competing with). She's quick to advance her own theories about how things ought to be, and she bullies many arts organizations into taking action simply to get her off their backs. But she's the only significant arts advocate at The Enquirer, and the local scene would be a poorer place without her outspoken commentary. LAST YEAR'S POSITION: 11 REASON FOR CHANGE: No change.


There's certainly no art going on at Paul Brown Stadium — unless you have a taste for ironic humor — and we're still paying through the nose for project No. 2, Great American Ballpark, soon to replace the aesthetically enhanced Cinergy Field. We really think quicker implementation of the outfield hole and real grass at Cinergy might have saved this community a lot of money that could have been spent on the arts. LAST YEAR'S POSITION: 8 REASON FOR CHANGE: With the demise of the Regional Cultural Alliance, there's no one to remind us that more people attend Cincinnati arts annually than go to see the Reds and Bengals combined. But that aside, we especially regret that the electorate's anger over misspending and bloated budgets for these big-ticket projects have pretty well poisoned the well for public funding of almost anything else in town, including the arts.


Executive Director, Enjoy the Arts

Mullins heads an organization that does what it says, providing teen-agers, college students and young professionals an affordable means — in terms of a membership — to get discounts on admissions to the arts. LAST YEAR'S POSITION: Other Influentials REASON FOR CHANGE: Mullins led the charge to obtain the only grant to an arts organization from the Greater Cincinnati Foundation's Regional Initiative Fund. The funding will enhance, a new Web site that will offer lots of information in addition to the ability to buy tickets. Many arts organizations will benefit from admissions being more easily purchased online by anyone, including the young audiences Mullins' organization reaches out to week in and week out.


President & Executive Director, Cincinnati Arts Association LAST year we wondered who would be taking charge of CAA, which manages the Aronoff Center, Music Hall and Memorial Hall. The search didn't look very far, appointing Loftin — who was No. 2 previously as vice president and general manager. As we watch new programming concepts develop, Loftin's choice seems to have been a wise one. He has already shown signs of identifying interesting programming (see "Around the World," issue of Aug. 23-29) and he's working hard to connect with many organizations in the community. LAST YEAR'S POSITION: 15 REASON FOR CHANGE: No change.


Special Projects Manager, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and Pepsi Jammin' On Main

While drinking beer from big plastic cups on the lawn at Riverbend might not be everyone's idea of culture, Smith — who managed the CSO's summer for several years for Nederlander and SFX and now does the same as an orchestra employee — knows crowds like that generate a much-needed revenue to support the symphony. He's learned a lot about what kind of music appeals to big crowds, so he was a perfectly logical choice to take the reins of Jammin' On Main — our annual springtime street music festival cancelled last May in the wake of the riots — which was deeded to the CSO earlier this year by its founding organization (see "Symphony Is Jammin'," issue of June 21-27). Smith plans to make the event bigger and better and suggests that the CSO is all about putting people and music together, so he sees it as a perfectly logical extension of the orchestra's mission. We wish him a lot of luck, and we'll be watching. LAST YEAR'S POSITION: Not ranked.


Dean, UC's College-Conservatory of Music

Lowry got into the musical world blowing a horn — a trombone. As the new dean of UC's music and performing arts school (they have theater and electronic specialties there, in addition to arts administration), his new role is that of blowing CCM's horn. And he's doing it well. For too long CCM has been an unknown resource locally and an unheralded institution nationally: Lowry's the man to drive that change. LAST YEAR'S POSITION: 23 ("New Deans at CCM/DAAP") REASON FOR CHANGE: Last year he was a concept; now he's a reality. (His counterpart at DAAP, Judith Smith Koroscik, could be another breath of fresh air, but it's too early to tell.) Lowry is already working with several performing arts organizations, including the CSO and its dashing new music director, Paavo Järvi, to find ways to bolster the Classical music scene through collaboration.


Artistic Director, Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival

It's hard to believe "Baby Shakes" is now in its eighth season, but they've grown and shown us that they can do more than the Bard. Last season they offered a winning Harold Pinter play, Betrayal, and even fostered a brand new play, Joe McDonough's A Chance of Lightning. Minadakis is the epicenter of all this activity, an endless wellspring of energetic ideas and enthusiasm for making theater that affects audiences. This year the "Young Company," a set of seven new interns (made possible by a grant from the Greater Cincinnati Foundation) will do more outreach to schools than ever. LAST YEAR'S POSITION: 14 REASON FOR CHANGE: Under Minadakis, CSF continues to be the inspiration for young fledgling theater groups. Their influence in that arena hasn't really diminished. With the departure of Managing Director Joe McIlwain, it remains to be seen if the business side of CSF will continue to thrive. Times were harder when Minadakis had to shoulder the entire burden.


Executive Director, ArtWorks

Boy, did she ever get our attention in 2000 with the Big Pig Gig. We doubt pigs had that much attention paid to them even when they ran the streets here 150 years ago. Of course, the Gig was a fundraiser to ensure the long life of ArtWorks, the summer employment program for high school kids with aspirations in the arts (see "Tents, Toilets and Trailer Gods," issue of Aug. 23-29). LAST YEAR'S POSITION: 7 REASON FOR CHANGE: We've heard less from Harkavy this summer, but we imagine she's doing her knitting toward another public art project a year or two in the future that will turn some more heads and convince everyone around about how art can make a difference in our everyday lives.


Owner, Linda Schwartz Gallery

Schwartz, a transplanted gallery operator from Lexington, Ky., has been making waves in the visual arts scene. Her Fourth Street gallery — a decade ago Fourth Street was the scene for galleries — shows some of the hippest art in town. But even more, Schwartz is a sparkplug to get the disconnected art community sprinkled around downtown to be more organized: She's the driving force behind DIVA, the Downtown Initiative for Visual Art, which was formed in March to create a unified arts voice and generate some much-needed awareness for galleries that aren't on Main Street. They have a slick brochure and colorful map to spread their message, and with the fresh air created by CAC's new building we could be seeing broader interest in visual art downtown. LAST YEAR'S POSITION: Not ranked.


Associate Director, Urban Appalachian Council of Greater Cincinnati

Hansel, who also happens to be a respected poet, constantly finds ways to use arts programming to reach out to people of Appalachian descent and to expose non-Appalachian audiences to Appalachian arts. Last spring she was the prime mover in Voices from Home, a collaboration that linked Appalshop (based in Whitesburg, Ky., and dedicated to documenting and revitalizing Appalachian arts) with several Cincinnati organizations — the Cincinnati Arts Association, Voyageur Media Group, the Appalachian Community Development Association and the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky Film Commission. The weekend featured programs of theater, film and music. Through collaboration and hard work, Hansel is creating greater understanding, a commodity in short supply in our town recently. LAST YEAR'S POSITION: Not ranked.


Artist and Operator, Semantics Gallery

Semantics Gallery has settled down nicely in its home at Central Parkway and Brighton Place, and its artistic leader, David Dillon, continues to be an inspiration to younger generation of artists. For emerging artists who have little interest in networking with suit-and-tie philanthropists, Dillon remains the man to see and be seen with. Think of him as a cool version of Joe Hale, albeit without a large checkbook. When Dillon is not involved with Semantics or recent projects like the rededication of Grailville's The Poles, a massive outdoor sculpture by artist and theater director Robert Wilson, he stays busy promoting DIVA, the Downtown Initiative for Visual Art. Basically, Dillon is wherever there are young artists creating new and exciting work. His presence in the Brighton district has made it into a new destination for creators and arts lovers. LAST YEAR'S POSITION: Not ranked.


Operator, Esquire and Mariemont cinemas

For a decade Cincinnatians have loved the Esquire Theatre and its newer cousin, the Mariemont Theatre. But in May, when operator Gary Goldman snipped a sex scene out of The Center of the World, CityBeat's Steve Ramos stepped up to blow the whistle. Goldman apologized to the public for his lapse in judgment but banned Ramos for a column critical of the illicit editing. Ramos hasn't been in either theater since June (although he continues to write about films shown there). Goldman says he's unwilling to risk prosecution over films that push the envelope, and that affects what everyone who loves good films will get to see here. The decision also affects other local organizations that promote challenging, cutting-edge creative work, telling them it's better (i.e., easier) to practice self-censorship than take on Cincinnati's conservative reputation. LAST YEAR'S POSITION: Not ranked.


We don't know who this will be, but we feel pretty certain that our new "strong mayor" could make a difference in our local arts scene. When Indianapolis elected a new mayor last fall, he decided the arts should be the focus of his efforts: Indy's putting up $10 million to make it happen. Will our new mayor's competitive spirit kick in? Time will tell. So far, we've not heard much from any of the candidates about the centrality of the arts to a Greater Cincinnati. LAST YEAR'S POSITION: 25 REASON FOR CHANGE: Unchanged. Like the city and its problems.

About The Authors

Rick Pender

RICK PENDER has written about theater for CityBeat since its first issues in 1994. Before that he wrote for EveryBody’s News. From 1998 to 2006 he was CityBeat’s arts & entertainment editor. Retired from a long career in public relations, he’s still a local arts fan, providing readers (and public radio listeners)...
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