Cover Story: With Eyes That See

Tamara Harkavy eyes an art-filled future

Wendy Uhlman

Tamara Harkavy believes young artists deserve a chance to make art for a living.

Tamara Harkavy works deep in the ghetto. She knows it, and now I do too.

"You're in the ghetto, girl," she says, after hearing I've gotten lost in Over-the-Rhine en route to our first meeting at the Pendleton Art Center.

Geography ultimately doesn't matter to her or anyone else on the ArtWorks staff. They're too busy making calls, hustling for funds and trying to get ready for the summer, the program's busiest season.

Harkavy is executive director of ArtWorks, which provides job training, employment and mentoring for youth in the arts.

"We have a three-pronged approach," Harkavy says. "Job training and life skills; promotion of important and established artistic talent; and enhancement of the urban environment."

Yes, ArtWorks has enhanced the urban environment. Remember the pigs?

But before you start thinking of ArtWorks only as "the Big Pig Gig people," the organization seeks this summer to add natural beauty to downtown Cincinnati with Flower Power.

There are other projects in the works, as well, as Cincinnati's youth will benefit year-round by working for pay and artistic growth.

What's Harkavy's role in all this? Well, the North Avondale native is a snake charmer of sorts, mixing her natural people skills and humor to request funding, a necessary evil in arts administration.

"I have to go to Hyde Park to beg for money," she says, thereby ensuring that 125 kids have paying summer jobs.

Harkavy has been at this for seven years, since ArtWorks started in her dining room. Its earnest beginnings belie a larger purpose and passion.

Harkavy sees art not only as a medium for expression but also as a medium of understanding. For example, while stopped at the southbound light on Sixth and Walnut streets, she points out two people on the sidewalk, one of whom is a politician. She praises the two, tempering it with honest criticism.

"They're doing a good job trying to fix a broken city," she says. "But what this city lacks is an arts council."

Only a woman with moxy and really good eyes can see that.

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