DIVA Helps to Keep Cincinnati Arts Moving

In the cement-and-steel shadow of Paul Brown Stadium, the Linda Schwartz Gallery reminds Cincinnati that West Fourth Street continues to be a home for visual artists. The gallery's expansive windows

In the cement-and-steel shadow of Paul Brown Stadium, the Linda Schwartz Gallery reminds Cincinnati that West Fourth Street continues to be a home for visual artists. The gallery's expansive windows and stark display space boost downtown's big-city intentions. The challenge is for more people to see the contemporary art exhibitions here.

Getting the word out is a challenge shared by many Cincinnati arts spaces. It's difficult to generate publicity without a substantial marketing budget. So gallery owner Schwartz and some like-minded arts partners have pooled their resources into a creative collaboration.

Formed in March 2000, they call themselves the Downtown Initiative for Visual Art. Actually, they answer more readily to the group's acronym, DIVA. In the ongoing battle for publicity, a catchy moniker can only help.

"DIVA is about getting the word out to the general public," says Schwartz, speaking recently at a downtown restaurant.

"What we're trying to do is bring attention to the visual arts. People are only going to specific places, and they just don't get beyond Main Street. But culture is just as important for the livelihood of downtown."

There are familiar faces behind DIVA, including David Dillon of Semantics Gallery and Alissa Cone of the Cincinnati Art Museum. But DIVA seems to thrive off the energy of Schwartz, an arts newcomer.

It's funny how Cincinnati often relies on an outsider's critical poke to push the arts community in the right direction. Luckily, Schwartz, a transplant from Lexington, Ky., slaps Cincinnati in a ticklish manner.

"It's just our first year, and we're still babes," she says. "When the brochure came out, we had something tangible. We are part of the cultural fabric of the city. If we stay successful, then Cincinnati is better off. Still, I'd like to see The Enquirer offer us some very inexpensive advertising."

Cincinnati takes pride in its separate arts neighborhoods: Mount Adams, Over-the-Rhine, Downtown and the University of Cincinnati campus in Clifton. A new wave of art spaces continues to thrive in outlying neighborhoods like Brighton Corner, Price Hill, Camp Washington and the West End. The goal is to somehow connect these arts neighborhoods through a series of collaborative programs.

Basically, DIVA is about creating a unified arts voice. A louder voice can generate some much-needed awareness for galleries away from Main Street's Final Fridays gallery walks. DIVA's slick brochure and colorful map help spread the message. The involvement of the city's visual art institutions also boosts the group's credibility.

There's a lot DIVA hopes to accomplish. Plans for a Web site, billboard campaign and gallery shuttle are being discussed. There is no limit to what the coalition can accomplish as long as its members remain creative and vibrant.

The catch is that Schwartz and her team are having a good time.

"We discussed whether we should have formal meetings or a board," Dillon says, speaking alongside Schwartz. "I said, 'Hell, no. Let's be a party!' "

"I think when the Contemporary Arts Center opens its new building, this city needs to get its act together," Schwartz says. "When that building hits, there's going to be an international community coming here to see what's happening."

Not that long ago, West Fourth Street was home to Cincinnati's official gallery district. But things appear quieter along the street since the demise of CAGE (Cincinnati Artists Group Effort).

In recent years, the gallery spotlight has shifted to Over-the-Rhine's Main Street. Increasing rent costs have dampened some of the outlook for galleries there, however, as the galleries and the dot-com companies battle for available space. The gallery pendulum might swing back in West Fourth Street's favor.

I don't have the opportunity to walk along West Fourth Street very often. DIVA hopes to change that dynamic.

Contact steve ramos: [email protected]

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