For the past nine Januarys, I've left Cincinnati for 10 days to cover the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, the annual showcase for independent movies that's become the country's leading film festival. I like leaving Cincinnati at the beginning of the year. It clears my mind of the grief, cynicism and overall bad attitude about life here that I've accumulated during the previous 12 months.
Surprisingly, what I enjoy most about my extended trip is returning home. It's not just because I miss my wife and my son. I like returning to Cincinnati because my extended stay fuels me with renewed vigor about making life here better.
At Sundance, I catch up with friends from vibrant, wouldn't-you-like-to-be-here cities like Portland and San Francisco. They tell me stories about various projects, events and exhibitions. Through them, I experience a vicarious Left Coast life. My friends know they're living in great places and, while I'm not saying they take their too-cool-for-the-Midwest homes for granted, it's clear their wish lists of civic needs and pressing concerns are worlds apart from mine.
We Cincinnatians have our work cut out for us. Yet there are few things more exciting than helping to build a tolerant, supportive, creative community from scratch. Leaving Cincinnati grants me the peace of mind to be hopeful.
While I was away this year, however, the Cincinnati to-do list got a little bit longer.
Filmmaker Spike Lee cancelled his Feb. 28 University of Cincinnati appearance, part of the UC's Black History Month celebration, due to the Boycott Cincinnati campaign. He must be unaware of the recent anti-Semitic actions taken by some boycott leaders.
Lee's appearance could have been a great photo-op to push the boycott debate into the open here. Instead, his withdrawal continues the status quo reality of do-nothing city leaders who allow the boycott to linger with the hopes that it'll some day fade away.
Also while I was away, the Cincinnati Playhouse canceled a tour of schools for Glyn O'Malley's Paradise, a play about two 17-year-old girls, one Israeli, the other Palestinian, and their experience of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict as seen through their eyes. Complaints were sent to several school systems by members of the local Muslim community who were concerned that the play takes an anti-Muslim stance.
Paradise's critics have been heard. What's puzzling is the lack of outcry from local arts supporters who believe that audiences — teen-age or otherwise — should have the opportunity to see hot-topic stories involving other teens from other parts of the world.
A free reading of Paradise is planned for 7 p.m. Feb. 18 at the Playhouse, and I plan to be one of the first people in line. I want to experience what some people consider too offensive for local high school students.
I'll save my comments about the play until after I see it. That's the first rule of criticism: See something before you criticize it. It's good advice for some of Paradise's detractors.
Jan. 31 was another Final Friday gallery walk, although the recent closing of Suzanna Terrill Gallery means the Main Street gallery district is without a major retail art outlet. Granted, the BASE artists cooperative continues to operate, and there are furniture and flower retailers who display original artwork in their businesses. Yet it's not the same without Terrill.
If a gallery district is important to the urban core, than there must be something our city's leaders can do. For now, I recommend that Main Street's Final Friday Gallery Walk be renamed simply a Friday Walk. The other option is to persuade the remaining Main Street bars to hang original artwork on their walls, although I'd hate to be the bar manager explaining to an artist how a drunk frat boy managed to piss on his painting.
If January is any indication of the rest of the year, we have a lot of work to do in Cincinnati. Still, I'm back in town, and I'm happy to be back. So what should we do to make things better?