The first time I met Tommy Rueff, he was running an arts education class from a drab plaza storefront along Beechmont Avenue. The last time I saw Rueff he was still working hard from the same storefront.
His dedication to Happen Inc. — a non-profit company that mixes art education and creativity for a diverse class of adult/children teams — has not wavered since he founded the organization in 1999. It's redundant to say that Rueff has yet to receive his fair share of the spotlight. While Happen Inc. receives support from the Fine Arts Fund and recognition from the Post-Corbett Awards, Rueff, 35, remains outside Cincinnati's inner circle of arts movers and shakers.
All of that may change on Jan. 13 when Rueff tapes the pilot for the half-hour Happen game show, Make It Happen, at WCET-TV's studios. Of all of Rueff's projects, this one deserves to soar.
A similar Happen project, Gameshow Goolosh, made its debut at outdoor festivals in 1999. Originally inspired by the gooey antics on Nickelodeon TV shows, Rueff felt the need to retool Gameshow Goolosh into something closer in spirit to Happen Inc. Goolosh was revamped with new sets, costumes and scenery. On June 2, 2001, Make It Happen made its live debut at the Cincinnati Zoo.
"We want to have a local TV show that brings parents and children together for an educational show based on art," Rueff says. "The goal was for Make It Happen to be more like our classrooms. What's exciting is that Happen is about reaching people, and this show has the ability to reach 40,000 with every broadcast. We'll have the ability to reach more people than any other group. The hope is that people will watch the taping of Make It Happen, wonder about it and ask for it. Cross your fingers."
I didn't know Rueff when he sold his ownership share in Barefoot Advertising to start Happen Inc., but I have watched him consistently push his own needs aside. His Happen life is about colorful costumes, vibrant music and painted canvases. His personal life is bare bones by comparison.
Over months of get-togethers, coffee chats and late-afternoon lunches, I'm proud to call Rueff a friend. I've followed him to programs at Hays Elementary in the West End and to his Camp Washington storage space.
I wish I kept a diary of all the thoughtful advice I heard from Rueff over the past two years. His creativity and ongoing collaborations with Project Connect, an organization that serves homeless children in Cincinnati, helps me put my own priorities in order. His artistic spirit has even inspired me to try to create something to inspire children about the art of film. Like all good friends, Rueff is helping out.
I know first-hand that not all of Rueff's ideas work. Still, he keeps plugging away.
Make It Happen is an example of his latest shoot-for-the-stars dream. In preparation for the Jan. 13 taping, he has a script to memorize and a costume to prepare. More importantly, he has to sell the idea of Make It Happen to potential sponsors. He's always done whatever it takes to bring his artistic ideas to life. With Make It Happen, he faces one of his biggest challenges.
"This taping will build awareness so we can pitch the show to sponsors and distributors," Rueff says. "Since we are local, I hope it comes from a local company. P&G is local, even though it has national brands. The whole idea is that this stays as local as possible. I want Make It Happen to stay in Cincinnati. I also want to take it to the next level. No matter what it takes, we're going to see this through."
Tommy Rueff always gives 'til it hurts, and there's no better message or messenger to start a New Year.