Smelling the Flowers

I know people who still talk about the May Festival performances a few weeks ago featuring the Central State University chorus. Their roof-raising renditions of Neal Gittleman's arrangements of 'Jes

Jun 6, 2002 at 2:06 pm

I know people who still talk about the May Festival performances a few weeks ago featuring the Central State University chorus. Their roof-raising renditions of Neal Gittleman's arrangements of 'Jesus Is a Rock in a Weary Land' and 'His Eye Is on the Sparrow' electrified the Music Hall audience. More importantly, May Festival Director James Conlon proved that something as traditional and established as 'the oldest continuing choral festival' could energize a community and address its social needs.

Many people agree that the most engaging visual art in town is Tony Luensman's Irato, an installation of 19 interactive sound sculptures that turns the Weston Art Gallery's street-level space into an interactive concert hall. Inside the downtown gallery's stark glass walls, the sculptures buzz, whistle and whirl.

Standing in the center, one is transcended. Luensman has captured the noisy soul of a city. Once you see Irato, you can't stop thinking about it.

An arts project that's failed to grab hold of anyone's attention is the one boasting a lengthy list of corporate sponsors and hefty support dollars. Flower Power is an outdoor art series that places large, decorated flowerpots throughout downtown and Northern Kentucky.

Its presenter is the Cincinnati Horticultural Society, the same group behind the Cincinnati Flower Show.

Of all the different ways Cincinnati's arts organizations could try to interact with the communities around them, Flower Power is one of the most foolish ideas I've seen. On an artistic level, the project is uninspired at best.

With regards to Cincinnati's mounting political and social problems, Flower Power is as connected to the city as a blue-haired dowager who never leaves her Madeira house.

Of course, Cincinnati's business leaders are all for it. Nothing says 'clueless' like a bunch of oversized flowerpots scattered about Fountain Square. It's important to note that all of the current Flower Power Pots are safely tucked in the Central Business District around the square.

Flower Power's spiritual mentor can be found close to its Fountain Square pots. In the lobby of the Cincinnati Visitors Center at Fifth Third Center, one of the Big Pig Gig's painted pigs stands watch over its flowerpot brothers. Two years ago, the Big Pig Gig was a successful fund-raising project for ArtWorks, a summertime teen apprentice and arts enrichment program.

Those Big Pigs were bound to inspire some imitators. In fact, ArtWorks is collaborating with the Cincinnati Horticultural Society on Flower Power. I guess it was only a matter of time before those beloved pigs would roar back to life and bite us in our uninspired ass.

Cincinnati is beginning what looks to be a long, hot summer, and the Flower Power pots are proof that little has been done to address the city's key problems. Thankfully, there are some worthy arts events on the horizon that should take the sting away from the embarrassing flower pots.

The University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music's 'Hot Summer Nights' series pushes its programming boundaries with two diverse musicals — Violet mixes Blues and Gospel tunes to tell a story about a young woman who befriends a black soldier during a trip from North Carolina to Oklahoma, while the Jazz musical Lady Day at the Emerson's Bar & Grill captures singer Billie Holiday's last performances at a rundown South Philadelphia bar.

The Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival tackles issues of social justice with the play Chagrin Falls. The same thing is true for Cincinnati Opera and its regional premiere of Dead Man Walking.

These productions look lively and relevant. By comparison, Flower Power seems as tired as yesterday's pig.

To the Cincinnati Horticultural Society's credit, their Cincinnati Blooms plans to redesign Washington Park, beautify vacant lots in Over-the-Rhine and place additional windowboxes on Over-the-Rhine buildings are worthwhile ideas. My advice is to dump the downtown flower pots and get busy on beautifying Over-the-Rhine.