Thom Collins in Charge

This column has talked a lot about artists who have ditched Cincinnati over the years. This story is about one arts leader who's decided to stay. Thom Collins, Cincinnati Art Museum (CAM) Curator

This column has talked a lot about artists who have ditched Cincinnati over the years. This story is about one arts leader who's decided to stay.

Thom Collins, Cincinnati Art Museum (CAM) Curator of Contemporary Art, is part of a group of young artists and arts administrators who are making things happen in Cincinnati. He's a hip, inventive and clever administrator with the ability to become an inspirational leader.

When Collins came to the CAM a year ago, his expectation was that his next job would take him to another city. Young artists and arts administrators leave Cincinnati all the time in search of more opportunities and challenges. It was expected he would do the same.

It says something positive about our growing arts community when the possibility for new challenges exist within Cincinnati. On March 19, Collins leaves the CAM to become the senior curator at the Contemporary Arts Center (CAC). His appointment is a victory for young artists and arts administrators throughout the city.

Finally, youth takes full charge of programming what promises to become Cincinnati's defining landmark — the new Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art, scheduled to open in 2003.

"The challenge is that it's a job that doesn't exist," Collins says, speaking at an Over-the-Rhine coffeehouse. "It's impossible right now to say how things are going to operate. There are a lot of variables. I basically don't know what it's going to be."

In May, the CAC breaks ground for its new museum at the corner of Sixth and Walnut streets. It's safe to say the construction site will quickly become Cincinnati's most prominent outdoor sculpture. The CAC skeleton will serve as a reminder that a vibrant city needs contemporary art and progressive artists who are willing to push a community's perceptions about art.

If the CAC wants to pursue challenging art for its new museum, Collins needs to be aware that the Thomas Condon/Hamilton County Morgue photo controversy reconfirms that art remains a popular political target in Cincinnati.

There's a certain kind of anti-art negativity that percolates in Cincinnati. The challenge is for Collins to help lead a movement that eventually unites the entire community behind the new CAC. It looks to be a daunting task.

Most everyone agrees that the new CAC will attract the international community to Cincinnati. It's expected that the building itself will be dazzling. What's yet to be fully determined is what people will see once the new museum opens its doors.

The CAC is running toward its groundbreaking. But a recent curatorial snafu resulted in the Jane and Louise Wilson video installation being dropped from the current Scopophilia festival. Such glitches raise the question of whether the CAC has the momentum necessary to inaugurate the new building in 2003 with adequate flash. At first glance, Collins' new job is as much about arts cheerleading as it is programming.

"It's a huge space full of possibilities," Collins says. "I get giddy when I think about programming the upcoming seasons. There are incredible opportunities.

"During our first year, it will be the most visible contemporary art program in the country and maybe around the world. It's a big deal."

Like all cities, there are plenty of people in Cincinnati who can find something negative to say. There are even people who are set against the new CAC facility. These are the people Collins needs to unite with a programming schedule unlike anything Cincinnati has ever seen.

Inside the CAC is a room with Zaha Hadid's model for the new Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art. Maybe a picture of Thom Collins should be placed next to it.

There's been plenty of hype about the new CAC from the standpoint of brick and mortar. Now, one of Cincinnati's rising arts administrators has the chance to put his thumbprint on the city's next great building.

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