Friday, May 25, 2001

Arts Center

Pinatas symbols of unity

        They wrecked the new Contemporary Arts Center before it was built.

        And that was a good thing.

        For the Center.

        And for Cincinnati, a skittish town beset by strife and crying for a good time.

        Eight cardboard models of the futuristic Lois & Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art hung from wires over Walnut Street Thursday.

        The models were pinatas. Built to be destroyed, they spread happiness by spilling their contents.

        Eight people were chosen at random from the crowd at the construction start-up celebration for the $34.1 million building. Blindfolded and handed a stick, they beat the daylights out of the pinatas.

        Higher! Lower! Harder! The crowd shouted. Seams split. Staples popped. The models' first floors ripped open. Toys, souvenirs and candy cascaded to the street.

        Tino Barbosa smiled.

        His works of art had just been trashed. People laughed as they gathered up the goodies.

        Tino was one happy man.

        “That's the way it's supposed to happen,” he said as he held his 2-year-old nephew, Toto Garcia.

        “Pinatas act as a release. They help you get rid of stress. They're made for people to have fun. Cincinnati needs more of that.”

        Nearby, members of the crowd sorted through the goodies. Tino gave me a quick pinata batting lesson.

        “Hit them hard,” he said. “Hit them with all of your heart.”

        Heart is important. Tino, a Cincinnati art dealer, worked on the cardboard models with two friends from his hometown of Mexico City — Edgard Gamboa and Edgar Arriaga. They put their hearts into making the pinatas based on an idea suggested by CAC director Charles Desmarais.

        “I've been doing this since I was 12,” Tino said. “So, I take pride in my pinatas. I'd help my uncle make them for family birthdays and Christmas.”

        He usually does traditional shapes — stars and pine trees — for Christmas, animals for birthdays. This was his first building.

        “It was tough,” he said. “The building is a bunch of odd-shaped cubes. Doing it in cardboard and making it so you could fill it with about 50 pounds of treats was no piece of cake.”

        Tino felt honored to receive the commission. He likes having the distinction of making the first works of art for the new building. More important, he likes what his contribution represents.

        “The Contemporary Arts Center letting me share the traditions of Mexico shows Cincinnati is becoming more diverse,” he said.

        “The Hispanic population is growing in this town. We're part of the fabric of the community.”

        Promoting diversity is just part of the positive image attached to Tino's works of art.

        Pinatas have a long, cherished tradition in Mexico. They represent happiness.

        And, they are a force for unity.

        Sounds like a stretch for something made out of cardboard, papier-mache, paint, glue, aluminum foil and staples. But, it's true.

        “When it comes time to hit the pinata,” Tino said, “everyone comes 'round.”

        Family and friends stand in a circle. Kids get closer. The community comes together.

        Just what Cincinnati needs.

        Pinatas for all.

       Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.


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