Sunday, June 17, 2001

The arts

Projects mean hope for struggling arts community

        The hopes of midsized and smaller arts groups took some heavy hits earlier this year.

        There was the sad end of an attempt to form a regional arts council. Box offices disrupted by civil unrest followed by the cancellation of Pepsi Jammin' on Main. The Emery Center stalled.

        Too many talented artists (visual and performing) solidified plans to move on.

        Thank goodness arts folks are resilient.

        Several projects are under way that could mean a stronger, better arts community if, in not the short-term, at least the midterm if everybody can hang on:

        • Several months ago, Cincinnati was selected as one of four cities nationally that will become part of a national Arts Marketing Project sponsored by American Express. (The project began with eight major cities in 1998.)

        The plan is to, over the course of three years, teach smaller and midsized arts companies how to fish effectively for audiences. (Smaller and midsized arts are defined as those with budgets from $200,000 to $4.2 million).

        The project kicks off Monday. As many as 30 regional groups may be eligible to participate.

        Heather Hallenberg, who heads the Arts Services Office for the Cincinnati Institute of Fine Arts, says she won't say no to anybody who wants to learn.

        Teleconferencing will be one of the key aspects of the project, giving Cincinnati arts and business leaders an opportunity to ask for advice from arts and business leaders from cities including New York and Los Angeles.

        This is potentially a big thing for smaller arts. American Express puts significant dollars into it ($1.5 million), the nationals Arts and Business Council puts in another $500,000. That will probably be leveraged into some local support requests.

        “It's pretty cool that a blue-chip corporation outside Cincinnati understands what we have here,” she notes. She doesn't think it's impossible that a nod from AmEx could put Cincinnati arts on the funding radar screen of other national corporations.

        “There's lots of money out there if Cincinnati could establish credibility,” says the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music Arts Administration program's Alan Yaffe, who's volunteering on the project.

        Ms. Hallenberg and her hard-working volunteer committee (chaired by Andrea Dixon of University of Cincinnati College of Business Administration and Mark Serrianne of Northlich) are pondering an approach that will ask business execs not involved in the arts to mentor participants.

        Ms. Dixon says she has some “big, hairy, audacious goals,” and one of them “is to have business people fall in love with folks in the arts.”

        Ms. Hallenberg acknowledges that “seeking active involvement” will result in “making inroads where the Regional Cultural Alliance failed.”

        National statistics have been dazzling, and it isn't impossible that the arts scene could start seeing an impact by fall 2002.

        • If you browse the classifieds, you may have noticed one from the Cincinnati Institute of Fine Arts looking for a marketing pro to package and promote “festival” events surrounding the openings of the Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.

        What's going to be marketed — real, focused festivals with attention-grabbing events or just another promotion — is still under discussion.

        • The Regional Cultural Alliance may be dead, but ...

        The leftover money — $34,581.47 — is now a fund of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation. Additional donations are welcome. You gotta love it when hope springs eternal.

        • Cincinnati Art Museum will hold the first of 15 “community breakfasts” Tuesday. In the next few weeks, here are some of the Big Questions staff and board are hoping to find answers to:

        Is the museum important to our lives? Is it relevant? Are there impediments to greater community access? How can the museum make the most effective case for support from the community?

        • Here's something exciting for fall. Art Links and Cincinnati Institute of Fine Arts will co-sponsor a daylong visit from the inspiring William Strickland, His work with arts and community in Pittsburgh is a national success story.

        Mark Oct. 4 on your calendar, arts supporters. Mr. Strickland will meet in the morning with school district superintendents, have lunch with the Rotary Club then wrap up with a session with artists and arts supporters.

        Mr. Strickland is an eloquent minister of the arts who practices what he preaches. Watch Mr. Strickland's slide show and you won't have to ask if arts change kids' lives.

        “He has a message for educators and a message for corporate America. It's that every child can be educated,” Art Links executive director Linda Tresvant says.

        Watch for more details in late summer.

        Theater competition: Regional community theater celebrates its best next weekend with the annual Southwest OCTA (Ohio Community Theatre Association) Regional competition at Miami University's Hamilton campus.

        Fourteen companies will compete June 22-23 with 30-minute excerpts from their year's best productions. Winners will continue on to state competition Labor Day weekend in Columbus.

        The schedule: Starting at 7 p.m. Friday, State Fair, Loveland Stage Company; The Baker's Wife, Showbiz Players; Pride's Crossing, the Drama Workshop; Compleat Works of Wllm Shakspr (Abridged), Milford Theatre Guild; Beau Jest, Village Players.

        Saturday morning starting at 9 a.m.: Marvin's Room, Mariemont Players; Chapter Two, Stagecrafters; The Company of Wayward Saints, Tri-County Players; Evita, Cincinnati Music Theatre.

        Saturday afternoon starting at 1:15 p.m.: 1776, Middletown Lyric Theatre; Weird Romance, Footlighters; Of Mice and Men, Beechmont Players; A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Sunset Players; Biloxi Blues, Firebird Theatre Company. It's the first time in the competition for the new theater company in Mason.

        “There are a lot of good shows, there's a lot of variety,” observes Dee Anne Bryll, who co-directed Evita with her husband, Ed Cohen. The variety includes two Cincinnati premieres, musical Weird Romance and Tina Howe's Pride's Crossing, the latter also directed by Mr. Cohen.

        The excerpts are open to the public. Tickets are $15 at the door.

        “It's a great way for people who love theater to take a look at shows. Maybe an excerpt will make them want to read the whole play or see another production. It's a very inexpensive ticket.”

        The excerpts are especially recommended for folks who've been thinking about getting involved onstage or backstage. It's a great way to scope out what theater could be a good fit.

        For more information about OCTAfest or the ACT-Greater Cincinnati annual banquet and awards ceremony on June 23 call Joy Sharp at (513) 895-0099 or Don Frimming at (513) 451-8696 (evenings).
       Contact Jackie Demaline by phone: 768-8530; fax: 768-8330; e-mail:


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