Sunday, May 4, 2003

Arts school could secure hall's future

By Tony Lang
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Put a K-12 performing arts school next to Music Hall - it's one of those ideas that provokes amazement it wasn't done years ago.

Cincinnati Pops Maestro Erich Kunzel is leading the campaign to make it happen. Cincinnati Public Schools committed $26 million, if private donors match it with another $26 million. A private fund drive is under way. Cincinnati Arts School would merge the School for the Creative and Performing Arts (SCPA) with Shiel K-3. As the only K-12 arts school in the country, CAS would help secure Music Hall's future and rejuvenate Over-the-Rhine.

"The greatest preservation project for Music Hall is the school," says Norma Petersen, president of the Society for the Preservation of Music Hall and a leading advocate for CAS. It not only would turn out future performers and younger audiences, which arts institutions need for survival. It also would add to the critical mass of Central Parkway's "Boulevard of the Arts" with Music Hall, Cincinnati Ballet, WCET, WGUC, Memorial Hall, Ensemble Theater, the Emery and the Art Academy.

CAS likewise could dispel the notion that Music Hall's environs are unsafe. Council and police would have to make sure that school zone is safe at all hours and that the taxpayer-funded Drop-Inn Center takes more responsibility for its homeless or addicted "clients" instead of disgorging them on the streets each morning. If Washington Park district were cleaned up and a one-of-a-kind arts school added south of Music Hall, it would make the excuses of those who stay away sound lame. You're afraid to tread where 1,500 schoolkids go?

A safe school zone would help secure Music Hall's lineup of renowned tenants, including the Symphony Orchestra, Cincinnati Opera and the Pops. In 1996, an Urban Land Institute panel of 12 outside experts said the Washington Park area could become again a "crown jewel" and heartily endorsed the arts school. Such positive development not only serves a civic need but elbows out negatives such as crime and blight.

Kunzel says something wonderful, even magical, happens when children and the arts are brought together. It would energize students and Music Hall professionals. UC-College Conservatory of Music began where CAS would be built. It would put Cincinnati's public arts education even more on the national map. Music Hall would rank among the biggest winners. Try to think of another single project that would vastly expand Music Hall's "campus," train new generations of performers, build new generations of audiences and safeguard the neighborhood.

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