Sunday, June 8, 2003

The arts

Rosenthal Center bash shows what downtown could offer

Last weekend's preview of the new Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art was an art world Big Deal, but Saturday night's members preview was a Giant Wow for our city, which is just as important.

People - thousands of us - were downtown and happy to be there. Every restaurant within walking distance of Sixth and Walnut had a 45-minute wait and nobody cared.

By midweek, Downtown Cincinnati Inc. was reporting whopping increases in restaurant business for non-Aronoff show nights, on average 25 percent, and 40 percent for La Normandie.

We saw that our dreams for a vital downtown are within reach. The center has even laid a blueprint for how to go about it:

Seed downtown with buzz-worthy events and stagger the hours. What made last weekend's downtown parties so successful was that it kept crowds coming and going and on the streets all evening long.

(The Lion King was a fabulous phenom for more than eight weeks, but by 7:45 p.m. the crowded restaurants and streets cleared as people headed for their seats in the Aronoff Center.)

A suggestion: lots of programming at the new performing space on the art center's lower level and in the Aronoff's smaller theaters. And copy Playhouse in the Park's strategy of a late Saturday matinee (starting between 4 and 6 p.m.).

Small theater companies have departed downtown for cheaper venues but audiences aren't following. In late May, New Edgecliff and If Theater Collective had strong shows playing to sparse crowds in Newport and Xavier University.

They need downtown and downtown needs them to build the sense that something's going on. Let's find some solutions.

I squirm when I look at the "Festival of the New" marketing brochure and notice that the town rolls up at 6 p.m., with few evening entertainment options downtown.

What kind of message are we sending home with cultural tourists?

"Linkages" are key, says Jack Rouse, Cincinnati-based international consultant on entertainment planning, design and management and point man for the Banks, the housing development proposed for the downtown riverfront.

Rouse envisions a Tivoli Gardens-like, reconsidered Fountain Square, where people would want to come on a summer evening, and appealing ways to connect key points downtown.

A Thursday after-work (5 to 7 p.m.) summer concert series will premiere July 17 on Fountain Square.

Why not continue it into early fall, so there is a natural "linkage" to sample a variety of dining and cultural options? It could encourage people to stroll a couple of more blocks around downtown.

It would be a start.

What about a Saturday night dancing under the stars series with a different theme every week - and free dance lessons?

Fountain Square may not be Tivoli yet, but even ugly ducklings can throw a good party.

And be where a vision begins.


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