Sunday, July 6, 2003

Fear of downtown is slowing growth in arts, study finds

By Jackie Demaline
The Cincinnati Enquirer

There's good news and bad news for Cincinnati arts and culture:

Good news: More Cincinnatians attend arts than professional sports.

Bad news: Too many of us don't like to come downtown.

Good news: More than 90 percent agree that performing arts are good for kids. More than 80 percent agree that performing arts contribute to the economy and are generally positive for the community.

Bad news: While a huge majority agrees arts are good, the best way to weigh that conviction is probably with financial contributions. Less than 25 percent give to the performing arts.

All of the above are some of the findings in a study from the national Performing Arts Research Coalition (PARC). The Enquirer reported preliminary findings in December. The full report was released in the spring and presented before Cincinnati City Council's arts and culture committee in June.

Cincinnati is one of five communities (along with Denver, Pittsburgh, Seattle and the State of Alaska) surveyed to quantify the value of the performing arts. The research project was conducted in collaboration with The Urban Institute and funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

The biggest item in the "opportunity area" is people's fear of coming to where performances are. In Cincinnati, that means downtown.

It's a bigger issue here than in other surveyed communities. It's a problem for 6 percent of respondents in Denver, 7 percent in Pittsburgh. It's a big 13 percent here.

City Councilman Jim Tarbell noted that the study didn't hold surprises.

His answer, to both good news and bad news, is to "keep moving" on existing initiatives.Those aren't just cultural initiatives, but political and economic issues.

Julie Maslov of Cincinnati Opera, which is coordinating the PARC study, says, "This is part of a bigger downtown issue. It's not just about marketing the arts, it's about the Alschuler report, creating an environment for people to enjoy arts and culture."

She noted the importance of getting PARC results in front of people like Tarbell, Downtown Cincinnati Inc. and the Cincinnati Business Committee, adding that arts and culture leaders are already in conversation with the community leaders pushing forward the Alschuler plan for the center city.

Among the existing initiatives that could change perception of downtown, Tarbell points to the Community of Arts and Artists. The proposal for artist housing in Over-the-Rhine near the Art Academy's soon-to-be-home near 12th and Vine may be ready to go before council by August.

Tarbell also sees a new parking garage for Kroger's at 12th and Vine as the anchor for a cultural district. After workers leave, the garage could serve the Art Academy, Ensemble Theatre and The Emery Theater (at Walnut and Central Parkway).

"The Emery needs to be open," he says. With the right programming, targeted for the urban-dwellers inhabiting a revived OTR, "It could play a bigger part than anything else" in providing nighttime attractions for the district.

"We're evaluating where we go from here," says Maslov. That won't happen until after Opera season, when the PARC partner groups sit down for some decision-making.


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