Sunday, August 10, 2003

Arts at heart of plans to give city a shot in the arm

Plans for arts and culture - Several of 2003's cultural forces have converged in a collection of plans:

• In January, economic consultant John Alschuler unveiled the Center City plan (No. 11, City Hall), with four key points for revitalizing Cincinnati's urban core, which includes downtown and Over-the-Rhine.

Culture played a supporting role, as Alschuler recommended the value of bustling, diverse arts and entertainment near Fountain Square and Washington Park.

• Soon after, arts consultant Louise Stevens delivered a separate but related plan that put the priority on a to-be-defined entity (the idea being floated was a nonprofit "Cincinnati Cultural Trust") to develop and market Cincinnati's arts and culture.

Stevens, hired by Cincinnati Business Committee (No. 12, Laura Long, executive director) and Greater Cincinnati Foundation, advised that it should be in place by summer to take advantage of the rollout of extraordinary cultural events in 2003, beginning with the opening of the Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art.

• In February, Cincinnati City Councilman Jim Tarbell (No. 11, City Hall) unveiled a comprehensive five-year vision of an eight-district Over-the-Rhine "Community of Arts and Artists."

The central component uses $1 million of a $2.2 million arts capital improvement and investment budget to jump-start artist housing and business in the neighborhoods immediately surrounding the site of the Art Academy of Cincinnati (set to open at 12th and Jackson streets in 2005) and the Pendleton Arts Center.

The plans are all in play but at a cautious pace.

Stevens' plan missed its summer deadline, but by early June Alschuler had returned to Cincinnati with a stronger arts and culture message.

At the same time, Stevens returned to town to meet with cultural leaders and hand out a report, Transforming Cincinnati: Building on Arts and Culture Assets as Center City's Key Economic Development Strategy.

It included a five-year plan to achieve three goals: creating an infrastructure for cultural development and districts, for strengthening arts and artisan businesses and for public art development, programming and other services. Local tourism marketing campaigns and finding financing are also in the mix.

While grappling with questions of governance and leadership, the foundation for financing may have been quietly laid at the beginning of Julywhen Mayor Charlie Luken announced the creation of the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) with a goal of $150 million in public and private sector capital commitments over five years.

3CDC will likely be the umbrella for some cultural investment.

The "Community of Arts and Artists" saw something of a setback at the end of July, when City Council used $500,000 of the funds allocated for arts and culture-related housing for a general mortgage assistance program in Over-the-Rhine.

Meanwhile, Cincinnatus Association is convening cultural and neighborhood leaders with the idea of creating a designated arts district in Over-the-Rhine that would act in concert with the Community of Arts and Artists.

Bordered by Central Parkway on the west and south, Reading Road on the east and Liberty Street on the north, an arts district would focus on programming, marketing and promotion and even streetscaping.

No one has set a timetable for the Over-the-Rhine arts district initiative, which will undoubtedly benefit from Center City momentum.

- Jackie Demaline

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