Sunday, August 10, 2003

Move is on to get people interested and involved

Douglass McDonald (No. 16) and Cincinnati Museum Center. In January, we predicted that the Museum Center, housed in Union Terminal, would be an economic jet engine, likely generating $100 million in economic impact, thanks to major touring shows Baseball As America and St. Peter and the Vatican: Legacy of the Popes.

Baseball opens Saturday, and Vatican debuts in December, but president and CEO McDonald already is generating news.

In June, he announced that the Museum Center, one of the region's Top 10 attractions with 1 million visitors a year, will request a 0.2-mill operating levy in Hamilton County be placed on the ballot in March.

Museum Center (Cincinnati History Museum, Cinergy Children's Museum, the Museum of Natural History & Science, the Robert D. Lindner Family Omnimax Theater and the Cincinnati Historical Society Library) has been sliding toward financial disaster for years, in part the outcome of miniscule public funding and no Fine Arts Fund support.

A campaign coinciding with Baseball and Vatican should remind the community just how much the Museum Center is worth. The levy would cost the owner of a $100,000 house $5.89 a year - "about the price of a Happy Meal," McDonald notes.

Diminishing young adult population (No. 23) - Young adults are fleeing Cincinnati. As Cleveland, Columbus, Indianapolis, Louisville and Dayton are increasing their vital young work force, Cincinnati lost almost 6 percent of its GenX population during the 1990s.

City leaders seem finally to be thumbing through economist and author Richard Florida's The Rise of the Creative Class (Basic Books; $27.50).

Grassroots young urbanist group Cincinnati Tomorrow, which began quietly in 2002, burst into the open early this year. It released its action plan, "The Creative City", in February. Its 42 pages emphasize quality of life issues.

More specifically, arts and entertainment are front and center on the agenda.

Cincinnati Tomorrow co-chair James Czar says action teams are slowly taking shape, including one just formed to pursue a local music initiative.

"We're taking a low-key approach," he says. "It's about getting it done, not being in the spotlight."

"Get political" might also be on the Creative City action plan to-do list. Cincinnati Tomorrow founder Nicholas Spencer, 25, is planning a run for Cincinnati City Council, endorsed by the Charter Party.

Meanwhile, Center City citizen support group, the Urbanists, also have arts and culture at the top of the agenda, says point man Jeff Stec.

"Our Public Policy Team will heavily promote and track the 'arts district' concept" being pushed by both Cincinnati Councilman Jim Tarbell and the civic association Cincinnatus.

Suburbanites (No. 3) - What will mean long-term health for downtown is turning reluctant occasional visits into loyal support.

"It's extremely important," says Lisa Haller, president and CEO of the Greater Cincinnati Convention and Visitors Bureau. "They're the pillars of the plan. Region-wide residents have to be attracted to events downtown."

Haller feels Cincinnati "has leap-frogged in the last 12 months and will continue that pace for the next two years."

But this spring, the results of a Performing Arts Research Coalition study offered good news and bad news but no surprises:

• Good news: More than 90 percent of people 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: Less than 25 percent actually give to the performing arts, and safety is a bigger issue here than in the other surveyed communities - 13 percent of people are hesitant about coming downtown.

"We're working hard in a focused way" on watchwords "safe" and "clean," says David Ginsburg, chief of Downtown Cincinnati Inc. He acknowledges that "it's hard to tell" whether the message is being received.

After "safe" and "clean" comes "interesting." "We need to have more attractions," Ginsburg notes. "That's critical, and arts and culture are a very important draw."

Checking in with the 25 forces shaping our culture
Museum opens with a bang
Economy still putting the squeeze on
Arts heart of plan to give city shot in the arm
City gets some good press, for a change
Downtown isn't the only show - Newport and Dayton make strides
Move is on to get people interested and involved

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