As we enter a new year, my biggest wish for Cincinnati’s visual-arts scene in 2009 is a simple one — that we can hold onto what already is here. Lots of people in the local arts are struggling, along with the greater economy, and that puts what they’re doing at risk.
The Cincinnati Art Museum has just announced termination of seven non-salaried operating staff members, including the education department, in order to reduce its payroll by 9 percent and has said it will not fill vacant positions for the foreseeable future.
“The finances of the Art Museum are sound,” the museum announced in a “course of action” statement. “However, like all nonprofits across the country, our endowment has lost some of its value. But under careful stewardship, the endowment has fallen less than the market itself and less than the average for many cultural and educational institutions across the country. In addition, we have seen a significant drop in income from all sources, including shop sales, the café, rentals and other ancillary income, as well as in contributed income.”
Unlike other museums, such as Contemporary Arts Center (CAC) and Taft Museum of Art, the art museum is not planning on postponing any 2009 exhibitions.
The CAC, which has also had layoffs but is planning on hiring a community relations director, suspended its March show by Brazilian artist Ernesto Neto; Taft has canceled Last Emperor’s Collection: Paintings from Liaoning, China.
What’s so sad here is that these institutions are all coming off a strong year artistically. That should normally make this a time for growth, not retrenchment. But these are not normal times.
Nevertheless, the CAC is really trying to get more interesting as a multimedia arts space, taking advantage of its lower-level performance room to push some boundaries. It’s been doing a monthly pairing of historical/horror films in connection with Carlos Amorales’ Discarded Spider exhibit — up until October — and it has announced an all-night horrormovie marathon for Feb. 27. It starts at 6:27 p.m. and continues until 7:12 a.m. “Bring your courage and your blanket,” the notice says. (Tickets are $10 members; $20 non-members.) This is the kind of hip, fun cultural programming an arts institution needs.
It’s probably asking too much, in this economic environment, for the CAC’s Director/Chief Curator Raphaela Platow to also move forward with plans to liven up the lobby of its Zaha Hadid-designed center. But the increased street-level activity would really pay off, I suspect.
Platow last year told me one of her ideas was to invite artists to create “environments” for the lobby that work as art but also serve other traffic-generating functions, such as a bar/café. (Hopefully, one that sells art magazines.) That would sure be great. So would a permanent sound/video installation in the lobby, visible from inside and out.
One other idea for 2009. We have quite a number of inner-city “alternative” galleries — coops, nonprofits and schools — showing contemporary work on a regular basis. Sometimes some have special hours for art walks or opening receptions, but it can be hard plotting out regular visits because hours of operation vary. It’d be nice if they could get together and agree — as a trial — to all be open, say, 2-5 p.m. Saturdays, and then promote it as a group. And maybe they could get the UC Galleries, a hidden resource for the city, to join in.
CONTACT STEVEN ROSEN: firstname.lastname@example.org