Photo: Baby Alpaca's Vodka Lemonade video premiere at the CAC. Photo by Scott Beseler
Many people don’t realize that — as Raphaela Platow, Contemporary Arts Center’s director and chief curator, says — her institution has an “s” in its name.
It’s “Arts,” not “Art.”
That means the center is about more than just visual art; it’s committed to exploring and presenting the progressive edge of the performing arts, as well. Indeed, as artistic progressivism has developed in the 21st century, it can be hard to tell where visual art stops and performance begins, or where the museum walls give way to the concert hall.
The CAC has a fairly storied history in bringing nationally important, cutting-edge performance to town. But especially since the CAC opened its new downtown building in 2003, performance has had a lower profile. And without the CAC involved, it’s been difficult for our more traditional or conservative arts institutions (and our commercial presenters) to pick up the slack.
But now Platow wants to change that. Provided with a three-year grant from the Haile/U.S. Bank Foundation, she is hiring a performance curator to reinvigorate such programming. Once hired, in the fall, that curator will begin to bring to town artists in the fields of “film, dance, word, art, music and celebration” who have “adventuresome perspectives and innovative ideas,” according to the job description. That curator will also be able to supervise technical improvements in the CAC’s lower-level, 250-capacity black box space.
“To me, this performance-based programming is finding the experimental crossover between word, film, movement, art and music,” Platow says.
“We have a great opportunity to fill that niche — it’s not occupied yet. We have amazing venues that have really great programming, and great festivals like MusicNOW and MidPoint, but what we don’t have is an institution looking at the place where all these forms cross over.”
The CAC does not plan to do theater — “word” refers more to something like poetry readings or appearances by monologists. Platow would especially like to see CAC bring more World music artists to town, just as it offers international visual art.
The CAC does present lectures by visiting artists, partners with outside organizations for screenings, and host music events. But this new move is meant to take things to a higher level.
Some other contemporary arts institutions (and museums in general) have active, high-profile performance (and film) programming. Columbus’ Wexner Center, in particular, has strong separate programs for visual arts, film/video and performing arts. But Platow sees a difference in the CAC’s move towards more performance arts.
“The exhibitions (at Wexner) are on equal footing with everything else they are doing,” she says. “Here at the CAC, our exhibitions have a stronger presence because our facility is bigger and we do more.”
Also, she says, Wexner has a bigger budget.
There is interesting “progressive” performing arts happening in Cincinnati, often at smaller, youth-oriented alternative spaces constantly trying to champion edginess in pop culture. But there is trouble growing an audience demand for “edge” beyond that niche. (One reason is that the quality at those spaces can vary widely; another is they tend to go in and out of business frequently.)
The CAC’s involvement could help change that, Platow says.
“Simply by being an institution, we are legitimizing things,” she says. “What an institution can do with a good staff in place is be the filter that guarantees quality. This is our role — to bring absolutely extraordinary things to Cincinnati, so people can see something and be inspired by that. People trust in the artistic mindset we provide for the city.”
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