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The Eye Test

By tt stern-enzi · May 22nd, 2013 · The Alternative
I’ve become a believer in the eye test. It goes all the way back to Thomas, the ever-doubtful disciple, who just couldn’t bring himself to believe the testimony of his brothers in faith following the Crucifixion. 

Thomas sounds like a far more practical man, someone most of us can relate to because sometimes you hear things that just can’t be true. In his case, he found himself in the upper room one night when in walks some dude proclaiming to be Jesus. Thomas asks him to hold out his hands so he can see the wounds from the nails. He even dares to ask if he can stick his hand in the hole in Jesus’s side. 

He needs proof positive.

Blessed be those who believe without such evidence, but I appreciate the power of the eye test, especially in today’s world. There’s video in nearly every corner, and in the few spaces where none exists we fill in the blanks with our own hand-held smartphone coverage, which we replay immediately following the taped situation. 

What need is there for perspective? We now re-live after the fact more than we interact in the moment.

OK, I have a problem with that, but that’s not what I’m concerned with here. I’m speaking of the anecdotal examination that comes from a more fully lived-in moment, when and where I can see proof of some fact.

I recently attended the final presentation at the Clifton Community Arts Center of the 2012 Cincinnati Art Ambassadors Fellowship program. The seven award winners were on hand to offer teasing glimpses of the impact of the $6,000 fellowships on either a new work or the culmination of an existing project. 

The program, funded by the city of Cincinnati through the Recreation Department, accounts for $50,000 in the annual budget, an amount that is not an ongoing expenditure.

Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan lobbied hard to include the program in the city budget, which now stares down the barrel of a multi-million dollar shortfall, which will likely mean the Art Ambassador Fellowship will disappear from the radar for a few years.

I can hear the fiscal hawks now. Why are tax dollars going to artists working on esoteric pet projects that the average citizen won’t even understand, let alone be able to engage with? Who needs art when there’s trash piling up on the streets and real public servants on furloughs?

The true face of a city is revealed in more than its municipal functions, its ability to transport citizens from neighborhood to neighborhood and the availability of parking in its downtown corridor. A city can be defined through its ability to express itself, its creative vision. Cities celebrate culture and history through food and drink, music, sculpture and spoken word. Character emerges in the reflections we create.

And by we, I mean all citizens. What the Cincinnati Art Ambassador Fellowship proved to me during that last presentation is that we are all artists, each and every one of us who takes the time to engage and interact with the ambassadors and their projects.

That includes every person who attended a studio session with West Price Hill ceramicist Terri Kern and contributed a tiny clay book for inclusion in her library. And the individuals and families throughout the region and visitors from beyond who will sit down next to Shark Girl — the creation of Kennedy Heights sculptor Casey Riordan Millard — along the banks of the river this summer and have their pictures taken, snapshots that will end up posted on various social media outlets, ensuring that those images will circulate around the globe. And the participants who learned about the power of musical hooks — from Bach to James Brown — thanks to Nathaniel Chaitkin, a cellist and CCM teacher from Mount Lookout, and will carry that knowledge with them as they select tunes for their own personal soundtracks on iTunes.

The other grant recipients — filmmaker Melissa Godoy, poet and spoken word artist Tonya Matthews, musician Tatiana Berman and puppeteer Jesse Mooney-Bullock — each through their chosen mediums, enflamed the hearts and minds of citizens, inspiring the artists within. That $50,000 in tax dollars that supports this program is a miniscule percentage of the city’s budget, yet the return on the investment far exceeds any reasonable expectation. That is power of the arts in our lives, our neighborhoods and our city. 

That’s what the eye test tells me.

We should be digging in the city’s proverbial cushions, dipping into the change reserves we keep in the city’s penny piggy banks, the swear jars or whatever receptacles we have at our disposal because to fail to invest in the arts is to close our eyes to a vital piece of ourselves. 

There’s no doubting this reality.

CONTACT TT STERN-ENZI: letters@citybeat.com



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