Guest speakers Bill Blair, lobbyist for Ohio Citizens for the Arts, and former Ohio State Senate President Stanley Aronoff said nothing I hadn't heard better or before. The 40-odd people in attendance sat quietly.
AAI, a local arts advocacy group created by D. Lynn Meyers, artistic director at Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati, and Cathy Springfield, director for performing arts at Xavier University, promotes itself as a vehicle for positive change and inspiration. Some of Cincinnati's leading arts administrators are AAI volunteers. So why was this organization's heavily touted workshop so thoroughly uncreative?
Blair and Aronoff sat onstage behind a bare table and shared personal anecdotes about Gov. Bob Taft. They talked state finances and sports stadiums and explained the challenges of fund raising during a recession. Promoting Ohio's arts communities was their topic, but they sounded like a couple of lifeless accountants. Never has supporting the arts been presented in such a dull manner.
"In a recession, you need to prove that arts is a necessity," Aronoff told the audience in the downtown arts center that bears his name.
"Your purpose in being here is to make you soldiers, battlefield soldiers."
There are many talented, young artists and arts volunteers in Cincinnati, but I didn't see any of them at the AAI workshop. If the organization is ever going to succeed, it needs to complement its corps of familiar faces and names with new and emerging talent. It looks ageist to me, meaning it's reluctant to give young people a say.
To AAI's credit, there might be numerous behind-the-scenes committees ready to launch something organized, comprehensive and impressive. Until that happens, it's stuck with its dullsville label.
If Springfield needs help finding some of Cincinnati's young creative artists, I'll happily escort her a few miles north of downtown to SSNOVA, an avant-garde performance and exhibition space located inside the Mockbee Building in the Brighton Corner neighborhood. Two nights prior to the AAI workshop, a group of local artists that included Kendall Bruns displayed sculptures, drawings and video in conjunction with a performance by the experimental band Extreme Animals. Two nights after the AAI workshop, local fashion designers Jennifer Sult, Becca Cooper, Lisa Kagen and others came together for Cuckoo Couture, a display of their clothing designs, a fashion show and a concert performance.
At SSNOVA, young artists come together to show their work and inspire each other. The Cuckoo Couture show was lively and well-attended, not something you can say about the AAI workshop.
"This place had three shows, just this week alone," Bruns said, speaking at Cuckoo Couture. 'It's amazing when you think about all that happens here."
In a city that divides all its communities between the haves and have-nots, AAI definitely falls in the "have" category. I recognized major philanthropists and arts administrators in the audience on July 25. These were people with political clout and money. Yet I'm certain that little, if anything, will come out of the meeting.
Meanwhile, at SSNOVA, the "have-not" artists make full use of their shoestring budgets. They schedule exhibitions, video salons and concerts week after week
For a city desperate to attract young employees, the SSNOVA family of artists and arts patrons are Cincinnati's best arts advocates. They're the ones making an impact, and yet they've likely never been in a room with Gov. Taft or Sen. Aronoff.
There are two worlds within Cincinnati's arts community. One is hip and vibrant; the other is dullsville. Which one do you think AAI belongs to? Yet it doesn't have to be that way.