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The Good Arts Soldier

By Aaron J. Maier · September 5th, 2002 · Arts Beat
Arie Vandenberg is a 35-year-old who hasn't received a sizable paycheck in more than two years. He could have worked for any number of corporations. Instead, he decided to stay in his hometown and promote Cincinnati's arts scene.

Recently, Vandenberg has been involved in a number of arts-oriented projects. In 1998, he began CincyRing.com, an online community of Cincinnati artists. A year later, Vandenberg and Steve Novotni co-founded X-Ray Magazine, a local arts, news and culture publication.

Earlier this year they parted company, with Novotni remaining with X-Ray and Vandenberg's new obsession being ArtSpike, a biweekly arts newspaper.

"Everything I have been working on for the last half of my life has culminated in this project," Vandenberg says, speaking recently at an Over-the-Rhine coffeehouse. "Other papers have so much on their plate that they don't have time to get involved in grassroots-based arts involvement."

Vandenberg sees ArtSpike serving as a conduit for local artists to reach an audience within their community. Currently, the publication and its online counterpart, www.artspike.org, provide a forum for local artists, writers, filmmakers and poets to showcase and discuss their work.

Vandenberg's ultimate goal is nothing less than revitalizing the local arts scene in a city that's grown more conservative. There's a lot of work to be done, but he's confident in the paper's success.

"In this city, art, in its most primal form, is too chaotic for many people to handle," he says. "In order to take a chance artistically in Cincinnati, people feel like it will wind up costing them time in jail or the serious financial drain of defending themselves."

Vandenberg wants to disrupt the cultural stagnation created by the conservative political and social leaders who led the charge to imprison photographer Thomas Condon and declare any artwork with an adult context the work of a smut peddler. Vandenberg says he founded ArtSpike as a wake-up call. He wants to expose the work of local artists to groups of people who otherwise would never see them. Of course, the catch is that these same people have to pick up ArtSpike for that to happen.

It's too early to predict whether Vandenberg will achieve his mission. ArtSpike's Aug. 20 edition was its sixth, and every trip to the printer puts the paper further in debt. It currently has only one major advertiser.

Vandenberg is using 28 contributing writers, but it's clear that the publication is his show. He's aware of Antenna, a local arts newspaper that folded in 1999. The New Art Examiner, the 30-year-old Midwestern arts publication based in Chicago, announced last week that it was shutting down after years of financial struggles.

Still, Vandenberg sticks to his dream, even if it means long hours without a pension plan, job security or health insurance.

"I think that it takes somebody who's willing to believe in their dreams, and then the concept catches fire," Vandenberg says with conviction.

Recently, Cincinnati has been tough on people who've expressed interests and opinions outside the mainstream. For many artists, the current climate looks bleak.

But Vandenberg and his team of ArtSpike artists, poets and writers remain committed to creating a new voice solely dedicated to Cincinnati's arts community. After all, Cincinnati is his hometown, and he wants it to grow.

Vandenberg believes ArtSpike has the power to impact Cincinnati's collective consciousness for the better. He's willing to do it, even if it means forgoing a paycheck.

Aaron Maier is a CityBeat intern.


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