Laura Hollis, visual artist and director of The Artery, Newport's arts center, has some matter-of-fact advice for anyone looking to integrate the arts into the bustling Northern Kentucky community: If you want zero political clout or miniscule influence with the business community, you should open an art gallery.
Hollis founded The Artery in December 1999, and she's worked tirelessly to integrate the all-volunteer arts organization into the Newport community.
Chances are Hollis, 32, is the volunteer behind the desk at The Artery when you visit. It's her voice you hear on the voice-mail message. She's responsible for creating the second-floor 50-seat performance home for the New Edgecliff Theater as well as the upper-floor studio spaces for Artery artists.
Basically, Hollis is the go-to girl when it comes to keeping The Artery afloat. She's a one-woman arts organization, which is often the case when it comes to Greater Cincinnati's small arts groups.
Hollis might be one person, but she has the creativity of an entire administrative staff. She's a firecracker who speaks her mind even when it gets her in trouble. She's too smart and opinionated to work for a local museum, and we're better off having her manage her own space.
The fact of the matter is without an Artery there would have been no Jimmy Baker show this summer, and that means Cincinnati would be a duller place.
These days, Hollis' enthusiasm has been dimmed by some hard-knock news. Plans have been under way for new owners to purchase The Artery building since last September, a likelihood by later this summer.
At this time, Hollis and the rest of her Artery volunteers are facing the reality of the gallery being without a home and possibly having to shut down.
It's tough enough to sustain an arts center with little money and a small group of dedicated volunteers. It's impossible to run a gallery and a performance space without a roof.
Asked whether she plans to stay or go, Hollis sums up her agenda matter-of-factly: "I'd like to try and see if we can stay in this space. But I will only stay if New Edgecliff can be part of it."
Hollis needs a little bit of help to keep The Artery open, and she says so far nothing has been offered by the city of Newport. Meetings with Newport leaders are planned, though, and numerous sites are being considered, including the old library building and the SSNOVA space in Cincinnati.
Nearby developments such as Newport on the Levee continue to thrive. People are lining up for a chance to eat and drink at the new Hofbr#228uhaus across from the Levee.
Newport is experiencing a development boom, yet Hollis is convinced that gaining city support for The Artery will be an uphill struggle. She knows the tune about the lack of city dollars. She's heard it before, but she never imagined that it would lead to The Artery shutting down.
Hollis has a message for city of Newport leaders and future owners of the building occupied by The Artery: Middle-class people like to live near art. So it would be good business to keep The Artery galleries and a relocated theater space on the building's first floor.
It's a quiet Saturday afternoon, and Hollis and New Edgecliff Theater Director Michael Shooner are debating their options inside the gallery. Hollis is convinced that the sidewalks around Monmouth and Ninth streets will be less vibrant if The Artery is no longer there. She also has a proposal to take to Newport leaders.
"The Carnegie pays $1 per year in rent for their building," Hollis says. "And The Artery is to Newport what the Carnegie Arts Center is to the city of Covington. But paying $1 a year or acquiring a large endowment is a fairy tale for The Artery."
Last weekend, the Newport Arts and Music Festival took place on Riverboat Row, and Hollis and her Artery volunteers produced a T-shirt-making activity, the event's lone family arts program. It was further proof of The Artery's commitment to Newport and the vitality they bring to city. But it makes her angry to watch Newport's leaders flaunt their support for the arts while The Artery faces closing its doors.
Hollis has been running The Artery long enough to know the difference between political posturing and true support. Don't let a summertime festival fool you into thinking that those running Newport are truly interested in supporting the arts. If they were, they'd be doing everything possible to keep The Artery on Monmouth Street or somewhere in Newport.