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Cover Story: Taft Gets Cool

The Taft Museum reaches out to a younger audience

By Stacey Recht · May 19th, 2004 · Cover Story
It might not appear to be classical art, but Club 316's The Hotter The Better summertime salsa party is one of the entertaining ways the Taft Museum of Art has found to attract the support of young professionals.
It might not appear to be classical art, but Club 316's The Hotter The Better summertime salsa party is one of the entertaining ways the Taft Museum of Art has found to attract the support of young professionals.

Classical collections line the ornate walls of this stately, historical mansion. The Taft Museum of Art, as well as the works of art housed within, are as venerable, dignified and altogether erudite as you might imagine them to be.

But there's a group of young art enthusiasts who want to connect all that classicism and history with the generation whose collective art consciousness is infused more with computer animation, product placement and graffiti than European master paintings, Chinese ceramics and early 19th-century furniture. But it's precisely the classical collection that members of Club 316, the Taft's young-and-hip membership organization, share a passion for.

"One thing that really strikes me is that (Club 316) is a diverse group of young professionals who are passionate about art and Cincinnati. They're trying to reach out and connect that passion and the community," says Lowellette Lauderdale, Taft staff liaison with Club 316.

The organization gathers monthly for art-inspired-but-not-required happy hours, lectures, wine tastings, dances and workshops.

The most recent gathering was part of 316's Lounge Lecture Series, Lifestyles of the Rich, Famous ... and Naughty, a discussion at Milton's Bar about the more salacious stories behind the Taft collection. Club 316 brought reproductions of the art to the Prospect Hill tavern for participants to examine, along with 19th-century lascivious gossip.

"Looking at the art and learning about the symbolism and history behind it gives our members a greater appreciation for the collection," says Lauderdale.

An urban bar might seem an unlikely place for a museum lecture series, but it works for Club 316. The group is reaching out to its target membership by holding less-than-formal lectures and outings in less-than-formal locations. This might sound even unlikelier, but 316 has actually expanded its base of participants -- despite the fact that the museum that inspired the organization has been closed for more than two years during its extensive renovation.

"Since the museum has been closed, we've been out in the community more, so we've been able to promote the Taft to people who may not be inclined to visit the museum," says Club 316 co-coordinator Windy Robinson. "We're taking those connections made over the last two years, increasing membership and creating lifelong supporters."

Now that the museum is open again, Club 316-ers have the opportunity to experience the art again. Many members haven't even seen the collection first-hand yet, having joined the organization within the last two years, says Robinson.

Club 316 will continue to sponsor off-site events in and around the community. Lounge Lectures, for example, will continue at area bars.

"We feel it's important to continue collaborating with other downtown venues, groups, and be part of the community," says Lauderdale. "We have no intention of becoming homebodies."

Greater Cincinnati as a whole caught on to the high-pitched buzz surrounding artsy, community-minded twenty- and thirtysomethings only when all those folks started leaving. And although the city began to reach out to that demographic in earnest when it woke up to the debilitating effects of brain drain on a mid-size Midwestern city's economy, Club 316 reminds you they've been here all along, connecting young people to the art and cultural history of Cincinnati.

"I think the cool thing about the Taft is that 316 has been in existence since 1991," says Jodi Bockenstette, co-coordinator of the organization. "The Taft was one of the first (organizations) to see the importance of young professionals in society and furthering interest in the arts and community."

This year the Taft Museum of Art made its support of young art enthusiasts official when it gave Club 316 a seat on its board and thus a say in the museum's inner workings.

The organization is best known for its annual Latin-flavor gala, The Hotter the Better, in late summer. Collaborating with CincyLatino, Club 316 brings a local Salsa band, Tropicoso, to the museum's terrace under a 200-person tent. Like all 316 events, The Hotter the Better raises money for the Taft's educational programs.

On Friday Club 316 holds its annual spring wine-tasting, The Art of the Grape, on the Museum's new garden terrace. It's the first Club 316 event since the Taft reopened. Guests will enjoy a spread provided by Hamburger Mary's and guided sipping of vintages.

"We've been doing Art of the Grape for 10 years," says Bockenstette. "We've always done our spring wine tasting in the garden. We're glad to be back."

Club 316 welcomes Taft Museum members of between the ages of 21 and 45. To get involved, call 513-241-0343, ext. 24. Upcoming 316 events: Art of the Grape: 6-10 p.m. Friday; Art in the Neighborhood: 5:30­8 p.m. June 3 (nationally renowned painter and former Cincinnatian Michael Scott discusses his work and inspirations); The Hotter the Better: 8 p.m.-midnight July 30. Latino dance party.


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