An artist friend of mine -- an authentic '60s hippie if there ever was one -- speaks of a time when public funding for artists was readily available. He reminisces that it didn't matter where an artist lived, whether big city or rural retreat. There was always financial help available, most often on the federal level, quite often more than enough to allow artists to focus on their artwork full-time and make creative contributions to the people and places around them.
This is where his hippie vibe comes into play. Over these many summers of love, he tells me, artists would collaborate, help each other and share time, energy and resources.
They weren't cutthroat in their competition with one another. There was no need to be. The money was usually there.
My hippie friend would enjoy The Mockbee, a three-story building at 2260 Central Pkwy. in Cincinnati's gritty Brighton Corner neighborhood. The Mockbee first opened in summer 2001 under the name SSNOVA (Sanctum Sanctorum Nonprofit Organization for Visual Art) thanks to the volunteer efforts of co-founder Emily Buddendeck and building owner Fred Lane. Since then, it's changed leadership as well as its name.
What's remained true for The Mockbee is its status as the city's top arts venue for young adults. On numerous weekends, whether at a poetry reading or a sculpture exhibition, the crowds of emerging artists and first-time arts patrons are so thick that the alternative arts venue looks too successful to be tagged "alternative."
The Mockbee has received public funding before -- approximately $30,000 from the city of Cincinnati -- but the chance for public monies in 2005 is slim due to city cutbacks for arts grants.
Mockbee leaders will have to fight for the money needed to stay open, and, as they recently learned, they're in for a struggle.
Admission is free to The Mockbee's current show (donations are always accepted), The Summerfair Emerging Artist Exhibition, on display through Feb. 26. It's a two-floor installation of 18 Greater Cincinnati college and university seniors who are fine arts majors, displaying new paintings, sculptures, ceramics and textiles. The cost exception was a Feb. 10 fund-raiser in support of the venue, an event that should have been a celebration but dissolved into a bust.
The event was meant to attract people beyond the core Mockbee regulars -- college-age adults who come almost every weekend -- but the building's cavernous exhibition halls remained sparse through the night.
Young volunteers like Adam Hyland and other members of the Mockbee faithful waited at the front entrance to sell $20 tickets to a crowd that never materialized. Andy Marko, a Mockbee trustee, offered candy from a box of chocolates to interested passersby. (I declined because Marko is too much of a prankster to be trusted with candy.)
For the participating student artists and college faculty who came for a preview of the Summerfair show, the evening was exciting and fun, a chance to view their work in a unique public art space and to rate crowd reactions. On this front, The Mockbee accomplished what it does consistently and well -- showcasing to a new public of arts admirers a selection of emerging artists like Art Academy of Cincinnati painter Keith Miller and Miami University's Abigail King, whose sleek, miniature sculptures stand out in the large space.
For Program Director Christopher Daniel and Managing Director Carissa Barnard, the go-to folks when it comes to running the massive arts space, the evening was a clear letdown. While The Mockbee is no longer alternative with young people, it remains an unknown option to the general public -- people who might know about The Mockbee and support its mission but have yet to visit, the very same people Barnard, Daniel and Mockbee trustees hoped to attract Feb. 10.
The writing on their cavernous brick walls is matter-of-fact: There are haves and have-nots in Cincinnati's arts world, and The Mockbee remains a have-not despite its success with attracting young people.
There are bound to be growing pains, but Daniel and Barnard never expected them to take this long. They never envisioned it would be so difficult to convince people that The Mockbee is a worthy venue to support and that the possibilities for the space are bigger than its impressive square footage.
Being alternative often means small crowds, little recognition and no serious money. The Mockbee brims with love but needs money to survive, something that's in short supply.
Daniel and Barnard will try another Mockbee fund-raiser. They have to.
They and others hope people will respond once they realize public funding is at an all-time low. The summers of love for artists and arts organizations are over.