CityBeat Blogs - COMMUNITY http://www.citybeat.com/cincinnati/blogs-1-1-1-37-65.html <![CDATA[Nonprofit Spotlight: May We Help]]>

Patty Kempf was one of May We Help’s first clients before the organization really even existed. She had cerebral palsy and was having trouble turning the pages of the books she loved reading. Bill Wood agreed to help Kempf by designing something that would make reading easier for her. At the same time, Bill Dieseling was doing something similar for a member of his family. The two Bills were connected through a mutual friend and began to work together. Shortly after that they met Bill Sand and the idea for May We Help was born. The Bills began working together harmoniously and May We Help now has hundreds of completed projects and satisfied clients.

The goal of May We Help is to make life easier for people with disabilities. They do this through technology, mechanical engineering, handy work, programming and problem solving. May We Help hopes to free people from their disabilities with these custom creations that will allow them to gain independence and pursue their passions.

The organization designs unique devices for people with disabilities to meet the needs that are not being met by anything else on the market. Clients pitch to the organization what they are looking for, the team researches the idea and if nothing has been developed to meet the need, they accept the project. Beginning with design and then moving into building, the team is focused on the client and what will work for them.

Volunteer:

At May We Help there are 60 volunteers for every one staff member. “They are the heart and soul of our organization,” says Katy Collura, development director. “They truly are the glue that holds everything together.”

There are many different opportunities to get involved with this organization, whether you want to design, build or work behind the scenes. “Our volunteers design and create custom solutions to free individuals with special needs,” Collura says.

Technical volunteers develop the unique devices for clients. Most volunteers in this category are professionals or have a serious interest in product development. These volunteers hear the needs of the client and go from there. This is a very creative opportunity.

There are resource volunteers who build and get to be hands-on with projects. This is a great place to start with May We Help because it is not a leadership position, but it gets into the action of product construction.

A person with a lot of personality makes a great “first impressions” volunteer. In this role, volunteers take charge of the experiences of new volunteers and clients. Their job is to make sure everyone is comfortable, heading to the right place and introduced to the right people during monthly volunteer meetings and monthly work meetings.

Follow-up volunteers make monthly visits to clients who have received their devices. This is a key role because May We Help wants to be sure what they build is working the way it was intended; they don't want to send someone home with a device that isn’t meeting their needs. The follow-up team receives feedback from clients about how their needs are, or aren’t, being met by their device.

May We Help provides meals for around 40 people at all of their monthly meetings. Foodie volunteers are in charge of making sure the people eat. The organization reimburses the cost of food for the meals, but be prepared to cook for what feels like an army.

One of the most important positions is the procurement volunteer. This role was designed to ensure the technical volunteers have the crucial materials they will need throughout the project. Procurement volunteers are responsible for meeting with potential material and service providers to build donor relationships. On the inside they work with the technical volunteers by helping them meet their needs. Sometimes that means contacting other volunteers for advice, checking what is in stock or contacting donors. This position is the bones of the operations and keeps the ball rolling forward.

To become a volunteer, fill out the application online and someone will be in contact soon after. There is no hourly requirement — volunteers can make their own hours. The organization just asks that all projects are done in a timely manner. “In most cases we are the families last resort and they are counting on us to deliver,” Collura says.

Donate:

Monetary donations are crucial to the success of this nonprofit. Because each device is custom to the client, it is hard to know what materials will be needed for the next project. Business owners with available resources to help are encouraged to contact the procurement team about donating services or material.

For more information and access to the volunteer application, visit maywehelp.org.

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<![CDATA[Nonprofit Spotlight: Stepping Stones]]>

Stepping Stones was founded in 1963 as a nonprofit organization to increase independence, improve lives and promote inclusion for children and adults with disabilities. There are four campuses in the Greater Cincinnati area serving close to 1,000 children and adults every year.

The organization offers programs for people of all ages with many different abilities. The Summer Day Camp, Saturday Clubs, Overnight Staycations and Respites and the Sensory Needs Respite and Support Program are all ways for Stepping Stones to provide support, opportunity and education and to increase independence for participants and their families.

Volunteer:

Our participants love to meet new people and the attention they receive from a volunteer makes them feel important and valued,” says Moira Grainger, marketing, board and community liaison at Stepping Stones.Volunteers enhance our activities and programs by providing an added layer of respect, care, concern and enthusiasm for the daily goals our participants strive for.”

All year there are opportunities for volunteers to work on special maintenance projects, like landscaping and painting. Stepping Stones can use volunteers on the weekends for the Saturday Kids Club and during Weekend Respites. There are also frequent fundraising events where a helping hand is always welcome.

The Summer Day Camp is a program for children with a range of disabilities; it is also where the most volunteers are needed. In 2015 the camp served 455 children and utilized more than 800 volunteers. Summer camp runs Monday-Friday, June 6-Aug. 5. It is not required to be at camp every day of the week, but volunteers must commit to being there from 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. on the days they choose. This opportunity is open to people as young as 13. We are fortunate to have compassionate and caring individuals who simply love the involvement with our participants, regardless of age,” Grainger says.

Saturday Clubs are a time to celebrate the abilities of children and young adults that participate in the program. This weekend activity encourages friendships and social interaction and is a good opportunity for volunteering. Weekends Respites are for children with severe sensory needs. Since 2013, Stepping Stones along with its volunteers has been providing one-on-one attention for participants helping them learn social skills to take home with them.

Volunteers that have experience working with people with disabilities or a background in special education are often placed in leadership roles, where they can share their experience with less experienced volunteers.

Community groups are encouraged to volunteer at Stepping Stones. Business groups, boy and girl scout groups and school leadership programs are just a few types of groups that have already used the organization to engage in community service. “These groups will usually tackle a project such as landscaping or building something needed, sometimes a maintenance project, or setting up for a special event such as a group dance,” Grainger says.  When corporations visit, a lot of times they will host a special event, like a picnic, for the participants at Stepping Stones.

To become a volunteer, start by filling out the online application. After a receiving a clean background check there is a training program. “The goal of the training is to ensure that all events ranging from needing a band aid to responding to a weather alert can be addressed in a safe and orderly manner,” Grainger says. During training new volunteers learn how to work with people who have disabilities, the appropriate terminology to use when communicate about disabilities and safety procedures.

Stepping Stones hopes that all volunteers are willing to make a long-term commitment. “It makes the experience more rewarding for the participants and the volunteers,” Grainger says.

Donate:

Stepping Stones relies on financial donations to support their programs and activities. The materials they use change depending on the needs of the programs and participants. If you can’t donate time to Stepping Stones, the gift of money can provide financial aid for participants that can’t afford the programs.

Register a Kroger Plus Card to earn cash rewards for Stepping Stones by enrolling in the Community Rewards Program, which gives a portion of every purchase to the chosen organization. Amazon Smile is a similar program that can be used to make donations.


For more information on STEPPING STONES and access to the online volunteer application, visit steppingstonesohio.org.

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<![CDATA[Nonprofit Spotlight: Women Helping Women]]> Women Helping Women is a nonprofit agency serving survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking. The organization was founded in 1973 to provide advocacy, support and safety to survivors. WHW serves around 12,000 people yearly between the two offices in Hamilton County and Butler County.

One-on-one counseling, court advocacy, support groups and hospital accompaniment are just a few of the free services that are available. The education and prevention team gives presentations to business and community service agencies that focus on recognizing sexual assault and domestic violence along with how to access resources. 

Volunteer:

“We rely so much on our volunteers,” says Ellen Newman, Hamilton County volunteer coordinator. And for good reason: There are about 40 volunteers right now covering a range of survivor services from the 24-hour hotline to court room accompaniment.

The 24-hour hotline is mostly operated by volunteers. This is a daytime opportunity to answer calls from 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. in the office on East Ninth Street. The hotline is an anonymous support system for survivors who might need someone to talk to or advice on how to move forward.

Hospital advocates are on call anywhere from 11-13 hours per day. If a survivor is at the hospital and asks for someone to talk to, the on-call volunteer will be contacted to answer questions and provide support.

Court advocates attend arraignment court with, and sometimes without, survivors. “They are there to answer questions and help them in the initial first step,” Newman says. If a survivor can’t attend the arraignment, the volunteer advocate will make notes of what happened there. As the trial progresses, advocates continue to attend and support the survivor.

Education advocates help with community awareness. Volunteers travel to businesses, churches, schools and events around the Greater Cincinnati area to provide information on recognizing and surviving sexual assault and domestic violence. There is also a Teen Dating Violence Prevention curriculum the travels to area high schools focusing on preventing violence before it starts. The program helps teens identify healthy and unhealthy behaviors in relationships and encourages them to challenge the social norms that encourage dating violence.

Women Helping Women will often need volunteers to work a table at an event, talk about the programs and hand out information. They are also looking for people to help with Light Up The Night, their annual fundraising event on April 28.

“We are survivor-centric — that is the first and foremost quality you have to have,” Newman says. To become a volunteer, you first need to fill out the online application; after it’s reviewed, there will be an interview to determine if you are a good fit for WHW.

“Our name is a little misleading — we are really searching to add more male volunteers,” Newman says. The organization is nondiscriminatory and they are hoping to grow in the number of male volunteers they have available to work with survivors.

The training program is 40 hours and includes an overview of the programs and services along with the ethics of the organization. There is information about what to report and how to work with survivors. They also focus on how to work with specific populations of people to ensure all survivors feel safe.

All volunteers must be 18 and have a clean background check. Women Helping Women asks that volunteers stay with them for at least a year and complete two sessions a month in any of the programs.

Donations:

Donations are always evolving with the needs of each survivor. Feel free to contact the organization to find out what is in immediate need. Some things that can always be used are feminine hygiene products, new clothes and bus passes for survivors to get home, to court and to the doctor’s office.


For more information on WOMEN HELPING WOMEN and to access the volunteer application visit womenhelpingwomen.org.


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<![CDATA[Nonprofit Spotlight: Cincinnati Squash Academy]]>

The Cincinnati Squash Academy is an urban squash program operating out of the Emmanuel Community Center in Over-the-Rhine where there are three brand new courts and a learning center. “We are aiming to blend squash and academics into one cohesive unit,” says Austin Schiff, executive director of CSA. The goal is to use squash as a motivation tool to keep kids accelerating their education.

Since the second grade, Schiff has played squash, a racket sport that has been around for more than 100 years. The game is played on a four-walled court with two or four players and a hollow rubber ball. CSA is the only urban squash program in Cincinnati and recruits from four low-income schools: Robert A. Taft Information Technology High School, Hays-Porter Elementary, Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy’s Otto Armleder School and St. Joseph School.

We go into the school and do a presentation,” Schiff explains. “They sign up if they're interested and then they can come and try-out.” Try-outs can take four to seven months. Students begin at the bronze level to see if they fit well with the program; at silver they begin to track attendance and do a home visit to ensure the family is supportive and sees a future for their child in the program. Once a student reaches the gold level, they are fully enrolled in CSA and have complete access to all the resources, trips and the summer program. Try-outs are so extensive because it is very important that each accepted student succeeds in the program. “We want to be selective of the kids and families that we choose, knowing that this isn’t just a six-month fad,” Schiff says. He wants to find kids that are committed to staying in the program through high school.

CSA puts a major focus on school success along with learning squash. Kids come three times a week and their time is divided. Half the day is spent on the court and the other half is in the learning center working on homework and special projects. Rachel Parker, the academic director, works hard to help the students find their personal interests through different classroom projects and field trips. They have taken trips to the Cincinnati Art Museum and practiced gardening on Earth Day. At heart we are an education program,” Schiff saysTo the public we are squash, but it’s really much more than that.”

The main goal is not to train world-renowned squash players, but simply to provide education and motivation and to make sure the kids make it to college. They start preparing kids freshman year or earlier for college by exploring resume building, the application process and understanding financial aid. CSA took a group to Boston last year for an urban squash competition at Harvard University. When they weren’t playing, the students toured Harvard's campus. “A year ago, to them, squash was a vegetable or what you do to a roach on the family rug,” Schiff says. “Now they are on the all-glass show court at Harvard University playing a very traditionally high-class, high-brow sport.

Volunteers:

Currently CSA has 20-30 volunteers. Volunteers help on the court every day at practice. Experienced squash volunteers — the more skilled, the better — are invited to come and teach kids the meticulous technique that is so important to the game. You can do this during the school year or come for the 4-week summer program.

They need tutors in the classrooms and to chaperone trips. Schiff is looking for people who care and can connect with the kids. Volunteers as young as 12 can help in the learning center. “We want people who just love being with kids and want to push them to succeed,” Schiff says.

All volunteers must pass a background check.

Donations:

There is a big CSA fundraiser happening in April. Corporate sponsors are needed to provide squash supplies. Because all the athletic equipment is donated, rackets, goggles, shoes and squash balls are always in demand.

Basic school supplies like paper, pencils, dry-erase markers and a lot of disinfecting wipes are helpful in the learning center. CSA provides snacks for the students but haven’t had any luck getting a grant for fresh fruit and vegetables. Healthy snacks would be a great donation, but be mindful of students with allergies to peanuts and red dye.

The organization has its offices, referred to as the bunker, in the basement of the Emmanuel Community Center. The bunker is safe from nuclear fallout, but unfortunately is not very home-like. Schiff is looking for plants and art to spruce the place up. The office could also use a working copy machine because theirs recently broke.


For more information on CINCINNATI SQUASH ACADEMY, visit squashacademy.org.

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<![CDATA[Slice of Cincinnati: Building Value]]>

Customers entering Building Value in Northside are greeted by a yard of bathtubs, sinks and other home furnishings. It might seem like a graveyard for building materials, but these old home fixtures are awaiting a new life.

This is confirmed by the set of child-sized lawn chairs by the store entrance. Upon closer inspection it’s clear that the chairs are actually repurposed shopping carts. Inside, customers bustle around the store through aisles of cabinets, shelves and other furniture looking for a new home.

All of the goods available for purchase at Building Value are either donated by homeowners who no longer use them or salvaged from demolished homes. Anything bought here can be given a new life in another home rather than sitting in a landfill.

While two men get out a tape measure to see if their dream cabinets will fit inside their kitchen, the store cat Bella Value perches atop the checkout counter as the clerk asks a customer to sign a donation form.

“With or without the cat’s help?” he asks. Bella seems indifferent to the man’s signature as he signs off on the goods he donated to the store.

“Bella doesn’t actually itemize or give customers value for their stuff,” store manager David Daniels says. “She is on payroll to take care of the mice.”

Building Value’s main mission is to employ people with disabilities and other workplace difficulties and give them the training needed to obtain positions in the construction field that pay livable wages.

Those who complete Building Value’s training program develop basic deconstruction skills. They may then be hired by companies like Messer Construction, a partner of Building Value.

“A combination of our program and our store work hand in hand,” Daniels says. “The deconstruction part tears down buildings and brings it back to the store; the store sells it so that we can make money to fund our mission.”

Instead of completely knocking a house to the ground, Building Value works to take it apart piece by piece so that almost all parts are salvageable and able to be resold in the store. All proceeds benefit programs at Easter Seals, a nonprofit dedicated to creating opportunities for those with disabilities or disadvantages to realize their full potential. The tristate chapter of Easter seals founded the store in 2004.

“We’re trying to carefully remove items so that it can come here and get a second life as the same thing or maybe repurposed,” Daniels says. “Our biggest component here is how much stuff we divert from the landfill.”

The cheapest way to demolish a building is to completely raze it and dump all of the components into a landfill, Daniels says. Although Building Value does not demolish homes this way, having the service done by them may be comparable or cheaper because the items salvaged for resale are tax-deductible donations.

“The thing that separates us from another business is that all the material that comes back to the store is an actual tax write-off to the organization that offsets their bill,” Daniels says.

Daniels says Building Value will take the bricks, wood floors, windows, staircases, mantles and nearly any other part of a house. Customers could almost build a house from the store’s materials. While this provides a low-cost alternative for customers, it is also ideal for those who own older homes who may not be able to find the parts they need at stores like Home Depot or Lowe’s. Building Value’s inventory is more eclectic because it is sourced from donations and changes every week.

The customers who shop at Building Value are contractors, house flippers and those looking to repurpose old items — a group Daniels proudly calls “the Pinterest crowd.” Since the key to making money off these ventures is finding cheap materials, Building Value is an essential shopping destination for these customers.

Before Daniels became the store manager, he flipped old houses and was a frequent customer himself. He combines his skills from managing a Walgreens store with his knowledge of what homebuilders need to run Building Value.

“[At Walgreens] I was working a lot of hours, but I was never inspired,” he says. “This job inspires me — I come in on my day off every week.” Daniels says rather than working hard to help Walgreens profit, he is now working hard for a better cause. ”This store is a win-win situation,” he says. “The customers win, the company wins, the environment wins. Nobody is getting a bad shake out of this.”


For more information on BUILDING VALUE, visit buildingvalue.org.

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<![CDATA[Nonprofit Spotlight: WordPlay]]>

WordPlay is a space in Northside where children can come for free tutoring services and creative encouragement. This nonprofit organization is dedicated to breaking the cycle of poverty by improving the quality of life, education and opportunities for kids in Cincinnati.

In just more than three years, WordPlay has gone from seeing two to four students a day to somewhere around 160 kids a week. The growing organization provides academic after-school programs, creative writing workshops and summer programs for grades K-12. “WordPlay Scholars” is their academic after-school program reserved for children who meet the low-income criteria. “WordUP” is a creative program offered to students at Aiken High School and Hughes High School. “Happy Hour” is a creative workshop and is open to all, low-income or not. It is a time where children can collaborate in a creative format and learn from each other.

Volunteer: “Volunteers are just as valuable as money,” says Libby Hunter, co-founder of WordPlay. It is a goal for the organization to match each child with a tutor for a special one-on-one experience. This means that at any given time, WordPlay needs a volunteer team of at least 150 people. To begin volunteering as a tutor, first contact WordPlay through e-mail and schedule a training session (you’ll also need to pass a background check). During the school year, tutors must be 18 or older. Tutors should be able to make a commitment of two sessions per month, each two hours long. Literacy skill work, creative reading and homework time happens 3-5 p.m. Monday- Thursday — this is when tutors are needed the most.

Proficiency in school subjects is not a requirement for volunteers, but a genuine interest to be part of WordPlay is. During training, a lot of time is spent talking about the culture and the environment that is being created at WordPlay. “Having that one-on-one time with a kid makes a difference, even if you have to ask your neighbor for help with a homework problem,” Hunter says.

Behind the scenes, volunteers make up an advisory board to review and evaluate every program at WordPlay. Anyone with expertise in developing and assessing creative curriculum is encouraged to reach out and offer their skills.

“The Change Makers” is a working concept at the moment. The goal is to cultivate a group of young creatives willing to tap into their existing social networks and organize outreach events. “It will raise a little money but really focus on outreach and awareness of the issues WordPlay is addressing,” Hunter says. This is a unique opportunity to get on the ground level of WordPlay’s outreach program.

Donate: “Close the Gap” is a fundraising initiative created to benefit summer learning programs specifically. “Children from low-income households tend to not have equal access to summer enrichment programs,” Hunter says. “That is where they lose a lot of ground in terms of reading proficiency and other academic skills.” WordPlay provides free summer enrichment programs to help kids keep their skills up and stay on track.

WordPlay can never have enough school supplies, specifically copy paper, lined paper and composition notebooks. Donating gently used or new books is a cheap and easy way to help WordPlay succeed. Free books are offered for kids all year long. Check the attic for old typewriters to donate. A WordPlay volunteer works to recondition them for resale. The money from typewriter sales and repairs goes directly back into their programs. 

This May, WordPlay is partnering with Spun Bicycles to host Ride for Reading, during which a parade of 60-70 cyclists will fill their bags and baskets full of donated books and ride them to Parker Woods Montessori. Volunteers will be waiting with tables set up to distribute the books to students. This means they will need a lot of book donations ahead of time. The organization is collecting books from now until the ride. “The kids are out in the parking lot and you would think it’s a Rock concert the way that they scream and cheer when the bike parade pulls in,” Hunter says. This is the fourth year WordPlay has done this, and Parker Woods is the biggest school so far, with 500 students. In the past, they have been able to give 10 books to each student.


For more information about programs and how to getting involved with WORDPLAY e-mail info@wordplaycincy.org or visit wordplaycincy.org.
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<![CDATA[Memorial Marker Unveiled For 1979 Who Concert Tragedy]]>

The cold temperature Thursday night was appropriate for the solemn gathering on the plaza outside the main entrance of U.S. Bank Arena. Since the 30th anniversary of the Dec. 3, 1979 Who concert tragedy — 11 people died in the crush trying to get inside the doors of what was then Riverfront Coliseum — Cincinnati USA Music Heritage Foundation has been having memorial observances with lighting of lanterns outside the site on that date.

At last night’s observance, which drew a sizeable crowd, the organization unveiled the two-sided memorial marker that will now permanently be at the location. It had been a long time in the works.

Before that occurred, Andy Bowes — brother of victim Peter Bowes of Wyoming — gave a speech to the crowd that included reading a statement of support for the memorial from the Who’s longtime manager, Bill Curbishley. Here it is:

“With the laying of the marker in dedication to those that lost their lives at the Riverfront Coliseum, on this day in 1979, I would like to pay tribute from myself and the two surviving members of the Who, Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend. I can fully understand how difficult it has been for the families who lost a loved one to go forward and attempt to regain their lives. That night will always stay with myself, Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend. It is a scar from the past and though the wound has healed, the scar is still there to be touched on occasion and felt. The band themselves were not aware of what had happened and were playing on stage when I was informed and saw the devastation on the plaza level. Nothing will erase that memory other than their soft edges.

“It’s with this in mind that I decided not to attend today because I felt it should not be turned into a Who media day or circus. There has to be dignity to this ceremony and the unfolding of the dedication of remembrance. This is not about the Who or their music but it’s about the families involved. Many people suffered as a result of that day and I am sure that many still do. If myself and the band can be of any assistance in the healing process going forward we are there for you.

Love

Bill Curbishley”

Mayor John Cranley, who promised at last year’s observance to dedicate a permanent memorial marker at this one, also gave a brief, moving address. He closed with, “Something happened a long time ago but is still with us. As your mayor, I’m proud to stand with you and say we will never forget.”

The band, itself, posted a short online comment, “Today we remember those 11 Who fans who lost their lives in the crush to enter the Riverfront Coliseum in Cincinnati, Ohio. May they rest in peace.”

Incidentally, something that seems to have gone overlooked at the time it occurred here but has continuing resonance and pertinence today can be discovered in a YouTube clip of Pearl Jam playing at U.S. Bank Arena on Oct. 1, 2014.

During that band’s 2000 appearance at a Danish festival, nine fans in the mosh pit died from suffocation. At U.S. Bank Arena, Eddie Veder reminded the crowd about the tragedy outside the arena in 1979 and how the Who “have to go on living with that event that happened 35 years ago. That became something we had to learn about, and they reached out to us when we really needed it.”

Pear Jam then played “The Real Me,” the last song the Who performed in Cincinnati at the December 3, 1979 show. Here’s the clip:


For more background on this new memorial, read my Big Picture column in this week's issue.

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<![CDATA[Free Shakespeare in the Park Tour Returns]]>

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company continues its summer tradition of Shakespeare in the Park as the free series returns for the seventh year this August. Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream will be showcased in parks around the Greater Cincinnati area and Northern Kentucky Aug. 3-30.

CSC Ensemble Member Nicholas Rose is directing the classic lovers tale, Romeo and Juliet. While the fantastic story of betrayal and magic in A Midsummer Night’s Dream is being directed by CSC Education Associate Miranda McGee. Six actors from the CSC Resident Ensemble will be acting in these performances. After the free park tour, they will continue to tour community centers, schools, venues and other performance centers into May of 2014.

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company is continuing its partnership with Cincinnati Parks and Recreation, offering free shows at Seasongood Pavilion in Eden Park, Burnet Woods, Mt. Echo Park and the new Smale Riverfront Park. Washington Park will see the group on their tour, alongside parks in Madeira, Colerain and Monroe in Ohio, and Burlington, Edgewood and Maysville in Kentucky. The acting troupe will have two performances at the Vinoklet Winery as well. Certain park locations will be accepting canned food and non-perishable items — CSC has a partnership with the Freestore Foodbank.

If a free, al fresco viewing of Shakespeare’s best sounds fun, then make sure to get to each performance early to ensure good seating. All shows are general admission with first-come, first-serve seating. For more information go to cincyshakes.com.

For show times and locations, refer to the list below:

Saturday, Aug. 3, Romeo and Juliet at 7 p.m. in Boone Woods Park, Burlington

Wednesday, Aug. 7, Romeo and Juliet at 7 p.m. in Eden Park – Seasongood Pavilion, Mount Adams

Thursday, Aug. 8 Romeo and Juliet at 7 p.m. in Burnet Woods, Clifton

Friday, Aug. 9 Romeo and Juliet at 7 p.m. in the Monroe Community Park, Monroe, Ohio

Saturday, Aug. 10 A Midsummer Night’s Dream at 6:30 p.m. in the Harry Whiting Brown Lawn, Glendale

Sunday, Aug. 11 Romeo and Juliet at 7 p.m. in the McDonald Commons Park, Madeira

Wednesday, Aug. 14 A Midsummer Night’s Dream at 7 p.m. in Browning Shelter, Maysville, Ky.

Thursday, Aug. 15 A Midsummer Night’s Dream at 7 p.m. in Mt. Echo Park, Price Hill

Friday, Aug. 16 A Midsummer Night’s Dream at 7 p.m. at the Vinoklet Winery, Colerain

Saturday, Aug. 17 A Midsummer Night’s Dream at 7 p.m. at the Miami Whitewater Forest – Harbor Point, Harrison

Sunday, Aug. 18 A Midsummer Night’s Dream at 7 p.m. in Washington Park, Over-the-Rhine

Wednesday, Aug. 21 A Midsummer Night’s Dream at 7 p.m. in Burnet Woods, Clifton

Thursday, Aug. 22 A Midsummer Night’s Dream at 7 p.m. in Colerain Park

Friday, Aug. 23 Romeo and Juliet at 7 p.m. at the Vinoklet Winery, Colerain

Saturday, Aug. 24 A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Keehner Park, West Chester

Sunday, Aug. 25 Romeo and Juliet at 6 p.m. in Presidents Park, Edgewood, Ky.

Tuesday, Aug. 27 A Midsummer Night’s Dream at 7 p.m. in Uptown Park, Oxford

Wednesday, Aug. 28 A Midsummer Night’s Dream at 7 p.m. at the Clifton Cultural Arts Center Lawn

Thursday, Aug. 29 A Midsummer Night’s Dream at 7 p.m. at the Smale Riverfront Park, Downtown

Friday, Aug. 30 A Midsummer Night’s Dream at 7 p.m. at the Eden Park – Seasongood Pavilion, Mount Adams

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<![CDATA[Stage Door: The Droll Days of Summer ]]> Most of our local theaters are cooling their jets for the summer months, but you still have two more weekends to catch the hilarious, three-actor Sherlock Holmes spoof of Hound of the Baskervilles at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. This one is definitely fine-tuned, featuring a trio of Cincy Shakes best actors — Jeremy Dubin, Nick Rose and Brent Vimtrup — directed by Michael Evan Haney from the Cincinnati Playhouse. It's a revival of a hit from last summer, so they have the comic timing of quick costume changes and fast-paced tomfoolery down pat. I understand that this weekend is almost sold out, but don't let that keep you from trying. Final performance is June 30. I hope you've deduced that you need to get for it this time around, even if you saw it before. (If you did, you know how funny it is.) It's elementary! Tickets: 513-381-2273, x1

The Showboat Majestic is a venue that floats along every summer with solid entertainment. Right now you can come on board for a classic piece of comedy by Neil Simon, The Odd Couple. It's a hit from 1965 in a production featuring a couple of great local actors: Joshua Steele as the prissy Felix and Mike Hall as the messy Oscar. They're a pair who know their way around a funny script, so it's a fine show for a summer's laugh. Tickets: 513-241-6550

Maybe you thought Sesame Street was funny when you were a kid. How'd you like to see some raunchy puppet behavior? Avenue Q is onstage in Dayton at the Human Race Theatre. The 2004 Tony Award-winning musical offers laugh-out-loud musical mayhem. But leave the kids at home: This one is aimed at those who are twentysomething and up, offering answers to a simple question: What happens to the kids who were raised on Sesame Street when they grow up? You'll find the answers — in songs like "It Sucks to Be Me" and "The Internet Is for Porn" — at the Loft Theatre, 126 North Main St. in downtown Dayton. Tickets: 937-228-3630

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<![CDATA[Stage Door: Fringe Your Weekend ]]> The 2013 Cincinnati Fringe is at its first weekend with almost two dozen shows available for you to attend over the weekend. Pick a few and take a chance — read the commentaries by CityBeat reviewers posted here, if you want the inside scoop on various productions.

This is the 10th annual event, and it's become a big-time part of our local theater scene. You owe it to yourself to see some of these creative, odd, amusing, thoughtful pieces. And stop by Know Theatre's Underground Bar after 10 p.m. any evening to meet performers and talk with others who are enjoying the Fringe. It's a great way to get more perspectives.

More 2013 Fringe coverage:

• May 22 cover story: “Navigating the Novelties

• April 18 Curtain Call column: “Fringe Has Sprung

Complete festival schedule 

Official Fringe Festival guide



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<![CDATA[FotoFocus Comes to an End After Many High Points]]> While there are FotoFocus shows and events continuing into November and even longer, the October festival formally closed Saturday night with a boisterous, picture-perfect celebration, the Carnevil Halloween party at Newport’s Thompson House (formerly the Southgate House).

All rooms were jam-packed with people in imaginative costumes, and in the ballroom the DAAP Girls (outfitted for the night as the DAAP Witches) belted out a funky, soulful, garage-rock version of “Ghostbusters” far better than the cutesy original.

Best of all, for those who remember coughing and hacking their way through the old Southgate House, the place was non-smoking for this event and had signs up everywhere to enforce that. If it can keep up the pleasant smoke-free environment, Thompson House might just become the nightclub that counts in Greater Cincinnati. Still not sure if that will make me turn out for the upcoming Dying Fetus/Malignancy concert, but the place is definitely back on my radar.

Carnevil’s turnout also proved that FotoFocus, as an event, was on people’s radar. There had been some questioning of that earlier in the week, after moderate turnouts for two appearances by nationally significant photographers at Cincinnati Art Museum’s Fath Auditorium.

Laurel Nakadate gave the prestigious FotoFocus Lecture there on Oct. 24, presenting a slide show of the past 12 years of her sometimes-eyebrow-raising performative-video and still-photography work.

For one project, she wandered around truck stops and invited truckers to dance with her in their cabs. In another, she traveled across Canada by train and threw her underwear out the window each day, photographing the colorful results. (As far as I know, she did not get arrested for littering.) Someone asked about the inherent danger in some of her early work, which involved putting herself in erotic situations with strange men. “I look back at my early work and fear for my life,” she said. “But I’m really glad I made that work.”

Incidentally, one of her more recent projects — for which she showed slides — was to photograph herself crying everyday for one year. The “one year” motif seems to be such a strong one that some curator somewhere should devote a show to its variations. There’s plenty of material right here. At Michael Lowe’s Downtown gallery, site of the “Using Photography” FotoFocus exhibit featuring work by 1970s-era (and beyond) Conceptual Artists, there is an example of On Kawara’s “I Got Up” series. For 11 years (1968-1979), he sent friend picture postcards stamped with the time that he arose each day.

And when Todd Pavlisko was in town last week to plan for his “Docent” rifle-firing project that occurred Monday at Cincinnati Art Museum, he said that one piece in his resultant museum show next year will be displaying all the loose change he’s collected in a year. (He will gold-plate the coinage.)

At the other appearance of a photographer at CAM last week, Chief Curator James Crump discussed the future of photography books with Minnesota photographer/publisher Alec Soth and Darius Himes, a gallerist whose Radius Books publishes unusual photography creations.

Some in the audience wished the event would have featured much more of Soth and his fascinating photojournalistic work. He did discuss a current project, in which he and Brad Zellar are photographing election-eve everyday life in Michigan for his LBM Dispatch, which tries to quickly publish and distribute photo essays. (The work will then be displayed at Detroit’s Cranbrook Institute.)

But Himes did express admiration for the strangest Conceptualist book project I’ve heard of in a long time. That would be photographer Mishka Henner’s printed-on-demand Astronomical, twelve 506-page volumes representing, in total, a scale model of the solar system from the sun to Pluto. Many of the pages are blank, representing the great distances between planets in space. Himes did not say if you must order the whole set or just your favorite volume, but you can find out more at here.

I was able to spend some time last week with Barry Andersen, photography professor emeritus at Northern Kentucky University who has been a strong, forceful advocate for the importance of this form as both an artistic medium and a critical societal observer. His own show, the now-concluded Sky, Earth and Sea at Notre Dame Academy in Park Hills, served as a satisfying retrospective of thirty years of his work. Especially lovely were his gorgeous aerial-shot” Cloudscapes,” vivid inkjet prints from negative scans.

And as a curator, he put together a superb, sadly also now-concluded, show at NKU called Reporting Back, which surveyed the work of 14 documentary photographers whose thematic interests covered the globe. Each one’s work was presented as a series of photographs, a thematically related suite, to remind us of the journalistic impact of the photo essay. Ashley Gilbertson’s quietly moving “Bedrooms of the Fallen” visited the bedrooms of soldiers slain in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their solemnity was balanced by Jim Dow’s colorful portraits of idiosyncratically appealing, retro-Americana buildings. You can learn more about the show — and be introduced to some fine photographers — here.

FotoFocus has the potential to shine a lens on fine Cincinnati photographers of the past whose reputations could use a revival. One of the best shows to achieve that goal this year was Cincinnati Museum Center’s Photographic Legacy of Paul Briol: 1909-1955, which closes Thursday. Briol’s black-and-white images of the rhythms and architecture of Cincinnati life have a dreamy beauty, partly because he was not adverse to stripping in more dramatic skies and otherwise heightening an image’s dramatic effect.

The populism and humanism in his work are evident — Lewis Hine perhaps was an inspiration. An elderly African-American couple sits while the woman peels a potato; children in what seems to be an aged urban schoolroom pose with their stuffed animals. Those, along with images of the skyline, a roller coaster, Fountain Square, the riverfront, Rabbit Hash, Ky.’s general store, give life to that era’s Cincinnati.

Actually, the photo of his that moved me the most was in a different show, the concluded Images of the Great Depression: A Documentary Portrait of Ohio. It was by far the best thing in that exhibit. His contribution, an extraordinarily composed photo from 1935 called “Waiting for Work,” shows the looming shadows of men against a room’s wall. A sign reads, “Dirty Men Will Not Be Sent Out.” Briol may have arranged this image rather than just observed and captured it, but no matter. It magnificently speaks to the despair and denigration that the Depression brought.

One hopes 2014’s FotoFocus will find room to spotlight a few other Cincinnati photographers of the past who could use rediscovery — perhaps Nelson Ronsheim or George Rosenthal. Or, if you have ideas, send them along to me at srosen@citybeat.com. In the Nov. 14 Big Picture column in CityBeat, I’ll address some suggestions for how we can keep the momentum going now that the interest level for photography has been raised.

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<![CDATA[Finding the FotoFocus Art that Transcends Categories]]> After the second full week of FotoFocus, I’ve begun to realize that there are way more shows and events out there than one person can get to. (Or, if you do get to them all, to remember what you’ve seen.) It’s also clear that you can begin to roughly pair into categories the kinds of shows that are out there — art photography and photojournalism, still photography and video, portraiture and everything else, contemporary work and vintage (or historic).

And then there are those that touch numerous bases — either because that’s what the artists intended or because time has changed the meaning or our appreciation of the work. In the former category, and so far the work that towers over everything else I’ve seen, is Doug and Mike Starn’s Gravity of Light in the decommissioned Holy Cross Church at Mount Adams Monastery. This installation prominently uses photographs without letting them define what its purpose or meaning is about. I’ve written about it previously and may do so again, so powerful is it. It’s up through year’s end, and I hope everyone realizes how important an artwork it is and goes to see it. Go here for details.

But two other very different exhibits deserve mention in this regard, too. On the second floor of the Emery Theatre, through the end of the month, is an exhibit of estate-authorized prints — from the original glass-plate negatives — of the mysterious Mike Disfarmer’s Depression-era portraits of residents of the small Arkansas town of Heber Springs. Here is work that, whatever its original intention, contemporary thought has turned into art photography.

It can be discussed and debated whether Disfarmer, who died in 1959) was engaged in what he thought was a commercial venture or whether he was after something else… his own quest for an artful statement. But the work today is important as something other than straight photo-documentation, though it is that. The photographs are haunting missives from the place Greil Marcus called “the old, weird America” — a spiritual zone, a cosmic baptismal font, from where much of our contemporary culture can trace its origins.

Disfarmer was born Mike Meyers, but seems to have chosen “disfarmer” as a statement that he didn’t want to fit into the agricultural lifestyle of his hometown. He taught himself photography and built a studio, first on his mother’s back porch and then in the heart of town. According to the Disfarmer website, he obsessed over getting the right light — one wonders what his subjects, for whom time was money, thought as the minutes ticked on.

But they came, sometimes dressed in their best and sometimes dressed in the best they had. What resulted — and we are fortunate his work has been preserved, which itself was a struggle — is a different take on Depression Era poverty than the federal Farm Security Administration photos. Taken by outsiders, those placed — with warmth and humanity — their subjects in their surrounding hardscrabble environment. They have a sociological dimension.

But these remove their subjects from their environment and seem psychological. In a photograph like “First Born,” you have to wonder if Disfarmer ever told his subjects to say “cheese.” The young father, dressed up nicely and wearing a hat, has a proud but slightly furtive gaze that renders his emotions somewhat inscrutable. He sits, holding a child whose face is almost pouting and whose staring eyes are disturbing. The two look apprehensive, either about the photograph or about what life has in store for them. If Disfarmer was after that effect, maybe he was some kind of prophet.

By the way, I’m not sure how many people know this exhibit is here. FotoFocus literature didn’t list it as an ongoing show, but rather a part of a one-day event – last week’s Emery concert by guitarist Bill Frisell/858 Quartet of his composition Musical Portraits from Heber Springs. But the Emery is keeping it up through the month. To see it, e-mail info@emerytheatre.com with your phone number and times you’re available, or call 513-262-8242.

Another show that crosses boundaries in interesting ways is Santeri Tuori’s The Forest project at University of Cincinnati’s Phillip M. Meyers Jr. Memorial Gallery (for hours, go here). Tuori is from Finland — a welcome international addition to FotoFocus — and this show was curated by Judith Turner-Yamamoto, a FotoFocus staffer, with assistance from the Finnish consulate.

The artist spent five years observing — in film and still photographs — the effect of light, seasonal change and weather on a remote, pristine, Finnish island. In “Forest (Tree and Pond),” his work is condensed via editing into a relatively tight time span and projected onto a gray-painted section of a gallery wall. While it looks like we are a watching a specific spot on the island change over the seasons, I’m told it’s a composite. (I find that remarkable.) Tuori has created this slightly wavering mirage of an image to show how art can turn what we think of as mundane into something momentous. He has photographed elusive “change.”

I appreciate the thoughtfulness and hard work of this effort — which is accompanied by a soundscape by Mikko Hynninen — but did find the slight blurriness of the piece distracting. I preferred the three smaller-scale pieces in the gallery’s other room. Here, video images of trees are projected onto, and over, black-and-white photographs of similar trees, providing a three-dimensional effect — a ghostly sense of movement. That happens even though, unlike “Tree and Pond,” these works are not out to simulate an evolving time span.

Photography, like all art, isn’t meant to stand still. Tuori is at the forefront of finding new ways to show that.


Watch for Contributing Visual Art Editor Steven Rosen’s FotoFocus blog postings all month. Contact him at srosen@citybeat.com.

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<![CDATA[Be a Part of Shepard Fairey's Public Muralworks ]]>

The Contemporary Arts Center is looking for sites that want to be turned into public works of art in conjunction with the Shepard Fairey: Supply and Demand exhibit.

The artworks will be pasted paper projects applied with wheat paste. They are not permanent, but some have been known to be long lasting. By submitting your site for consideration, you're giving your permission for this piece of art to be visible for an unspecified amount of time.

If you want your business or house or brick wall to be transformed into a mural by Fairey, submit the following information to jarmor@contemporaryartscenter.org to be considered:

1. Image of the Structure (aka your wall, building and so on)

2. The address of the site

3. The approximate dimensions of the site

4. The name of the site owner

5. The contact information of the owner (phone number/e-mail address)

Submitting doesn't mean you'll be chosen.

Learn more about the Supply and Demand exhibit at the CAC here. View an example of a mural from Pittsburgh in conjunction with Shepard Fairey: Supply and Demand at the Warhol Museum here



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<![CDATA[Free Halloween Yard Haunts]]>

Even cheap bastards like you deserve a good scare. Here are a few homebrew haunts we found out about. They’re all free, so check ’em out and enjoy.

Niagra Haunt
16 rooms, a tunnel, cabin and chainsaw killers.
Dusk to 9 p.m. Halloween.
2759 Niagra St., Northgate
Google Map

Terror on Timberlake
An extensive home haunt with a children's area.
7-10 p.m. Halloween.
300 Timberlake Ave., Erlanger, www.wescareyou.com
Google Map

Walker Cemetery Yard Haunt
Free yard haunt courtesy of Damien Reaper’s dad, Grey Ghost. (Damien Reaper is a character at the Dent Schoolhouse.)
5-9 p.m. Halloween.
5142 State Route 128, Cleves, 513-353-2556
Google Map

If you want the real haunted house scare, peruse CityBeat's reviews of 17 area attractions here.

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<![CDATA[Stage Door: Laramie Project Revisited]]> There’s a lot of good theater available this weekend — Equus at New Edgecliff, Victoria Musica at the Cincinnati Playhouse, Dead Man’s Cell Phone at ETC and The Lion in Winter at Cincinnati Shakespeare (in its final weekend) are all productions worth seeing — but I want to draw your attention to one day beyond the weekend for a rare Monday evening theater event marking the sad anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard. 

If you care about the issues surrounding his brutal murder in Laramie, Wyo., in 1998, you should make a reservation at Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati (ETC) for a one-evening of The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later.---

First, some background. In November 1998, 10 members of the Tectonic Theater Project, including playwright Moisés Kaufman, traveled to Laramie to interview residents about Shepard’s brutal murder a month earlier — he was savagely beaten, tied to a fence and left to die. (Although he was found alive, he died from his injuries on Oct. 12, 1998.) The resulting play, The Laramie Project, brought attention to issues of gay rights and hate crimes. It's been performed hundreds of times across the U.S. and around the world; a film of it was made for and aired on HBO. The creators of the play estimate that it's been witnessed by more than 50 million people.

Kaufman and his colleagues returned to Laramie a year ago to explore the residual effects of Shepard’s death. According to an interview in The New York Times, Kaufman said, “We wanted to see what occurs in a small town in the long run when it’s been subjected to such a devastating event. What has been the long-lasting effect of this watershed moment? Is the fallout of these events positive, negative or, perhaps a better question: Is it measurable in those terms?”

New interviews where conducted with Shepard’s mother Judy and one of the convicted murderers, Aaron McKinney. Many others whose comments appeared in the original piece were engaged in new conversations. These have been assembled into The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later, a 90-minute epilogue to the earlier work.

On Monday evening, the work will be presented in readings at more than 120 theaters across the nation. The most prominent local site will be ETC, which recently staged Kaufman’s powerful play, 33 Variations, to open its 2009-10 season. Kaufman’s Tectonic company will present its own reading at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall in New York City, an event that will be video-linked to other sites where readings are happening. The ETC reading is free and open to the public, but reservations (513-421-3555) are required for the general admission seating. Patrons will be invited to donate to The Matthew Shepard Foundation the evening of the performance.

(Another reading will happen at Miami University featuring university students, local community members, students from Talawanda High School and others. Tickets are $7-$14 and can be reserved at 513-529-3200.)

Immediately after the cross-country reading, attendees can participate in a talkback featuring a panel that includes creators, cast members and other key individuals. The talkback will be provided via a special satellite hookup from New York City; questions can be submitted via Twitter.

In tandem with the reading, an online interactive community has been launched through which participants can blog, upload video and photos and share their stories about the play, experiences in preparing and presenting the epilogue locally.

This is a marvelous example of how theater can create and sustain dialogue on an important issue. I urge you to consider attending.


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<![CDATA[Student Murals Brighten Stores]]>

Students at the Cincinnati Arts & Technology Center (CATC) had a productive summer of paint-slinging as they created a mural of local scenes for display at the bigg’s store in Florence, Ky. The mural is the 10th in a series of 11 murals being painted by the students for the supermarket chain in the Tristate area under the guidance of CATC instructor Mike McGuire.---

Begun in 2007, the mural collaboration between bigg’s and CATC is one of the center’s initiatives, in affiliation with Cincinnati Public Schools, that uses the arts to motivate at-risk 11th- and 12th-graders to stay in school, graduate and advance to higher learning. The center’s classes resume Sept. 14.

In the photo, McGuire works with CATC students DeMarco Siler of Price Hill and Ta’Eisha Heath of Avondale. Both Siler and Heath are entering the 12th grade.

Other students who participated in the mural program include Antoine Trammel of Evanston, a recent graduate, and Kiyah Brown of Golf Manor, another recent grad who is starting classes this fall at Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio.


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<![CDATA[Stimulus Funding for the Arts?]]>

Are the arts a worthwhile investment for our government? Should the creation of jobs in the arts be just as important as construction and Wall Street jobs?

Chris Jones, theater critic of the Chicago Tribune, recently wrote an impassioned essay arguing that the arts should be included in the current stimulus package being debated to death in D.C.---

Jones makes the case that cities like New York and Chicago vitally depend on culture to attract tourists (and that cities like Cleveland need the arts just to get anybody to come). Given the economic impact of cultural events (taking into account hotel, restaurant, bar and other services), it's a pretty thought-provoking piece that makes me wonder why the city of Cincinnati hasn't invested more in the arts here at home.

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<![CDATA[Get Your Pride On]]>

The 2009 Pride Parade - for the uninitiated this is Cincinnati’s gay pride parade – is up to its annual shenanigans and the planning has commenced.--- If you enjoy the fun, frivolity and festivities of this unique event, then why not lend a hand?

Volunteers are “the lifeblood” of the June event, according to Michael Chanak, bringing fresh ideas and enthusiasm for creating an important celebration. This year’s event will be June 13 – 14 starting in Burnet Woods in Clifton and wraps up at Hoffner Park, Northside.

The next meeting is Feb. 24, 7 p.m. at New Spirit MCC (4033 Hamilton Ave in Northside).

Have questions? Call 513-591-0200.

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<![CDATA[That's One Expensive Elevator]]>

The new elevator for the Clifton Cultural Arts Center (CCAC) and it’s only going to cost $1.5 million. OK, not really – the entire first phase of renovations to the old Clifton School that are needed to make the facility handicap accessible – which includes an elevator – also include a fire protection system and a secured lobby entrance.

Those busy arts volunteers and staff have been hard at work coming up with the cash needed. A $250,000 grant from the City of Cincinnati and $250,000 from the State of Ohio combine with a “$1 million leadership gift” round out the total.

“These remarkable investments - from an anonymous donor and from the City's 2009 Capital Budget - combine with to allow us to move forward with renovations,” says a press release from the CCAC.

The renovations will make it possible to use the auditorium, music rooms and other classrooms on the third floor of the building.

"We are deeply grateful to this anonymous donor, the City of Cincinnati and the State of Ohio for investing in the preservation of the Clifton School as an asset that will serve the entire community through arts and cultural programming," says Cindy Herrick, Board President of CCAC.

"Particularly in this challenging economic climate, the leadership and commitment of these funders are truly incredible, and will provide invaluable momentum to move this ambitious project forward."

The goal is to begin construction in fall 2009 with a completion target of June 2010. Sadly, the money is for renovations only. Operating expenses for the facility that was built in 1909 and covers things like heat, lights and water still depends on donors like you – so give early and give often.

Better yet, take a class!

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