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Soapblog 2: Why neighborhood art centers?

You may have noticed that there is a movement afoot around the Queen City. Neighborhood and regional arts centers are springing up, from Kennedy Heights to Madisonville, and from Mariemont to Evanston. Across the city, and around the region, communities are pulling together to create arts centers to serve and invigorate the surrounding communities, and to bring art and arts experiences to folks in accessible, meaningful ways. CCAC is proud to be anchored in the Uptown communities and to be a part of this exciting trend.

And I think this trend is really exciting for Cincinnati, especially as the city seeks to position itself as an innovative leader that will attract and retain talent and be a great place to live, work and play. But I do get asked by a lot of folks, what’s up with all the neighborhood and regional arts centers? So I think it’s worth articulating the top three things that these centers do for Cincinnati and our region.

First, they are unique. As Cincinnati aims to set itself apart from other cities, it's interesting to note that Seattle neighborhoods aren't developing parallel centers. Many cities would count themselves lucky to be home to just one or two centers -  our area is lucky to have many more. And each center creates a nexus of energy, community connection, and economic development for the community where it is located, which supports everyone’s goal of keeping Cincinnati's treasured neighborhoods vibrant.

Second, arts centers strengthen established arts institutions in our city, by building audiences for arts experiences, and providing venues and vehicles for folks to connect with arts and arts institutions in new ways. At CCAC, we've been proud to host programming by the Cincinnati Art Museum, the Art Academy, Playhouse in the Park, CCM, and Cincinnati Shakespeare, as well as a whole range of individual artists. We all win when there are new, accessible ways for the community to connect with the great art and great organizations.

Finally, arts centers meet important needs in our community. While it's true that we have a rich heritage of established arts organizations, we actually are behind the curve in organizations like arts centers. In the Cultural Vitality in Communities study conducted by The Urban Institute and published in November 2006, Cincinnati ranked near the bottom, at 46th of 50 metropolitan areas studied in the category of arts establishments. This indicator measures the impact of establishments or venues that foster a wide range of cultural participation - active/passive, amateur/professional, and formal/informal. Neighborhood and regional arts centers will serve as exactly this type of arts establishment, fostering broad participation in the arts, building audiences for other arts organizations, and helping to fill the gap in arts establishments where Cincinnati ranked so poorly.

And while it's true that we have an amazing diversity of great arts organizations, we're also behind the curve in connecting kids to arts opportunities. In the report, Youth Speak: How Young People in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky View Life in their Community, the local Asset Builders Alliance revealed the results of a November, 2007 survey of 6,300 seventh and eleventh graders in our region. Dramatically, only 18% of youth report participating in "Creative Activities," less than half the amount that reported participation in any other asset, while nearly half (46%) report two hours every school day alone at home. This demonstrates the striking need for constructive creative opportunities that are accessible to a wide range of kids, which is precisely the type of opportunities that neighborhood and regional arts centers excel in providing.

As a relative newcomer to the region, I think Cincinnati is so lucky to have this movement of new neighborhood and regional arts centers gaining momentum here. And I think this movement will be a critical part of establishing Cincinnati as a place folks are excited to live, work, and even (yes!) relocate.

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