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The Art of Food ignites nuclear-themed food and art


French chocolatier Shalini Latour, founder of Chocolats Latour and co-owner of Northside’s sweet shop The Chocolate Bee, faced a conundrum when she learned of the theme of The Carnegie’s upcoming event, The Art of Food.
 
“This year’s theme is the '50s, the atomic age,” Latour says. “Thinking about TV dinners, The Joy of Cooking — it was actually a hard theme for me because this is contrary to what I usually do.”
 
Latour has been in the chocolate business for seven years, and in that time, she’s been recognized for her commitment to locally sourced, fresh, natural ingredients. Her interpretation of 1950s cuisine was that everything was mechanized for ease and convenience, which is in complete contrast to her general culinary outlook and handmade chocolates. So, she partnered with Kate Cook, garden manager of Carriage House Farm, to accept the challenge posed by The Carnegie.
 
“The two of us sat down and brainstormed,” Latour says. “We’re going to be making Atomic Truffles, which will be real spicy, made with scorpion peppers Kate grew.” The truffles will be molded in the shape of atomic bombs. Latour is also planning to use unusual ingredients to make a chocolate that she might name "Radioactive Sludge."

The 11th annual Art of Food event will feature a total of 20 local chefs creating dishes around the 1950s theme, and guests will enjoy art exhibitions and performances that will bring the '50s to life. This is the second year that The Art of Food will be stretched over two nights, with the first night reserved for an intimate-style dinner. (Space is limited and reservations are required.)
 
"One reason I really like this event is because every year there is a different theme and it pushes us to try new things maybe I wouldn’t think of otherwise," Latour says.  “People are there to enjoy themselves and eat good food, so people are laughing and joking and enjoying music. It’s just a big party.”
 
The Art of Food takes place 6-9 p.m. on Feb. 23 and 24. Tickets for Thursday night are $100 ($75 for members); Friday night tickets are $50 ($35 for members). Tickets are available through The Carnegie's box office, open noon-5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, by phone at 859-957-1940 or online.
 

25th annual Ohio Sacred Harp convention keeps folk tradition alive


On March 4 and 5, more than 100 regional and international "shape-note” singers will come together for the 25th annual Ohio Sacred Harp Singing Convention. Shape-note singing is a folk tradition first popularized in the late 19th century in the United States.

Shape-note singing uses four notes on a sheet of music, as opposed to the seven-note scale most commonly taught.

At the Ohio Convention, which takes place in Cincinnati every three years, participants will sing from the Sacred Harp songbook. Sacred Harp is a term that refers to the human voice, and the Sacred Harp hymnal book was first published in 1844. At the time, it was one of hundreds of hymnal collections written in shape-note notation.

Historically, groups of singers would gather for marathon all-day singing sessions at public conventions. These events were not performances or religious services, but were seen as inclusive, collective spiritual experiences. This folk tradition continues today, and the Sacred Harp is still the most enduring and widely-used shape-note songbook.

According to convention planner and founding member John Bealle the convention is nondenominational and inclusive to all.

“Some are devout Christians, and others are not — it’s really a personal thing,” Bealle says. The unique sounds of sacred harp singing are influenced by colonial era fugues, baroque composers and sometimes feature four-part, cascading harmonies. The songs touch on themes of praise and the shared experience of death.

“It’s a real physical experience, putting every bit of physical energy into music,” Bealle says. "We’ve even broken windows sometimes because the singing is so loud.”

Convention attendees do not come to watch a performance by professional singers. Rather, everyone in attendance participates in the a capella chorus.

According to the Sacred Harp Musical Heritage Association, sacred harp singing is “a living, breathing, ongoing practice passed directly to us by generations of singers, many gone on before and many still living.”

Bealle says that the convention is the perfect time to experience sacred harp singing for those unfamiliar with it. “The best singers are going to come to this,” he says.

The event is free, open to the general public and will take place at First Lutheran Church on Race Street in Over-the-Rhine. All ages are welcome to attend. The event runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, March 4 and 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday, March 5. For more information, visit the website.
 

Father and son team up to bring their brand of distilled spirits to Over-the-Rhine


In German, “stadt” means “city.” But for Mike and John Funcheon, that word means the start of a new business venture. The father-son team plans to open Stadt Distillery in Over-the-Rhine this summer.
 
“We want to bring something that’s not quite ‘here’ yet,” John says. “Craft distilling is a new trend, and we want to see more craft distilleries coming to OTR. It’s the scene for distillers, and will add another facet to the neighborhood.”
 
As a former tour guide for American Legacy Tours, John is familiar with OTR's history, and says that he pursues his own personal education in things that interest him.
 
Craft distilling is no different.
 
Seventeen years ago, Mike and John brewed their first batch of beer together, when John was just 11 years old. About 10 years ago, they had their first taste of moonshine, which sparked an interest in craft distilling and has lead them to open their own craft distillery.
 
Until September, the Funcheons were only planning to open a production facility, but a new Ohio law was passed that now allows distilleries to function like breweries and wineries. Plans have changed, but that’s not a bad thing, John says.
 
“Starting this business has been one of the most exciting things we’ve ever done, and I can’t imagine doing it with anyone but my father,” he says. “We’ve both realized we couldn’t do it without each other.”
 
John will be Stadt’s master distiller, and Mike will focus on the business side of things. They want to keep each side of the business separate in order to do the best they can in every facet of the distillery.
 
Since John has worked most of his adult life in the tourism industry, he wants to incorporate tourism into Stadt in some way. He plans to give tours of the distillery and tell customers about his family’s history and the distilling process.
 
“Distilling can be kind of intimidating, but since my background is in storytelling, I want to make distilled spirits as approachable as possible and get people involved,” John says.
 
Although Stadt’s exact location and design plans are still undecided, the Funcheons have a huge lead time because they already have their stills, which were purchased from Kothe Distilling in Urlinger, Germany.
 
The space will have a contempor-rustic feel, and will be open and inviting. Customers will be able to see the production facility while enjoying a drink at the bar. By law, there has to be food in some way, and the Funcheons are planning something unique that speaks to craft distilling.
 
Stadt will have a full bar featuring its own distilled spirits — bourbon, gin, absinthe, vodka, bitters and moonshine — and bottles will be available for purchase. The Funcheons are also going to distribute their products, starting in Ohio, then Kentucky and Indiana, and growing from there.
 
If you’re interested in learning more about Stadt, email mikef@stadtdistillery.com.
 

Upcoming event series at Know Theatre to focus on active citizenship


For an upcoming three-night event, Know Theatre is encouraging area residents to be more active citizens.

The theater company is known for showcasing “unexpected voices, new works and plays that embrace the inherent theatricality of the live experience." Democracy in Action is a three-part event series that addresses how to be a more active citizen in local government issues via political, humanitarian and artistic means.

According to Alice Flanders, the managing director for Know Theatre, the idea to create the series stemmed from the 2016 presidential election.

“The results were not what we expected, nor what we desired, but they incited us to action,” Flanders says. “Maggie (education director for Know Theatre) and I both have scheduled weekly calls to those in power to voice our minds and to make sure our opinions are heard by our elected representatives.”

Once word spread about the plan they were developing, more people wanted to get involved. “A friend of ours suggested a sort of ‘citizen training’ evening where we taught people what we knew about affecting change on a local level,” Flanders says.

The first event, “Getting Involved in Local Government,” will be held on Jan. 31 and invites local politicians and representatives to help answer questions about how to get involved. The panel, including Aftab Pureval, Tamaya Dennard, Chris Seelbach and others will answer questions about what local government can do and how getting involved on a local level can affect change nationally as well.

Tuesday's event will be hel at Greaves Hall at Northern Kentucky University, which is located within the university's Fine Arts Center. NKU's campus is located at 100 Louie B. Nunn Dr., Newport, 41099.

The second event, “Arts and Politics: A Group Discussion,” will be held on Feb. 7 as more of a group discussion that will center around how the arts and culture community can use their professional skills and talents in the current political climate.

“We're very committed to this being open to all art forms, not just theater,” Flanders says. “We want to know how writers are combating the attacks on civil rights, we want to know how crafters are using their embroidery and knitting to fight for equality, we want to know how performance artists are campaigning for our natural resources.”

The third event, “Bystander Training,” will be held on Feb. 21 to teach people how to react when faced with an altercation, from being a simple witness and calling for help to standing in solidarity for what you believe in. This could be groundbreaking, as many people are concerned about raising their opinions about local and national issues due to fear of controversy.

“The Know has always been a place that has striven for equal representation, and we believe a program like this falls well within our mission statement to give a stage to voices that are traditionally underrepresented," Flanders says.

Know Theatre, a contemporary black-box theater, is located on Jackson Street in Over-The-Rhine. For more information on the event series, visit the Facebook event page or the Know Theatre website.
 

Another restaurant concept coming to Pendleton neighborhood this summer


This summer, a new restaurant concept is joining the 1200 block of West Broadway in Pendleton. Boomtown Biscuit Bar, which is slated to open in June, will specialize in traditional American fare that was favored by pioneer settlers.

Boomtown’s menu was designed by head chef Christian Gill, formerly of the Terrace Cafe at Cincinnati Art Museum.

“The story we’re trying to tell through food and beverage is the life of prospectors,” says owner PJ Neumann. “From waking up at a campground at the base of the mountain, making a breakfast in cast iron, and going up the mountain and coming back to pass the whiskey around.”

Neumann says Boomtown will be a biscuit bar by day and whiskey bar by night, with an extensive whiskey selection and specialty cocktail list. The menu is still being tweaked, but is so far slated to include Pick & Shovel (fork and knife) biscuit sandwiches, Prospector plates (entrées) and Sweet Fixins (pastries and desserts), as well as a selection of Sundries (sides).

The menu will also provide alternative options for people with dietary restrictions, including a gluten-free griddle cake that can be subbed for a biscuit, and a mushroom and truffle gravy for vegetarians.

“No one will categorize us as health food,” Neumann jokes of the comfort food menu, “but we are hyper-focused on food quality.” He says that the restaurant will develop purveyor partnerships with distributorships to source local ingredients such as micro-greens, lards for biscuits and other key ingredients.

Neumann, a 17-year food-and-beverage industry veteran, says that he’s been wanting to open a biscuit restaurant for years and has been on the hunt for the perfect property. He formerly worked at the nearby Nation Kitchen + Bar, which opened in Pendleton in 2015. That location is what inspired him to look at properties in the neighborhood.

“I’m really excited to be a part of the neighborhood," he says. "There are so many talented people there."

The restaurant is part of the Broadway Square project being developed by Model Group at the corner of East 12th and Broadway streets. The restaurant will occupy a 1,400-square-foot space, with seating capacity for about 70 patrons. It will open at 7 a.m., offering breakfast, lunch and dinner six days a week.

For updates on the project and its official launch date, keep an eye on its website, or follow @boomtownbiscuitbar on Instagram and Twitter.
 

Nine local nonprofits and individuals receive funding from NEA for creative projects


For its first round of grant funding in 2017, the National Endowment for the Arts doled out more than $300 million to nonprofits and individuals in 48 states, Washington, D.C. and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
 
This year’s grants cross all artistic disciplines, and fall into one of the four grant categories: Art Works, Art Works: Creativity Connects, Challenge America and Creative Writing Fellowships.
 
Nine local organizations and one individual received a total of $180,000 in this round of funding.
 
Center for Great Neighborhoods
The Center received $20,000 in funding, which will be used for the design and art commissions for the lobby at the new Hellmann Creative Center. The goal is to turn the lobby into a work of art; additional funds will be used for collaborative art pieces, open workshops and artist or resident-led classes.

Cincinnati Ballet
Hip-hop choreographer Jennifer Archibald, as part of the Kaplan New Works Series, will use the Ballet's $20,000 grant to help support the creation of a new piece. New Works is an all-female choreographic production that will explore poverty, hope, finding beauty in surprising places and shared connections between choreographer and artist. Performances will be held at the Aronoff Center for the Arts later in the year.
 
Cincinnati Opera
The $20,000 NEA grant will support the Opera's performance of “The Magic Flute” by Mozart. Music will come to life through larger-than-life animation and visual storytelling, and concerts will combine film, performance and music to give the traditional piece a fresh and unique look. Up to three performances will take place at the Aronoff this summer.
 
Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park
The $10,000 grant will go toward the premiere of “All the Roads Home” by Jen Silverman. The production will feature three generations of women and the legacies they inherit, which aligns with the Playhouse’s mission to produce new work to help support the evolution of the American theater canon, as well as its continued commitment to celebrating women’s stories and the issues they deal with. Performances will be held at the Shelterhouse Theatre this spring.
 
Cincinnati Shakespeare Company
The $10,000 in grant funds will be used for PROJECT38, an arts and education initiative. Throughout the year, students will explore Shakespeare’s canon, and students from local schools will work with Cincinnati Shakespeare’s Resident Ensemble of teaching artists to co-create 38 interpretations — dramatic, musical, visual and dance — of his 38 plays. The project will culminate in a weekend festival where students will come together to share what they’ve created with family, friends and the community.
 
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra
The $40,000 NEA grant will support the CSO's Classical Roots concert, which will feature guest artists and the Classical Roots Community Mass Choir. The concert will be held at Crossroads Church, and will serve as a community-wide celebration of African-American musical heritage.
 
Contemporary Arts Center
The CAC received $25,000, which will be used for Ugo Rondinone's “Vocabulary of Solitude” series — an immersive experience that will combine a variety of materials and objects, gallery architecture and visitors as collaborators. The installation will feature a neon rainbow, colored gels on windows, floating mandalas, paintings, painted windows, life-sized clown sculptures and public programming that will be developed in partnership with a variety of community organizations. There are plans for the piece to be recreated in several other venues.
 
Contemporary Dance Theater
The $10,000 grant will be used to support the presentation of CDT’s 44th and 45th Guest Artist Series. In addition to performances, artists will share a variety of activities with the community, such as classes, lectures, workshops and receptions. Performances will be at the Aronoff in partnership with the Cincinnati Arts Association.
 
Corey Van Landingham received $25,000 for a creative writing fellowship.
 

Fab Ferments expands operations to include a taproom in Lockland


Since 2008, Jordan Aversman and Jennifer De Marco have been serving up traditionally prepared fermented foods with their company Fab Ferments. Over the past eight years, the duo has been hard at work building their “revolution for real food,” as De Marco refers to their company’s vision.

While they started with sauerkraut, they have since expanded their business to offer a full range of raw cultured veggies, hot sauce, a tonic drink called beet kvas and fermented tea, or kombucha.

In December, Fab Ferments opened a kombucha taproom at their Lockland production facility, which is in the same complex as Rivertown Brewery & Barrel House and La Terza Artisan Coffee Roasterie.

“We knew we always wanted to have a taproom,” De Marco explained. “We’ve been waiting for more and more people to find out what kombucha is. We’ve been doing basic education — what does it taste like, why is it good for you?”

For the uninitiated, kombucha is a beverage made of black or green tea brewed with a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast, also known as a SCOBY. It’s tangy, slightly sweet, carbonated and often features additional flavorings. Because it is naturally fermented using traditional techniques, some alcohol is present in the finished drink, but it is typically no more than 1 percent alcohol by volume. Proponents regard it as an overall health tonic.  

Fab Ferments' taproom offers a line of 12 kombucha flavors on tap, including rotating seasonal flavors like pumpkin pie and wild-harvested persimmon vanilla. Many of Fab Ferments' kombuchas, which are also available in bottles, incorporate fresh juices like the Perky Pink Grapefruit or the Go Go Ginger.

“We don’t use natural flavorings — if you’re going to buy something from us, it is fresh juice and ingredients, so you can enjoy all the benefits that come from those flavorings as well,” De Marco said.

She expressed excitement about bringing “high-quality, nutrient-dense foods” to the larger community through the opening of the new taproom.

To start, the Fab Ferments taproom will be open from 4 to 7 p.m. Monday-Friday, with future weekend hours planned. Prices run $4 for a pint, $7 for a 32 oz. growler fill and $13 for a 64 oz. fill. Flights are also available. Patrons are encouraged to bring their own growler or purchase one at the taproom.

De Marco encourages patrons to stop by to try an authentic glass of kombucha or to purchase a gift certificate to give for the holidays or any occasion. To stay up-to-date on all things Fab Ferments, visit their website or follow them on Facebook.
 

Findlay Market plans City Kitchen pilot program for new year


In January, Findlay Market plans to launch City Kitchen, an eight-week workforce development program that will partly be managed by CityLink Center, the nonprofit’s partner in this new venture. The program will run from Jan. 16-March 11.
 
“There’s a great food scene here, but the barrier is the availability and reliability of a skilled workforce,” said Joe Hansbauer, executive director for the Corporation for Findlay Market.
 
Although Greater Cincinnati has a higher unemployment rate, there are restaurant jobs just waiting to be filled. The workforce doesn’t have the skills needed, so City Kitchen will help workers develop those skills.
 
City Kitchen’s first cohort will include 12 people that will spend one month learning soft skills and hard skills in a low-pressure environment. The second month of the program will continue the hard skills training and will culminate in running a pop-up restaurant at Findlay Kitchen each week.
 
Students will learn knife skills, kitchen vocabulary and math, as well as all the skills needed to run and work at a restaurant.
 
Findlay Market will manage the hard skills and restaurant portion of the program, and CityLink will manage and operate the soft skills and wrap-around services.
 
City Kitchen is modeled after similar restaurants and programs across the country, including Fare Start in Seattle, Café Reconcile in New Orleans and Edwin’s in Cleveland. Hansbauer says the goal is not to compete with programs like it in Cincinnati, such as Cincinnati COOKS! and Venice on Vine, but to complement them.
 
For example, students from Cincinnati Cooks could graduate from that program and come to City Kitchen to learn more about the restaurant side of the food world.
 
When the pop-up restaurant goes live, seatings will be held for four weeks in February and March on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, with two seatings each night. You can purchase a seat for $45, a table for $250, a seating for $1,500 or an entire evening for $3,000.
 
The menu will be unique, with three courses and two options per course. Wine pairings will be available each week for an additional cost per person and can be purchased on site. There will also be a cash bar with local beer and wine by the glass.
 
“The goal is to learn as much as possible by leveraging the program and physical assets of CityLink and Findlay Kitchen,” Hansbauer said. “We want to ensure we can deliver on the promise and execute a great culinary and service experience. If we’re able to accomplish this, the next steps would be to ensure that we can operate in a sustainable and profitable way that serves the needs of Findlay Market and the community we are looking to assist.”
 
Sponsorship levels are available for City Kitchen. Please contact Hansbauer at jhansbauer@findlaymarket.org for more information.
 

People's Liberty, Brick Gardens


According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a "food desert" is an area where substantial numbers of residents live in poverty and lack access to affordable, nutritious food. Under this federal definition, Cincinnati has several neighborhoods that qualify as food deserts, including Avondale, Bond Hill, Evanston, Northside and South Fairmount.

Domonique Peebles, a 2016 People's Liberty grantee, wanted to do something about it.
 
Peebles first had the idea to activate vacant spaces throughout the city by turning them into urban gardens, and then share the resulting produce with those in need of fresh food. As he began to research his concept, he realized there are already dozens of urban gardens throughout the city, and he didn't want to replicate existing efforts.

Not only that, but traditional gardening has its limitations: the growing season is limited, the weather is unpredictable and garden spaces are not universally accessible. That's when Peebles decided to address food access issues in Cincinnati in a cutting-edge way: vertical farming.
 
Peebles, a resident of Over-the-Rhine, envisioned vacant buildings in his neighborhood as possible locations for vertical farming set-ups.

"There are all kinds of benefits," Peebles said. "Activating empty space in the city, getting rid of blight, getting rid of run-down structures, physically growing food that can be distributed and teaching people how to grow food."
 
Peebles traveled to Detroit to learn from an urban gardener who was using an innovative vertical farming set-up to grow produce year-round. Peebles spent over a year researching methods of how to build vertical farm "stacks," as he refers to them, and he received a $10,000 People's Liberty grant for his project, Brick Gardens.
 
Though vertical farming may sound complex and expensive, the whole process from building the stack to harvesting the produce can be learned in less than an hour. A stack includes trays for the plants, a growing medium, a water reservoir and standard fluorescent lighting. Stacks can be assembled from commercially available components for under $200. Ongoing maintenance of the system is minimal, and it also recycles water, so it is inexpensive to maintain the growing plants.

"It's really hands-off once you get the initial planting done," Peebles said. "It's really just a daily maintenance check. It seems like it's very technical, but once you do it once, you can do it the rest of your life."

Peebles said that a single stack, of a size that could be maintained within one's own home, is able to produce about 56 heads of lettuce in 21 days.

"A person might grow that amount of lettuce on an acre of land, with two harvests per year," Peebles said. With vertical farming, a person could get about seven harvests every three months.
 
Peebles has a working model of a small stack that's suited for home production in his shop Featured, which is on Main Street in OTR. People interested in learning how to create a stack are welcome to reach out and arrange a time to view the model and ask questions.

Peebles has also partnered with the agriculture department at Cincinnati State and has two stacks growing there. With these stacks, Peebles is experimenting with growing different types of crops that are less commonly grown indoors on vertical farms, such as tomatoes. He also maintains six stacks at New Prospect Church in Roselawn.
 
Vertical farming is so much faster and more efficient than traditional methods that Peebles had his first Brick Gardens harvest less than a month after starting seeds.

"I had no idea I would be so successful," he said. "But my very first time was a 100 percent success rate on sprouting."

The stacks continue to flourish: "Once a week we've been going to all the sites and harvesting one to three pounds per site." Brick Gardens donates the harvested produce to community members in Roselawn, to students who help to grow the produce at Cincinnati State and to Gabriel's Place, a nonprofit in Avondale.
 
Peebles has high hopes for turning Brick Gardens into an ongoing enterprise.

"It's something that could be done in multiple neighborhoods," he said. "These could be put anywhere — elementary schools, hospitals, nursing homes."

There are pre-made vertical farming systems currently on the market, but Peebles wants to encourage people to consider going the DIY route. He says that the system he designed is about half the cost of pre-built systems.
 
Peebles ultimately hopes to continue partnering with schools, universities, local neighborhoods and even restaurants in need of access to fresh, local produce year-round.

"The thing with growing food is there's not really competition," he said. "There's always going to be a need for food production. People are always going to need to eat."
 
Those interested in learning more about Brick Gardens are encouraged to visit its website.
 
Twice per year, eight grantees are chosen per grant cycle to prototype solutions to civic challenges. Project grantees are supported with $10,000, a launch event and access to People’s Liberty’s workplace and mentorship.

 

People's Liberty project grantee, Your Productions


Robert Wilson, a 2016 People's Liberty project grantee, is also the owner of Sabercomm Productions, a company that handles video and media projects for local public access television, businesses and nonprofit organizations. He saw few  outlets for teen voices and decided to put his production expertise into creating youth media to affect social change.
 
As part of his People's Liberty project, Wilson developed a two-week summer camp called Your Productions to provide at-risk youth with the tools to share their voice through video production and audio public service announcements.

During the summer of 2016, a group of 11 teens from Avondale, ages 12-18, worked together to shoot, produce and edit four short public service announcements about topics that they felt were relevant to their communities.

"It was important to allow young people to talk about what affects them," Wilson said.

Ultimately, the teens selected four issues to focus on: immigration, health, litter and Black Lives Matter and the experiences of young African American women.
 
"They had a deep grasp of what they were facing in their community," Wilson said. "I was blown away by the amount of maturity that they held. So often we think that young people don't have that grasp, we don't even ask their opinions."
 
Wilson and fellow videographer and activist Lamonte Young facilitated the camp and provided technical instruction, but Wilson said that it was always intended to be a student-led effort.

"They vetted these things and worked through problems on their own," he explained. Wilson said that unlike other video camps, Your Productions did not provide a prompt or limitations on the topics they could explore. "A lot of people don't want to get into the hard subjects, so they give them something to do. It's not the freedom to create on their own."
 
Wilson has plans to offer another two-week camp in the coming year.

"We’re going to continue this program whether there is funding for it or not," he said. Ultimately, Wilson wants to use the success of Your Productions to develop it into a model for others who want to run similar programs. "We want to help other people empower young people. Our goal is to create a template with a syllabus so that other people can come to us from other cities, and we can hand it off."  
 
The PSAs from the Your Productions 2016 camp will be screened on local public access channels and can be viewed on Facebook and on the Your Productions website.
 
Twice per year, eight grantees are chosen per grant cycle to prototype solutions to civic challenges. Project grantees are supported with $10,000, a launch event and access to People’s Liberty’s workplace and mentorship. Stay tuned to Soapbox for profiles of this year's 15 other grantees.
 

People's Liberty project grantee, Neighborhood Playbook


Kevin Wright and Joe Nickol have years of development experience under their belts from their years with the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation and MKSK, respectively. They decided to take that knowledge and create the Neighborhood Playbook, a development tool for neighborhoods and cities, with funding help from People’s Liberty.

“We saw through our work a common theme that is working in neighborhoods,” Wright said. “We saw a connection that others weren’t seeing or being highlighted — using neighborhood activation efforts to spur economic development.”
 
According to Wright, a lot of work has been done around tactical urbanism, which is more about planning and not about developing. The pair saw two problems: that neighborhood residents tended to create a plan, get together and put dots on a map, but then the planning stopped. On the other hand, developers want to develop, but don’t know how or where to enter a market.
 
The Neighborhood Playbook is a way to solve both of those problems.
 
“It’s a way for developers to take a more proactive approach to entering markets, and a way for neighborhoods to take a more proactive approach to spur development,” Wright said.
 
Wright and Nickol wrote a PDF called “Five Ways to Activate Your Neighborhood This Weekend,” which got lots of downloads and attention. From there, they decided to apply for a $10,000 People’s Liberty grant.
 
With the grant, the pair created the two-sided Playbook — one side for neighborhoods and the other for developers. The project officially launched on Sept. 21, where 50 Playbooks were given away for free. They’re now available online for $20.
 
“It’s interesting to see who is buying them and where they’re from,” Wright said. “It was really exciting when we got our first buyer we didn’t know.”
 
Community development corporations, consulting firms, developers and individuals from all over the country have purchased Playbooks.
 
The city of Bellevue is currently beta testing the Playbook for its Old Kentucky Makers Market. Residents are activating an alley and parking lot next to a vacant building, and are trying to develop the area into something positive.
 
“We want to find ways for developers and community members to grow neighborhoods,” Wright said. “
Development shouldn’t happen to a place but with a place, and this is a tool to make that happen.”
 
Wright and Nickol are currently working on the digital side of the Playbook. When a Playbook is purchased, that person gets a password for the Resources portion of the website, which provides them access to other organizations, vendor forms, etc.
 
They are also planning to create a national map of people and organizations who are utilizing the Playbook, and possibly creating a second project out of that.

Twice per year, eight grantees are chosen per grant cycle to prototype solutions to civic challenges. Project grantees are supported with $10,000, a launch event and access to People’s Liberty’s workplace and mentorship. Stay tuned to Soapbox for profiles of this year's 15 other grantees.
 

People's Liberty funds Space Walk backyard solar system


Josiah Wolf is an unlikely astronomer. A musician who has spent most of his adult life touring, Wolf began to develop an obsession with learning about the solar system.

“I just had the urge to see the scale of the sun and Earth myself,” Wolf explained. A few years ago, he decided to fashion a scale diorama of the solar system from old fence posts and blacklight paint in his backyard. He taught himself interesting facts about space and began offering nighttime tours to friends and family.

Wolf’s friend, Ben Sloan, a People’s Liberty grantee, suggested he apply for a $10,000 grant from the organization to make his backyard model into a permanent installation. With the help of his wife Liz and their project partner, Matt Kotlarcyzk, Wolf applied for a grant and his backyard project became SPACEWALK.

After receiving funding, the trio began the 10-month design process to make SPACEWALK a reality. The design went through many stages but ultimately had to conform to certain restrictions. Wolf knew that he wanted the models to light up at night, which meant they needed to utilize solar panels so that the models could be freestanding and sustainable.

Solar panels must be placed at least 12 feet in the air in order to gather sufficient power, so the design had to incorporate poles to which the panels could be mounted.

After months of trial and error, Wolf settled on a shadowbox design for the models. The small plastic planets sit inside of a case with a hidden, recessed blacklight. The planets were painted by artist Steve Casino, who is known for his miniature paintings on peanuts. The models are a 3.5-billion-to-1 in scale.

Once the design process was completed, the team needed to determine where SPACEWALK would be installed.

“It was hard to find the perfect location,” Wolf said. Because the project is meant to be viewed at night, it was important to find a location with low lighting. It also needed to be a public place with foot traffic to ensure SPACEWALK would be enjoyed by as many passing science-lovers as possible.

After considering a variety of options, Wolf selected Salway Park, which runs along Mill Creek across from Spring Grove Cemetery. The installation spans three-quarters of a mile along the path.

The project has been up for two months and will continue to be freely available for viewing for the indefinite future. Wolf also offers private tours for those interested. To arrange a tour, e-mail SPACEWALK; to stay up-to-date on all things SPACEWALK, visit its website, Twitter or Instagram.

SPACEWALK is currently accepting donations to support the ongoing maintenance of the installation.

Twice per year, eight grantees are chosen per grant cycle to prototype solutions to civic challenges. Project grantees are supported with $10,000, a launch event and access to People’s Liberty’s workplace and mentorship. Stay tuned to Soapbox for profiles of this year's 15 other grantees.
 

People's Liberty, Let's Dance Academy


Kathye Lewis and Gregory Norman have a shared passion for ballroom dancing, which led them to cofound Let’s Dance Academy in November 2015. They received a $10,000 grant from People’s Liberty to make their dreams a reality.
 
When the pair started Let’s Dance, they focused on teaching fifth and sixth graders at South Avondale Elementary School how to ballroom dance.
 
“We wanted to bring culture to the kids at South Avondale, and show them a different way to dance,” Norman said. “We also wanted to help them understand the history around the dance and where it came from.”
 
Norman has been ballroom dancing for the past 10 years, and was taught by instructors in both Detroit and Los Angeles. He has also studied ballroom dancing on his own to learn the history, various styles and importance to the African American community on a national and international level.
 
Lewis doesn’t have an official background in ballroom dancing, but has been a dancer for her entire life. She’s taken classes and workshops, and has come to know a national community of ballroom dancers.
 
Over the past 10 years, Dancing with the Stars has brought more exposure to ballroom dancing. According to Norman, the ‘70s and ‘80s saw partner dances like the hustle, but the ‘90s and early ‘00s didn’t have a lot of partner dances. Now there is a renewed interested in ballroom dancing.
 
“The dominant driving force for us is to get young people into ballroom dancing so that culture doesn’t die again,” he said.
 
Lewis and Norman did an initial two sessions with the students, providing meals and dance costumes for them through the People’s Liberty grant. They also held a graduation ceremony, where they handed out trophies and invited the students’ family members and the community.
 
At the moment, Let’s Dance is focusing on teaching adults how to ballroom dance.
 
“We’re trying to grow classes and are expanding our reach within the adult community,” Lewis said.
 
Ultimately, they want to expand classes and offer them at different locations throughout the city. Classes are $5, and are currently held at the College Hill Recreation Center.
 

PAR Projects opens new space to art installations


Since its inception in 2010, PAR Projects has had many different homes in Northside, but never one that the organization has owned outright, until now. PAR’s new space, which is located in an old lumberyard at 1662 Hoffner St., will undergo a complete transformation within the next year.

The organization's goal is to create a space for exhibits, arts education and an outdoor movie theater, all made entirely from shipping containers.

Lisa Walcott’s “Swarms” is the first installation in PAR’s 1,100-square-foot gallery, called The Nook. Her whole exhibit, Making Space, is on display at PAR through Nov. 27.
 
PAR purchased the two-story, 6,000-square-foot building and surrounding lot in 2014. They originally planned to demolish the building and start from scratch, but after discovering that the roof wasn’t as bad as originally thought, they decided to keep the building and renovate it.
 
A few years ago, PAR started a traveling art gallery — Makers Mobile — in a shipping container. The container is currently sitting at the Hoffner site, and houses another part of Walcott’s exhibit. It will become the first piece of a new building that will be built entirely from shipping containers.
 
Another two shipping containers will be stacked to create the outdoor theater screen, by next spring, PAR hopes to start showing movies. The group wants to add two more containers to create classrooms for the media arts.  
 

Local filmmaker screens films in OTR on sprawl, spatial segregation


On Nov. 2, local documentary filmmaker Andrea Torrice will showcase three of her films at the Mini Microcinema. Divided We Spra
wl,” The New Metropolis: A Crack in the Pavement and Trees in Trouble all have to do with issues that impact cities and suburbs in the United States.
 
Divided We Sprawl” focuses on spatial segregation in Gary, Ind., where much of the industry has left and moved to the suburbs. Torrice chose Gary because it’s a reflection of many cities in the Northeast and Midwest like it. In the film, she looks at how a city like Gary rebuilds, as well as the economic upheaval and abandonment by people, policy and government.
 
“I’m really interested in the meaning of a city or place, and how the meaning is changing,” Torrice said. “The intersection between place and income disparity impacts the community, and personal decisions and how decisions about transportation and economic growth dramatically impact our lives. We don’t always see that — I call it the invisible hand.”
 
The New Metropolis: A Crack in the Pavement” is about Cincinnati’s older suburbs, and the pattern of people moving to the suburbs, new suburbs cropping up and people moving out of the inner suburbs to the outer suburbs. Downtown is now going through a rebirth, and people are moving from the suburbs back to the urban core.
 
“I like to tell these stories because I like to put a human face on how public policies impact our lives,” Torrice said.
 
Cincinnati is also the case study for “Trees in Trouble” because like many Midwest cities, its streets are lined with ash trees, and the Emerald Ash Borer has invaded and is killing the ash trees in the United States.
 
Over the last 30 years, the city has planted about 12,000 ash trees, and they’re now all dead or dying. Torrice looks at how the city is responding to that, and the value of a tree in our community.
 
“Trees play important roles in cities for many reasons — they’re part of the infrastructure and quality of life,” she said.
 
Torrice is an award-winning documentary and public TV producer/writer whose work spans a range of contemporary issues, including spatial segregation and suburban flight.
 
“These films are important because it helps us understand more about our community and how we’re connected to other communities throughout the nation,” Torrice said. “We have some of the same problems, and these films will help spark dialogue on how to make all communities more vibrant and resilient places.”
 
Torrice made the film on Gary six years ago, but this will be the first time it will be shown in Cincinnati. The other two films have been broadcast on PBS, with “Trees in Trouble” most recently in April upon its release.
 
Doors open at 7 p.m., and the films will be shown one after the other beginning at 7:30.
 
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