A multi-cultural arts center in Cincinnati’s West End will honor local African American arts icon

All throughout his rich life, Robert O’Neal, a product of both Covington Independent Schools and Cincinnati Public Schools, traversed in and around Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, becoming a fixture in the region’s local arts community. For over five decades, before his passing in 2018, O’Neal created works that represented the extensive histories of Greater Cincinnati’s African American neighborhoods.

Much of that work took place at the Arts Consortium of Cincinnati, a West End arts institution that provided art education to the community, carving out space for performances and exhibitions for artists. O'Neal's daughter wants to revive its spirit now.

The Robert O’Neal Multicultural Arts Center (ROMAC) project, championed by O’Neal’s daughter, Toilynn O’Neal Turner, plans to be an arts destination anchored in the historically African American West End neighborhood. 

“We here at ROMAC are dedicated to building the local community by leveraging diverse art and creativity while recognizing the need for collaborative space,” said Turner. “ROMAC also honors the legacy of my father, Robert O'Neal, whose work and perseverance had a big impact on me.” 

ROMAC plans to redevelop the West End’s historic Regal Theater. Originally opening as the Casino Theater in 1914, it was renamed in 1941. The Regal wasn't only known for its movies, which was the main use of the theatre when it closed in the mid-1990's. The space originally hosted live entertainment. Located in the most populated African American neighborhood during the segregated 1950’s and 1960’s, the Regal quickly became a safe haven for African American acts breezing through Cincinnati.

ROMAC has partnered with The Port, Artswave, Duke Energy, Greater Cincinnati Foundation and Haile Foundation, to preserve and transform the majestic Regal Theater. 

ROMAC is seeking $12 million to transform the original 17,000 square foot structure and build on a 20,000 square foot addition. 

While the capital campaign is well underway to preserve this historic structure, ROMAC is partnering with the Contemporary Arts Center to host the exhibit Robert O’Neal: Open to All which plans to highlight the vast body of work of ROMAC’s namesake, featuring O’Neal’s paintings, drawings, prints, and photographs that he produced between the 1960s-2010s. The exhibit, which opens April 28, will also feature a collection of archival materials which examines O’Neal’s critical contributions to the City of Cincinnati.

The exhibit will be curated by Stephanie Kang, an assistant professor at Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design in Denver, Colorado. 

Additional details about the upcoming Robert O’Neal: Open to All exhibit here.

Additional information about ROMAC may be found here.
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Read more articles by Kareem A. Simpson.

Raised in the inner city of Covington, Kentucky, Kareem Simpson is an author, innovator, community enthusiast, military veteran, serial entrepreneur, foodie and lover of all things creative.