ArtsWave: Arts are "an absolute necessity" for Cincinnati growth and vibrancy


When you think of the arts, you probably envision entertainment. Think a little further, and maybe you recognize they can be educational.
 
ArtsWave leadership wants you to know there’s considerably more. The organization that conducts an annual campaign to generate support for the arts wants area residents to know that the arts make a significant impact on our lives.
 
Their endeavor is, in fact, a two-way street. ArtsWave annually raises funds from the community (in 2015 the total was $12.25 million); that investment returns considerable value that benefits local residents well beyond those who attend performances or exhibitions.
 
In fact, the arts strengthen Greater Cincinnati in many important ways. That’s why Alecia Kintner and Tara Townsend worked closely with a team of community leaders over the past year to assemble a roadmap for that two-way street. They’re calling it “Blueprint for Collective Action,” an undertaking that will ensure the arts are supporting our vibrant regional economy and enabling a more connected community.
Alecia Kintner 
“All around us are powerful examples of the role the arts play in bridging cultural divides and building understanding and empathy,” says Kintner, ArtsWave president and CEO. “Art, music, poetry and drama are all in the service of sending us powerful reminders of what’s important and what’s at stake.”
 
Townsend, the organization’s chief impact strategy officer, has been the hands-on manager of the process to identify how arts organizations can play essential roles in the life of the larger community.
 
“We looked for areas where the arts community could make a contribution, where regional initiatives and arts programming were already happening,” she says. “We aren’t asking arts organizations to change their programs. We’re looking for intersections, and that’s where we came up with these.”
 
The blueprint has five succinctly stated elements, and Kintner and Townsend can readily provide examples of how the arts are making a difference:
 
Arts put Cincinnati on the map
The obvious example is the remarkable success of the Cincinnati Symphony’s Lumenocity event in Washington Park for the past three summers that has attracted thousands of people from Cincinnati and beyond to be dazzled by a live orchestral performance coordinated with striking visual imagery projected on the facade of Cincinnati Music Hall. But it’s also initiatives such as “Cincy in New York City” in April 2014, when numerous Cincinnati arts organizations presented performances and programs that impressed audiences in America’s cultural capital.
 
“That put a lot of positive attention on our region through the arts,” Kintner says. “We want to change perceptions inside and outside the market.”
 
Arts deepen roots in the region
Establishing and retaining a healthy, skilled workforce is essential to Greater Cincinnati’s ability to thrive. Kintner says the goal is to encourage college grads to stay in the area and to appeal to executives recruited to prominent employers such as Procter & Gamble and G.E. by making Cincinnati a place where they want to put down roots. Townsend cites community choirs, which “afford opportunities for people to come together frequently with others and feel more connected. They are thinking of the reasons why they wouldn’t leave.”
 
The Young Professionals Choral Collective has enrolled more than 600 singers who perform in its occasional concerts, most under the age of 40. “Our future workforce,” Kintner points out, “needs to retain these people who could very well go elsewhere.”
 
Members of the May Festival Chorus report lasting friendships from their involvement; more than 90 percent say singing in the chorus played a part in their decision to remain in Greater Cincinnati.
Tara Townsend 
Arts bridge cultural divides
“The arts can help people understand different cultures,” Townsend points out, “so we’re focusing on race and ethnicity.” She cites a partnership between Elementz, a small Hip-Hop dance organization, and Cincinnati Ballet that brought unexpected energy to audiences for both companies.
 
Kintner suggests that volunteer opportunities influence people’s attitudes: “We know from research that the chance to make a difference in Cincinnati is a compelling reason for people to be here.” Board and staff diversity is another mechanism to cross-cultural boundaries.
 
Arts enliven neighborhoods
“A lot of neighborhoods have public spaces that need to be activated,” Townsend says. “The arts can do that. ArtWorks’ mural program is a great example. The way they engage with a community to define a piece of public art brings a community together.”
 
Arts are also essential components of community festivals and events: the Kentucky Symphony Orchestra annually attracts more than 20,000 people to its free summer concerts in Devou Park, many of them multigenerational families. More and more locales around Cincinnati have facilities such as the Clifton Cultural Arts Center (which get some of its operating dollars from ArtsWave) that give people places to gather and strengthen neighborly connections. The Cincinnati Playhouse’s “Off the Hill” program takes live theater to these civic centers in more than 30 neighborhoods annually.
 
Arts fuel creativity and learning
Research shows that the arts often improve student motivation, attitudes and attendance, making students more likely to succeed.
 
“Whether or not kids go on to be professional artists, they can learn skills from the arts,” Kintner points out, mentioning “collaboration, problem solving and creative process building, not to mention greater confidence and self-esteem.”
 
She points to Cincinnati Ballet’s program for third grade students who learn about posture and eye contact. “That is a skill that will stay with them for a long time. It might help them on their first job interview.”
 
ArtsWave has launched several web-based services that will support the Blueprint’s initiatives. The comprehensive arts calendar CincyArtsGuide.com is now available, and a companion site for educators and parents will launch early in 2016.
 
What ArtsWave is undertaking, Kintner says, “is evolutionary, not revolutionary. This is getting specific and concretizing the vision to put specific goals and illustrations around the idea of a more vibrant economy and community. This plan shows how we are doing it.”
 
She says Cincinnati is unusual in having a collaborative cultural community. That’s a result of ArtsWave’s efforts as a significant funder as well as a partner with organizations.
 
“We talk together about common goals,” she says. “Other communities might have funding priorities, but they’re not asking 40 organizations to rally behind these initiatives.”
 
Kintner says it’s exciting to envision the possible impact of focusing on adults 40 and under, or on bridging cultural divides. “It’s a way to show our donors that their support has a real impact on life in Greater Cincinnati.”
Jill Meyer 
Attorney Jill Meyer recently became CEO and president of the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber of Commerce, and she’ll head up ArtsWave’s fund drive in spring 2016 with her husband, Awadagin Pratt, a concert pianist.
 
“Arts are not just nice to have anymore,” Meyer says. “They’re an absolute necessity.”
 
She shared that thought recently with community leaders who attended a session presented by ArtsWave about how the arts put Cincinnati on the map, attracting young professionals and top talent to the local economy, and deepening community roots, keeping those talented employees here once they arrive. It’s entertainment to be sure, but, as Meyer expressed so concisely, the arts are a necessity.
 
Of course we’re entertained and educated, but ArtsWave is making sure that Greater Cincinnati gets the best possible return on our investment.
 

Read more articles by Rick Pender.

Rick Pender is an Over-the-Rhine resident with many years of writing, editing, fundraising and public relations experience. He is the theater critic and contributing editor at CityBeat and a regular contributor to WVXU's "Around Cincinnati." Follow him on Twitter @PenderRick.
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