Street artists are creating a world-class gallery around Findlay Market

When BLINK wraps up on Sunday, Oct. 13, 17 new outdoor, wall-sized murals will remain in the neighborhood around Findlay Market, adding to a growing collection of existing street art designed by internationally known artists.

The collection is the brainchild of Andrew Salzbrun and his creative agency, The Agar, who see the trove of street art as a way to revitalize the neighborhood surrounding the public market.

“We’re building a density of world-class murals around Findlay Market,” Salzbrun says. “The goal is to build a world-class outdoor art gallery.”

Over the last week, murals designed for BLINK 2019 were painted on walls in the blocks around the market, created by artists who enjoy reputations in the international street art community. (See sidebar for details.)

“With what is coming this year, we have enough of this product to be a destination internationally,” says Tim Maloney, CEO of the Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation. The Foundation’s investments in the Market district include locating its People’s Liberty grantmaking project there.

Salzbrun’s idea for the district was inspired by work he and his Agar colleagues did over the last few years in Miami’s Wynwood arts district.

Through most of the 20th century, the Wynwood neighborhood was an enclave for Caribbean immigrants and home to Miami’s Garment District. The neighborhood eventually suffered from years of disinvestment and economic exodus as warehouses were abandoned and factories were shuttered.

In the early 2000s, developers and property owners began rehabilitating vacant buildings, transforming them into attractive businesses. But it was street art that sparked the renaissance of Wynwood. Beginning with an art walk once a month and the arrival in 2002 of Art Basel, an international art fair, Wynwood became a destination for artists and art lovers. The windowless facades of the many old industrial buildings became canvases for muralists to do their work, and they created what is now one of the largest open-air street art installations in the world.

The Wynwood neighborhood has since become one of the most creative communities in the country and a destination for art, fashion, and innovative businesses.

That’s the kind of spark Salzbrun wants to light around Findlay Market.

“This is an opportunity to change the conversation around a neighborhood with public art,” he says.

Salzbrun grew up in College Hill and moved back to Cincinnati 12 years ago. About 10 years ago, he bought some property in Pendleton, the small pocket neighborhood bordering Over-the-Rhine and downtown. He helped open Nation Kitchen there and managed Three Points Brewery. He began bringing street art to that neighborhood, including a four-story mural by Irish graffiti artist Maser at the corner of 12th and Reading.

“I fell in love with the idea of reclaiming a neighborhood and making it what you want,” he says. “That journey in Pendleton is what sparked the conversation around Findlay Market.”

The Market, with its food vendors, restaurants, beer garden, and bustling vibe, has become a top destination for residents and tourists alike, especially on weekends. Although the neighborhood surrounding it is developing, it is a rare visitor who ventures much farther than a block beyond the historic Market shed.

A world-class outdoor art gallery may entice them to do that.

“Our goal was to create opportunities for people to walk one additional block to explore the neighborhood more than they would if the art didn’t exist there,” Salzbrun says. “We thought something pretty magical could be started there.”

Pleasant Street, a narrow, five-block lane became the initial focus for the art-making venture. Pleasant runs north-south from Washington Park to the Market, with the blocks closer to the park much farther along in development with new and rehabbed condos. It was symbolic of the whole neighborhood’s economic transition from vacant housing to economic vibrancy.

“Looking south from Pleasant and Liberty, you had some of the most expensive real estate in Over-the-Rhine,” Salzbrun says. “Looking north, you had two blocks of largely vacant buildings.”

The team asked themselves, “What would it take to make Pleasant Street more pleasant?” Their answer was bold works of public art.

“It brings a different vibe to a neighborhood,” Maloney says. “It’s a definite urban vibe. It’s a little edgy and it’s very unexpected, and that’s what makes it fun.”

Two years ago, after BLINK 2017, several murals were left behind on Pleasant, including one by Puerto Rican artist Ana Marietta, one by the Dutch duo Telmo Miel and one by the Northern Kentucky team of Matthew Dayler and Robby Burgess, collectively called Xylene. A visitor favorite, the mural of Rosemary Clooney, is at Pleasant and Liberty.

Since then, rehabbers and others have started to work in the northern blocks of Pleasant, as several building projects are under way there.

“Over the last two years, that north end of Pleasant has completely transformed,” Salzbrun says. “What was typically an unsafe area to walk through is now safe in the daytime and in the evening and holds a collection of murals.”

“We saw the transition work in 2017,” he says. “We want to continue that momentum.”

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Read more articles by David Holthaus.

David Holthaus is an award-winning journalist and a Cincinnati native. When not writing or editing, he's likely to be bicycling, hiking, reading, or watching classic movies.