Artists become innovators during the pandemic


Making a living as an artist is challenging in the best of times. Despite this difficult year of art event cancellations due to the pandemic, local artists, galleries, and art supporters have expressed their resilience by innovatively finding ways to safely support the arts.


Adapting Art Shows

Steve Kosztala showing one of his hand-crafted KOSZTALASCOPES.

This year Springfield Township’s ArtsConnect — an arts and enrichment council hosting events and facilitating classes, summer camps, and community projects — creatively presented its eighth annual ArtLocal exhibit by combining an in-person event in November with an ongoing online gallery ending December 30th.


Kim Flamm, ArtsConnect executive director, looks at the pandemic as an unexpected learning opportunity. “We will take what we’ve learned about the available technologies and expand our events in the future to include these resources. The pandemic has challenged us to find new ways to engage with the public. Hosting an online show supports our local artists and gives families across the globe access to original works of art to gift during the holidays.”

One of many accomplished artists showing at ArtLocal is Autumn Huron, who has gratefully used this pandemic time to be increasingly productive by creating acrylic works and painting slates that were sold in a local coffee shop. Those interested in Huron’s work can contact her at [email protected].


Another exhibitor at ArtLocal is kaleidoscope-crafter Steve Kosztala, who designs distinctive KOSZTALASCOPES. No two Kosztalascopes are alike, with unique engineering techniques and a beautiful assortment of woods. Kosztala enjoys bringing together appealing colors and light refractions that remind the viewer of the wonder of childhood. Kaleidoscopes have also been admired for their healing properties.


The beautiful white mansion at 6546 Montgomery Road is The Kennedy Heights Arts Center, which has long featured two special events at the end of the year. One, the Holiday Art Market, is open until January 2, 2021, and features curated gift items such as ceramics, jewelry, knitted pieces, notecards, ornaments, and holiday offerings, a complement to KHAC’s year-round Art Shop. Because of the pandemic, an online shop has been created, featuring items from the Holiday Art Market and offering orders for curbside pick-up.


The second event is Metamorphosis, the annual Winter Kennedy Collective members’ exhibition, open through December 23rd Free timed tickets can be obtained by visiting or calling 513-631-4278. One artist in Metamorphosis is Soapbox writer Connie Springer.


Watercolor portrait by Connie Springer, "The Minimalist."
“As an Essex Studios watercolor artist, I was disappointed that the Art Walks had to be cancelled this year due to COVID,” she says, “so I was delighted to be able to show at KHAC and in a few other smaller scale venues as well as participating in online shows including a December 14th Senior Planet Holiday Fair.” Springer’s art can be viewed here


Director of Exhibitions and Public Art Mallory Feltz says that though KHAC was forced to close its doors when COVID arrived, KHAC didn't stop.


“We reached deeper into the community to keep creativity alive,” she notes. “Despite unprecedented challenges, KHAC has been more active than ever — creatively adapting and innovating to support our community needs.”


One adaptation was a new outdoor exhibition, a series of ten sign holders installed around the grounds showcasing large works viewable as a drive-through exhibit or to be explored on foot. Just opened on Friday, December 4th, is Retold, an outdoor exhibit partnering with the Art Academy of Cincinnati. Ten artists, all Art Academy alumni or staff, present a re-envisioning of a traditional winter holiday folktale from a contemporary perspective.


The Off Ludlow Gallery, a boutique-like spot featuring 30 artists, started as a pop up in June of 2019 in the old post office at 3408 Ormond Avenue in Cincinnati’s Clifton area. The success of the gallery led to a permanent space showing both one-person and group shows, such as street art and the work of muralists. The gallery first closed at the onset of the pandemic but reopened in September. In the interim, the gallery hosted 3-week long “And the Art Goes On window displays featuring about ten pieces of one artist to entice walkers-by to shop.


“It was challenging, but we’ve had great success with our ‘curbside art shows,’” says gallery manager Pat Olding. “Some of our shows have a wide reach, bringing visitors from all over Cincinnati.” The gallery’s schedule for 2021 is already booked.


Off Ludlow offers its second annual holiday show, Gallery Gifts II. Check the website for regular hours, with a special opening on December 20th from 1–5 p.m. Email [email protected] or call the gallery at 513-201-7153 for more information.


Among the mix of talented artists in this community-run organization is wood sculptor Robert Fry, based in Covington. Fry has devoted his almost 40-year career to the sculptural possibilities of wood and uses recycled pieces from old buildings, fallen trees, floor joists, and sticks.


Fry notes that in this time of uncertainty, he finds comfort in his art. “It's where I can have complete control over what I am doing,” he says. “I can do what l want, and if I am not happy with it, I can burn it. It's also important to have someone who is interested in my work to show it's one thing to work alone, but it's great to have people see what I am doing.”


Gallery 708 at 2643 Erie Avenue in Hyde Park is a curated, artist-owned gallery showcasing the area’s talented artists and artisans. From December 11–13 they will hold a sale of 20% off, with many new items added for the holidays. For more info, call 513-551-8171 or check the website, where the new virtual gallery can be accessed. For local customers, curbside pickup is available by appointment.


One of the most recent artists to join is Mike Hensley, a painter who donates some of his work to charity as a way to contribute and get his name known in the art world.


“Each shape in my paintings is composed of a single color, and together these flat color shapes create the depth, dimension, and flow I strive to achieve,” he says. Hensley says he doesn’t know what he would do without his art. “Since retiring two years ago, I have been sketching or painting almost every day. The pandemic has permitted me to slow down and look more closely at my environment for images that inspire me.”



Art Debuts


New this year is the first annual Winter Solstice Art Bazaar in College Hill on Saturday, December 19th, from 10 a.m.–4 p.m. The host is the House of Friends, College Hill’s newest art space, partnering with the Oasis at Grace, a community center and site of the Art Bazaar at 5501 Hamilton Avenue. Art is limited to 20 vendors, and COVID safety protocols will be followed.


The organizers say they are doing this to help all creatives push themselves through this very stressful year.


Jamey Ponte, the producer of the Art Bazaar, muses that “with COVID and the divide of the country, you would think this would not be an ideal time to launch a new show. But community efforts and interaction with the ‘good’ provide a big boost in such a time. We put ourselves out there as real change agents and leaders using the arts to address social justice needs in this time of distress now spiraling in America.”

Artwork by Hannah Peacock that displays a political sign reimagined into a creature of hope.

Among the vendors is Hannah Peacock, who has reimagined more than 600 political signs donated by the community into “colorful creatures of hobby and of hope, bringing a smile to those they encounter.” She adds, “If political signs can be reimagined, what else can we do collectively with the unending plastic and garbage of our culture?”


Several artistic endeavors are establishing themselves in new venues. The New Port Art Gallery, formerly located in Newport, KY, is looking forward to a renaissance in the Clifton area of Cincinnati on busy Ludlow Avenue. The eclectic gallery, exhibiting a blend of all genres of art, will join forces with the new Upside Café offering refreshments to gallery visitors.New Port Art Gallery shows the work of local, regional, national, and international artists. The gallery continues to offer new art experiences with rotating shows and with summer 2021 outdoor exhibits at an adjoining park.


The gallery and café plan a soft opening in mid- to late-December in preparation for a grand opening in January of 2021.


Zhinh Clothing, featuring “small batch, hand-crafted clothing,” is the brainchild of artist Zoe Kosztala. Already a viable small business, in early January of 2021, Zhinh Clothing will relocate to a retail/studio space on the first floor of the artists’ loft building at 2100 West Eighth Street. Zhinh specializes in clothing with an earth-toned organic look, incorporating artfully handprinted designs from nature.


“With art fairs lacking and as a new seller, I’ve had to do all my marketing on Instagram (@zhinh_) and Etsy, but sales are doing well,” Kosztala says. Check Zhinh Clothing’s Facebook page for updates on when customers can make appointments to visit her new retail space or contact Kosztala at [email protected].


Finally, as a great resource to the local art world, a new art publication debuted last fall: IMAGINE, a quarterly online magazine, is the work of the Cincinnati Art Club. IMAGINE covers all forms of visual art in Cincinnati, including artists, exhibitions, museums, galleries, studios, and art supply retailers.


According to the website, “It is a gift to you from the 300 artists who are members of the Cincinnati Art Club.” They hope of inspiring creativity with artists, art teachers, art students and art enthusiasts to create a stronger regional Greater Cincinnati. A free subscription may be obtained by requesting one at [email protected].
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Read more articles by Connie Springer.

Connie Springer is a publicist, writer, photographer, and watercolorist. View her work at her website and portfolio.