Arts center builds audience in Clifton

With new access to upper floors and a growing list of classes, the founding executive director of the Clifton Cultural Arts Center envisions thousands of visitors experiencing art and education in ways they had never imagined.

Then again, Ruth Dickey is no stranger to dreaming big in the world of nonprofits. The founding executive director for the Clifton Cultural Arts Center (CCAC) has been working with nonprofit organizations for more than a decade. Before she left Seattle, she was working as the executive director of New Futures in Burien, WA - a nonprofit that works with families in low-income apartment complexes.

When Dickey moved to Cincinnati in May 2008, the Clifton School on Clifton Avenue, a Beaux Arts landmark dating from 1906, had been sitting unused for two years. Public school plans to construct a new, state-of-the-art Fairview German Language school across the street inspired community members to re-envision the historic space as an innovative arts center.

When the CCAC took possession of the building to prepare for its grand opening, it was covered in dust and cobwebs. Room by room, volunteers painted, fixed plaster and pulled staples out of floors to make the center a welcoming space for artists and visitors.

"This place has the potential to do many things - inspire people and make them a part of something," Dickey says.

Since its opening in September 2008, more than 25,000 people have walked through its doors for classes, exhibits and events.

From her position as executive director of Miriam's Kitchen  - a Washington, DC-based breakfast and social service program for people who are homeless - to her degrees in foreign service, Latin American studies, creative writing and poetry, Dickey lives her passion - maintaining the well-being of nonprofits and the arts.

"The arts have a unique way to help us see things differently," Dickey said. "The arts have the power to let us connect in ways we never would otherwise."

The 53,000-square-foot building in Clifton currently houses classes in dance, yoga, and painting, dog training classes, summer camps, music concerts and art exhibits.

Expanded offerings required expanded renovations, including last fall's $1.7 million updates to the fire protection and elevator systems that allow for more use of the top two floors.

"I think the hardest part for every nonprofit is balancing these huge, ambitious dreams and what is possible with what you have the financial resources to do," Dickey says.

Much of the funding CCAC received has come from an array of different contributors - the state of Ohio, the city of Cincinnati, a generous anonymous donor, individuals and foundations.

But even the funding for renovations doesn't cover the cost of keeping the building lit, warm and clean.

"There's always this tension between what you can see - if only we had more investment, we could do so much more for the community – and then making possible with what you have," Dickey says.

Do Good:

Take a class. From Pilates to puppy training, view the current calendar to see what you need to learn next.

Make the Center your friend. On Facebook, where else?

Get crafty. Bring your bags and some cash to the Crafty Supermarket Saturday, May 7. Be prepared for crowds, great food, one-of-a-kind crafts and entertainment.

By Jayna Barker
Follow Jayna on Twitter @jaynabarker.

Photo courtesy CCAC

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