ARCO strives to unite arts and neighborhood, seeks collective members

Until the 1980s, the Masonic Lodge at 3301 Price Avenue in Price Hill was an active Masonic Temple. Designed by Samuel Hannaford and Sons, the same architectural firm behind downtown’s stunning Music Hall and City Hall, the building was a symbol of community prosperity for the neighborhood. When it became vacant, however, it slowly turned into just the opposite.

“It had begun to deteriorate and was a public nuisance,” says Eddy Kwon, artistic director for community development organization Price Hill Will. “It ended up being a kind of visual symbol of the systemic disinvestment that the neighborhood was experiencing.”

Regardless of its condition, residents of Price Hill recognized the significance of the building. They fought a difficult battle to stop its demolition and won. The intention was to preserve its historic presence, but the lodge’s eventual function remained uncertain for quite some time.

In 2014, Price Hill Will acquired the building and a vision of its new purpose began to take shape. Funded by combination of historic and new market tax credits, along with a $3 million grant from the City of Cincinnati, a complete renovation of the former Masonic Lodge is currently in process and will be finished this fall.

The meticulously redesigned space will serve as a gathering place for community events, weddings, and artistic performances. It will tentatively be known as ARCO, a clever combination of the words “arts” and “community.”

Kwon envisions many uses of the versatile spaces within the building. The large ARCO auditorium (which long ago hosted Masonic council meetings) will soon be used as a theater and concert venue, as well as a wedding hall. Price Hill Will’s MYCincinnati Youth Orchestra will make regular use of this area. Kwon believes the two smaller rooms in the upper levels are well suited for more intimate performances, such as chamber music ensembles, and also for panel discussions or lectures.

“It could be for more experimental theater or dance performances,” says Kwon. Gallery space will also line the upstairs corridors.

As construction is being completed, Kwon is diligently laying the groundwork for organized community engagement via the arts. This methodology is in keeping with the primarily arts-focused mission of Price Hill Will’s outreach.

“We’re really unique in that we dedicate over 50% of our organizational budget to intensive participatory arts programming — and that’s very rare around the country,” Kwon says. “The reason is that we believe that the arts can be a really great vehicle for accomplishing so many community initiatives.”

Kwon is currently working on the development of the Price Hill Curatorial Collective. This group, which is to be comprised of Price Hill residents, will focus on programming the upcoming season of performances at ARCO.

Kwon explains that the presentations offered at ARCO will be catered to the specific needs and desires of the Price Hill community. As such, the members of the collective will be heavily engaged in community outreach as the first step of their mission.

“This collective of Price Hill residents will be working together to engage with neighborhood residents of all three Price Hills, and figure out what kinds of arts experiences our neighborhood wants and needs, and is currently lacking,” says Kwon.

Once these needs have been determined, the members will research and recruit local, national, and international talent with connections to the requests. Additionally, they will perform the necessary administrative tasks around artist contracts, and work on both the logistical and hands-on aspects of production — promotion, ticket sales, concessions, and the like.

While participation in the Price Hill Curatorial Collective will be mainly volunteerism, members will receive a small cash stipend. More significantly, these individuals will be given the opportunity to learn about arts programming through professional training with arts curators from the Contemporary Arts Center and other reputable institutions. Most importantly, they will gain the experience of using the arts as a tool for encouraging conversations about how to make necessary improvements in the Price Hill community.

“All of this is a way to bring people together — to highlight both the really strong assets that we have in the neighborhood, and also maybe some of the challenges, and then use the arts as a way to stimulate creative problem solving,” says Kwon.

Nomination forms are currently being accepted for membership in the Price Hill Curatorial Collective. The deadline is March 15th. Nominations for any Price Hill resident age 16 and up will be considered.

“Anybody who’s interested in the arts, in engaging with the community, in working with a really diverse team — there are going to be lots of opportunities to learn, gain new skills, and expand [their] network,” adds Kwon.

Read more articles by Eliza Bobonick.

Eliza Bobonick is a Cincinnati-based writer and a mother of three. Her work has been featured in such local and regional publications as Cincinnati CityBeat and Kentucky Homes and Gardens Magazine. She is a former musician whose interests include photography and interior design.