Sunday, June 25, 2000

Arts alliance off critical list

$600,000 grant goes to regional plan

        Just when it was starting to look critical, the would-be Regional Cultural Alliance appears to be bounding back to life.

        “It's actually happening,” affirms Hamilton County Commissioner Tom Neyer Jr. For the last year he has been masquerading part-time as an arts emergency medic trying to get a regional cultural plan off life-support and on the road to a long, healthy life.

        The patient finally made it to the table early last week and the operation's first step — an infusion of cash — was a success despite a weak showing from plan supporters Otto Budig Jr. and Cincinnati Business Committee's Laura Long.

        Mr. Budig and Ms. Long offered too many vague answers to Commissioners Bedinghaus and Dowlin's specific questions, and presented statistics that hugely down-sized the impact of the arts on the county and region. (Example: They offered numbers of memberships rather than the much higher attendance figures.)

        Nevertheless, Mr. Neyer and his colleagues signed off on a one-year (renewable) $600,000 economic development grant. (“I'm basing this decision,” Mr. Bedinghaus noted, “because it's an opportunity to support something that makes us different, sets us apart.”)

        While the official resolution is still to come, the commissioners' unanimous, if somewhat cautious and occasionally chiding, commitment means that a national search for an executive director will be launched immediately.

        Candidates will be interviewed “in eight to 10 weeks,” and Mr. Neyer expects the alliance to be on its feet in six months, with executive director and board in place.

        The director will spend 2001 developing cultural tourism, collaborative marketing and education initiatives as set forth in the plan, published last year, and — oh, yes — raising another $600,000 so the alliance will reach its target $1.2 million budget.

        While the first phase of the operation was a success, the alliance is a long way from stabilized.

        Surrounding counties have been dragging their heels when it comes to cash transfusions, and it will be a concern if the new director is pulled between raising money and implementing initiatives. In the past year, supporters have not been able to raise the $600,000.

        Too, the folks pushing the regional arts plan never have been expert at triage. They're not inclined to push very hard, and they never have made a case that has set anybody on fire. (And the case is there, waiting to be made.)

        Maybe it would help if the regional cultural alliance bore even more of a resemblance to TV medical dramas than it already does. We could call it Cincinnati Hopes and maybe find a director who looks like George Clooney ...

        Hamlet's tragedy: Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival is plenty pigged off. The festival's Hamlet porker is another Big Pig Gig vandal victim.

        The compleat Elizabethan ham actor is posed outside the festival digs on Race Street and did everything a star is supposed to — draw crowds, who have their pictures taken with members of the acting company and leave clutching season brochures.

        Alas, poor Hamlet. Until last week he stood in the classic pose, addressing a genuine pig skull instead of Yorick. The top half of the skull has been purloined.

        To double the insult and injury, the miscreant also took a whack at Hamlet's toes, trying to loosen him from his base. Happily, Hamlet stuck to his stage; the vandal left with partial pig's feet. Sadly, Hamlet is, these days, a little unsteady on his piggly wigglies.

        Second chance: In answer to the loads of phone calls that have come in about last week's League of Cincinnati Theatre unified auditions: everybody who didn't make it in (there were more than twice as many applicants as there were slots) will have another chance later this summer, League president D. Lynn Meyers says. The follow-up auditions will move to Ensemble Theatre.

        Information will be mailed out in the next few weeks.

        Puppet paradise: Saw, Cincinnati's nationally admired but virtually unknown locally) puppetry arts theater has set a fall tour of its Account Me Puppet, a variation on Milton's Paradise Lost.

        The tour will take it to the Philadelphia Fringe Festival, Atlanta's prestigious Center for Puppetry Arts and a new performance art and puppetry festival at Detroit Art Institute. Saw is even creating its own fringe for New York's international puppetry fest with a booking at the classy Theatre for the New City (Sept. 13-16).

        What do all these big towns know about Saw that we don't? Catch a sneak preview in August for the answer. Performances of Account Me Puppet (9 p.m. Aug. 3-27) are set at Saw's newly air-conditioned(!) performance space (2820 Massachusetts Ave., Camp Washington). Tickets go on sale July 15.

        Call 541-0872 for information, reservations or just to see how you can help raise the troupe's local profile.

        Arts grant: Theatre IV is recipient of the Community Arts Fund's annual $15,000 strategic collaboration grant.

        What's Theatre IV? It used to be ArtReach and does hundreds of school visits locally and regionally every year with some nationally award-winning work, but somehow manages to keep a low public profile.

        What's the Community Arts Fund? It's one small branch of the Fine Arts Fund, which is overseen by the Cincinnati Institute of Fine Arts.

        What's the strategic collaboration grant? It promotes creative partnerships between smaller arts and non-arts (and large arts) organizations.

        Theatre IV will collaborate with Art Links, the Children's Hospital Medical Center, the Hamilton County Educational Service Center, Cincinnati Area Senior Services and Taft Museum of Art. Art Links specializes in bringing arts to underserved schools with mentoring programs; it's best-known project is Adopt-a-School.

        Together they will form The Greater Cincinnati Theatre Access Partnership (TAP). Probably the most obvious outcome of the grant will be 50 new performances planned for 2000-2001 in less advantaged senior centers, African-American churches, Head Start programs and 10 selected Adopt-a-Schools where there has been no theater experience.

        Honor roll: Honors have recently been extended to several regional folks:

        • Vaden Fitton receives the the Arts Education Award (individual supporter category) from the Ohio Alliance for Arts Education for 2000. Mr. Fitton was recognized for his support of the SchoolTOURS+ program at Fitton Center for Creative Arts in Hamilton.

        Mr. Fitton met the transportation cost for any participating Butler County school, and hundreds of fourth-graders had the opportunity for a center tour and hands-on arts experience.

        • Wilmington resident Elizabeth “Cookie” Williams has contributed $500,000 to National Technical Institute for the Deaf, a college of Rochester Institute of Technology to create a main art gallery at the college. It will be named for her. The grand opening is expected to be in spring 2001.

        Mrs. Williams, who is deaf, is a longtime supporter of the college. In the past she has replaced the stage curtains in the college's theater and established an endowed fund that annually awards scholarships to deaf and hearing-impaired students in the college's performing arts programs.

        • Louisville-based Fifth Third Bank Broadway Series producer Brad Broecker has been recognized for outstanding achievement in presenter management by the League of American Theatres and Producers.

        Compiling a list: Ohio Arts Council is compiling a comprehensive directory of small arts and cultural organizations for its State of the Arts Report 2000.

        If your organization is: non-profit in intent but has not yet established a 501-(C) (3); has a budget of less than $25,000; is not part of a university or college, the OAC requests you give them a call. Contact Eileen Kennedy or Jay Poellot at (614) 466-2613 or e-mail by July 17.

        Jackie Demaline is Enquirer theater critic and roving arts reporter. Write her at Cincinnati Enquirer, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati 45202; fax, 768-8330.


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