Sunday, April 22, 2001

The arts

Apathy kills foundering regional board

        Thursday afternoon the board of the Regional Cultural Alliance voted to pull the plug and take the dying alliance off life support.

        A lot of things killed it:

        • The transition from a cultural plan to a working body should have taken four months. It lasted a lackadaisical year and a half.

        • The board, which never had the right mix of representation from public/private/arts sectors, never could agree on priorities (marketing? advocacy? access?). The board, in fact, never treated the alliance as a priority.

        • The alliance never went public with its issues. It's impossible to create a community initiative if the community doesn't know you exist. (Then again, it's hard to go public when you haven't identified your issues.)

        • An aversion to heavy lifting. Too many key players wanted a salaried director to do the grunt work. When no salary, therefore no director, was forthcoming, the work went undone.

        All of these are symptoms of the alliance's primary ailment: There never seemed to be an imperative. Its limp message wasn't about necessity or need but “nice.”

        It would be “nice” if more people know about the arts. It would be “nice” for Cincinnati to show off its cultural gems in a tourism campaign.

        The embryonic alliance also suffered from political naivete. The folks involved might argue the alliance was killed by anti-tax gunners who last year eliminated Hamilton County's $600,000 start-up funding.

        The truth is political strategies were never planned. Last fall, the alliance didn't even attempt to defend itself against anti-arts attacks.

        Add it up and what you have is death from identity crisis.

        There's no questioning the good intentions of arts supporters who have been with the regional cultural planning process from its beginnings five years ago. Dozens of people put in thousands of volunteer hours.

        There was nothing wrong with the original plan.

        In July 1998, a preliminary report called for inclusiveness (identifying Cincinnati as “a bastion of separatism”); strengthening mid-sized arts organizations; coordinating arts education and developing cooperation with groups beyond the arts.

        Instead, cultural tourism became their banner. Rather than moving forward on the plan's most serious recommendations, marketing was embraced as a panacea.

        Cultural plans work. Look at Cleveland, which began its process at about the same time as Cincinnati.

        Cleveland, backed by major foundations, thundered forward. It has carried out its near-, mid-, and long-term goals in access, lifelong learning, partnership and resources set in May 2000.

        What does that mean?

        Cultural ticket packages. Discount cards. Training hospitality staffs. Expanding events in parks and recreation centers. Routing public transit to cultural events and facilities. Providing arts and culture information on public transit.

        Expanding arts and culture curriculum and artist residencies to more schools. Providing students with internships (paid or for-credit) with artists and cultural organizations. Linking sponsors to cultural education programs.

        Cleveland is about to debut a cultural consumer Web site. It will be managed by the arts organizations themselves so information can be updated easily. It will be possible to link to reviews of performances and buy tickets.

        “Patience and persistence are virtues that have to be liberally applied” to cultural planning, says Tom Schorgl, president of Cleveland's Community Partnership for Arts and Culture.

        Greater Cincinnati arts supporters need all the patience and persistence they can muster because a regional arts council is sorely needed.

        Look at a few of the initiatives that moved forward while the alliance was foundering.

        • The wonderful ArtsLinks expanded its outreach efforts, which includes the high school mentoring program Yo, Arts!

        • Professional and semi-professional theater companies have joined in a league; museums and galleries have formed DIVA (Downtown Initiative for Visual Arts).

        • The Cincinnati Recreation Commission embarked on Arts for All last fall and in seven months has served about 10,000 residents living in the Cincinnati Empowerment Zone.

        Its partnerships include the Cincinnati Health Department and Over-the-Rhine's Kids Cafe, where youngsters get food for their bodies and souls. Arts for All is in discussion with Over-the-Rhine's Young Fathers program.

        Things at Arts for All are “going pretty darned good,” according to program director Dale Doerman. He's looking for more racially diverse students for Voices United. He's looking for more organizational partners. He's looking for performing, visual and literary artists to apply for a juried expo in August. Call 251-4222.

        In Cleveland earlier this week, National Endowment for the Arts leadership announced a $4 million grant in partnership with the Department of Housing and Urban Development that will bring arts instruction to youths living in public housing.

        Cleveland is one of 20 cities earmarked for the new Creative Communities initiative. Could it have been Cincinnati? We'll never know; no one here applied.

        At the very least, an arts council could bring potential partners together and be a clearinghouse for information.

        All the major points of the cultural plan address the fraying social fabric of our city: grass-roots arts can help heal the wounds in our community; our world-class arts can help polish a reputation that's been tarnished on national news.

        The cultural plan is a foundation to build on. The city needs artists, arts institutions and arts educators' knowledge and tools for building a stronger and better community.

        May arts advocates find the energy to try again. Soon.

        Saving on Wilson: The League of Cincinnati Theatres hasn't exactly been advertising it, but theatergoers who check out all of the Lanford Wilson shows around town will be rewarded with discounts and even rewards.

        What Lanford Wilson festival? (Who is Lanford Wilson anyway?)

        Mr. Wilson has spent almost 40 years writing wonderful — even great — American plays. He is often compared to Anton Chekhov.

        Last spring when Playhouse in the Park announced a 20th-anniversary production of Mr. Wilson's Pulitzer Prize-winning Talley's Folly (previews start April 29), a handful of other local theaters jumped on board with plans for productions.

        That's the last anybody has heard of it.

        Know Theatre Tribe opens the first of the productions, Redwood Curtain, Thursday for a three-week run at Gabriel's Corner (Sycamore at Liberty in Over-the-Rhine).

        The regional premiereis about a Vietnamese/American teen-age girl who goes into the Redwood Forest in search of her Vietnam vet father. The play is a good match for Know's diversity mission.

        The league has at last decided to share its plans with the public, starting with $2 discounts on every show. Hang on to your ticket stub from Redwood Curtain and use it for $2 off at Talley's Folly or Ensemble's Sense of Place (opening May 4). Catch Ovation's evening of Lanford Wilson one-acts, and turn in the stub at IF Collaborative (in Clifton) and get $2 off for Burn This.

        League president D. Lynn Meyers (artistic director of ETC) promises all will be explained in playbill inserts and announcements before shows.

        The Wilson plays provide a nice opportunity to wander around town checking out new theater companies.

        See all five productions and send your ticket stubs to the league and you'll get either a Lanford Wilson anthology or a ticket to Hedwig and the Angry Inch. (It has nothing to do with Lanford Wilson but will be a have-to-see-it-to-believe-it summer entry at ETC.)

        Know will continue auditions for its summer production of A Girl's Guide to Chaos, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.

        For audition information and Redwood Curtain reservations call the box office at (513) 871-1429 or

       Contact Jackie Demaline at 768-8530; fax: 768-8330; e-mail Cincinnati.Com keyword: Demaline


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