Clifton Cultural Arts Center Plans $10.5 Million New Building

Laura A. Hobson

Clifton Cultural Arts Center is constructing a $10.5 million new building which will serve Uptown neighborhoods with a wide variety of exhibitions and classes. 

Leslie Mooney, second executive director of the center in the organization’s history beginning in 2013, is undertaking one of her largest projects now – a brand new 18,000-square-foot building located at 3412 Clifton Avenue near the corner of Clifton and Ludlow Avenues. Created by the architecture firm Emersion Design, it will have three stories, two gallery spaces, a community room, several classrooms, a makeshop, a 100-seat auditorium, office space and a green rooftop. 

Leslie Mooney

“The new home of CCAC has been several years in the making,” said Mooney. “It received notice from Cincinnati Public Schools in 2017 that its 50-year lease would be terminated to make way for a new public school. CCAC got to work on community engagement to determine how best to move forward. After many conversations with teachers, students, artists, volunteers and other stakeholders, we decided to embark upon a site selection process and capital campaign,” she added. 

A capital campaign has raised $9.3 million with a mixture of city, foundation and corporate funds. She noted that many volunteers helped CCAC through the site selection process and subsequent fundraising. Otto Budig, Murray Sinclaire and Abby Moran led the capital campaign. 

“In 2020 we bought the property from Dewey’s Pizza,” Mooney said, although a committee looked at thirty potential sites over a three-year period. The $10.5 million building is planned to open in March 2024.

It is the first purpose-built community arts center in the city of Cincinnati, according to Mooney. One of the gallery spaces will predominantly feature artists identifying as women and will be named after 19th century pioneering Cincinnati-born woman artist Elizabeth Nourse.

“CCAC is more than a community center for Clifton. As a local artist living on the Eastside and having a studio and gallery in Over-the-Rhine, I have participated in many group shows at CCAC and also curated several FotoFocus exhibits at the old school and in their many temporary locations as they are now in between homes,” said board member Jens G. Rosenkrantz, Jr. “The new building will have a gallery space dedicated to programming for local women artists along with an artist-in-residence program. This will be impactful for the entire city and not just Clifton. Leslie’s leadership in this project has been critical in making it happen,” he added.

Mooney is excited about its New Woman juried exhibition and affiliated artist-in-residency program. Inspired by Nourse, CCAC hosted its first New Woman exhibition in 2022 at The Annex Gallery at Pendleton Art Center and chose Erin Smith Glenn as the inaugural New Woman artist-in-residence. Glenn will receive mentorship and education opportunities as well as a solo show, which Mooney hopes will be the first show in the Nourse Gallery at the newly constructed CCAC. 

In the meantime, CCAC will continue to host exhibitions throughout 2023 at its Short Vine and Calhoun galleries. In March, it will feature artist Ariel Vivanco whose intimate collection is rendered on coffee-stained watercolor paper, and in May CCAC will present a body of work by photographer Tina Gutierrez.

One popular exhibit is the Golden Ticket, a highly acclaimed and selective annual juried exhibition featuring artists living and working within 25 miles of CCAC. Art is submitted and accepted in all media. A diverse group of experts from a variety of fields – art education, artists, gallery owners, curators and collector – juried the show. More than $1,500 in cash prizes are awarded each year as well as a solo show for the winner. In 2022, the winner was painter Leslie Getz who will have a solo show at CCAC’s Short Vine gallery in 2023.

CCAC is temporarily housed at 2728 Short Vine Street. It offers a variety of programs including Madcap Puppets in January, March and November in the Hat’s Off series. Rockets to Robots features third and fourth graders who learn about (STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and enjoy a dinner. Exhibitions are free as well as scholarships for classes.

The center also offers arts education, visual art and exhibitions as well as community art activities, such as Wednesday in the Woods held in Burnet Woods, where there were free concerts and art making for kids. 

CCAC serves a diverse community of over 40,000 people including 10,000 children and 3,000 families, 300 arts and cultural classes, 80 scholarships and 10 – 12 art exhibitions. It is the only multi-disciplinary arts center in Cincinnati’s Uptown neighborhoods. 

Mooney has a master’s degree in public history from Northeastern University with a focus on non-profit management and women’s history. She has a B.A. in history from Georgetown College. She always had a passion for arts and performed theater in college. Previously, she was director of development at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. She enjoyed fundraising, but was ready for the next step. 

During COVID, CCAC was able to receive funds from ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) to keep the ship afloat and help people get back to work.

With four children, Mooney has her hands full. But, coming out of the pandemic, she wanted to bring people together as well as have the center reflect the neighborhood.