Kennedy Heights Arts Center Highlights Area Artists
By Laura A. Hobson
A fanciful, decorated pig welcomes visitors to the Kennedy Heights Arts Center on Montgomery Road. A 19th century white building owned by Kennedy Heights’ former mayor Lewis Kennedy, the Center strives to be the anchor of an increasingly vibrant, diverse, inclusive and creative community. Originally founded by volunteers in 2003, the Center now has a full-time executive director – Ellen Muse-Lindeman, 45, a 17-year resident of Pleasant Ridge, who joined the start-up organization in 2008.
Since then, Ellen has worked long hours to provide art exhibits, panel discussions, youth and adult classes, juried shows, volunteer opportunities, an artist-in-residence, outreach programs, and a summer art camp for children in an effort to demonstrate how the arts can revitalize the inner city. With the Center located on a Montgomery corridor between Pleasant Ridge and Montgomery, she notes that business has declined over the years. Working with many volunteers and an active, committed Board of Directors, she vows to change that. Happy the board is engaged, Ellen says, “It’s a culture of all hands on deck.”
Coming from the Center for Great Neighborhoods in Covington, Kentucky, where she served as program director and director of development, she was drawn to the Kennedy Heights Arts Center for many reasons. Ellen believed she could draw on her city background to gather community partners together to support the Center. Since she worked for a nonprofit, mixed with kids at risk and handled fundraising, she felt confident to assume a director role. A BA in theater from Wooster College, Ohio in 1989 gave her exposure to the arts, while an MSW in administration from the University of Cincinnati in 1996 prepared her to manage diverse communities. Because she lived in Pleasant Ridge, she was familiar with the Center at the outset and grew excited about the project. With this position, she wears many hats, works long hours and puts in the sweat equity necessary to expand a young, growing organization.
Starting with an empty, run-down building, Ellen began starting to bring life to the Center. With her ability to bring people together, she helped facilitate a clear vision of the organization. With a passion for arts and the role arts plays in the community, she solicited feedback from the community. She learned that many residents loved the community and valued its diversity. She heard little negativity from survey respondents, who liked the history, housing, parks and trees.
Actually, area residents organized in 2003 to save the 21-room building from bulldozing. Not only did they form a nonprofit corporation, but the city also contributed $50,000 toward the acquisition of the property. Forty neighbors personally pledged collateral to make the acquisition possible.
Ellen talks about the highlights of the Center, including serving young people, outreach programs and taking arts into the community. With a major reconstruction, the Center is able to mount seven art exhibits in any medium and two juried art shows per year. She encourages local artists to apply to be displayed, even in the gift shop where unique items are attractively arranged. Through the exhibits, she counts on sparking a dialogue in the community. Continually, she looks for talented artists who draw in the viewer. For example, the Center participated in the recent FotoFocus project by exhibiting photographers and hosting a panel discussion.
With a diverse audience of over 3,800 visitors last year, the Center continues to draw unique artists and exhibits of fine quality. From January 18 – February 23, 2013, for example, the Clay Alliance exhibited pieces ranging from an Oriental-looking ceramic vase to a barn board decorated with pottery and robin egg shells, all depicting the theme of “Wild Things.” With prices ranging from $35.00 to over $1,000, there was something for everyone’s budget.
Next on the exhibit calendar is “Capturing the Essence: The Work of Gordon Baer,” opening March 9, 2013. An award-winning and nationally known photographer, Baer will host an artist talk on Sunday, March 24 at 2:00 p.m. to showcase a collection of never before seen photographs. He is most proud of the images that highlight humanity in the heroics of everyday life, even though he has shot such people as Pete Rose, Larry Flynt and the Beatles.
Other programs offered by the Center include tours and a summer camp program for children that has grown from 25 kids for two weeks to 200 kids for 10 weeks with a waiting list. While there is a charge for the summer camp, there are also scholarships available. Ellen is happy with the breadth of the programs as they have gradually expanded over time.
Reflecting the Center’s mission, the audience is racially and economically diverse which pleases Ellen. The mission centers around “enhancing the life of the surrounding community through arts and culture experience that embraces diversity, fosters creativity and builds community.” She says the Center engages people who might not ordinarily go to The Taft Museum of Art or the Cincinnati Art Museum. At all times, the Center is free and open to the public.
Because Ellen is not a visual artist, she has established a system to work with guest curators who are paid a stipend to choose shows. Some artists come to the Center to request a display; others are solicited. As with many projects, Ellen and guest curators are often working one to two years ahead of the schedule to prepare exhibits.
One unique show is the student art exhibit composed of art from various partner schools and held annually. Students range from kindergarten age to the twelfth grade. It is an opportunity for youngsters to shine at a professional gallery.
Similar to other arts venues, the Center hosts an artist-in-residence in the spring. Funded by the Ohio Arts Council (OAC), the artist stays four weeks performing a communitywide project. This year, the artist will be Wendy McVicker, an artist from Athens, Ohio, who is a poet. The Center is planning events, such as a creative writing session, during her stay. The OAC requires that centers choose from a roster of Ohio artists and that they interview the artists. In addition, there is an Advisory Group that helps select the artist each year.
With over 250 volunteers now, the Center couldn’t exist without them. They fulfill many roles, including assisting art instructors, special events, building renovations, landscaping, gift shop sales and administrative duties. Eventually, Ellen would like to move in the direction of having a more formal organization of volunteers. But, that is in the future.
As far as funding, the Center receives approximately $9,000 to $15,000 from the Ohio Arts Council. ArtsWave donates $25,000. In addition, there are funders such as the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, Duke Energy Foundation and the Scripps Howard Foundation, among others. Prominent individuals like the deceased Carl H. Lindner, Jr. have given generously. Instrumental in the Center’s early years, Mr. Lindner’s legacy lives on with a continuing trust. Other ways of raising money are rental fees of the facility for meetings and parties, and commission from the sale of artists’ work.
Teaching plays an important part of the Center’s function. Classes are available in Fundamentals of Drawing, Drawing in Color, World Drumming, Digital Photography and Yoga for adults. Youth classes range from Introduction to Drawing to Master Artists. The Center has a core teaching staff, but is always looking for teachers, who are paid a stipend for their services.
The most ambitious project to date is a collaboration with the Cincinnati Art Museum and the Kennedy Heights Montessori Center to renovate a nearby Kroger store. For the Center, it will be a satellite expansion ready for use in the fall of 2014. It will contain artist studios and a 2,500’ event center that performing arts groups can use. The Cincinnati Art Museum will have an open storage facility for collections, but available for tours beginning this summer. Finally, the Montessori Center will host a
pre-school, beginning in the summer of 2013. Because this renovation will cost $3 million, Kennedy Heights Arts Center is now conducting a capital campaign to raise $600,000.
With a $200,000 annual budget, the Center operates in the black. The challenge for Ellen is to continue to raise funds, create new partnerships and design new programming. “That’s a great challenge,” she comments. “It makes my job very diverse, very challenging with long hours, but we have support from the community.”
. Located at 6546 Montgomery Road in Pleasant Ridge, the Center’s hours are Tuesday – Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Web site is www.kennedyarts.org. Admission is free.
Kennedy Heights Arts Center is a place for everyone’s imagination to grow