Editor’s Note: Aeqai asked ArtWorks Executive Director Tamara Harkavy and Communications Director Christine Carli to let our readers know what ArtWorks’ plans for 2015 include, and their essay appears as the first piece in the Jan/Feb. aeqai. ArtWorks is an amazing phenomenon: Harkavy started it mainly as a jobs program for both inner city children and area artists; together, selected through rigorous proecesses, combinations of children and artists have painted murals all over Greater Cincinnati in the past decades, all sponsored by/directed by ArtWorks. These murals have refreshed many a neighborhood’s visual appeal, while also giving the children and artists income for the work involved in the fabrication of the murals. ArtWorks then was the driving force behind The Big Pig Gig, where area artists were selected and paired with area corporations to create sculptures of pigs (based on Cincinnati’s history as a powerful meatpacking area, much of it based in the old industrial basin and Camp Washington; the last company working there was Kahn’s meats). Cincinnati’s original name was, indeed, Porkopolis. The Pig Gig was followed by the creation of large and colorful urns, and finally by baseball bats; many of these sculptures are dotted around the city and some are also inside corporate lobbies.
ArtWorks/Harkavy (they really are one and the same, in terms of leadership and direction) continued to employ area artists and corporations (and also The Park Board and other public and private civic entities) to design park benches, bicycle racks and other functional items, but made aesthetically pleasing and fun. The murals dotted around Over The Rhine, and in downtown Cincinnati (and some in Covington, now) are all ArtWorks projects. They are also working on art pieces for the new Smale Park, and are partnering with LuminoCity, as well. Harkavy is a visionary, and a disrupter, in the finest sense of that word, and has seen art’s potential to redefine urban life; neighborhoods become canvases, and art an essential part of their identities, and they are clearly attracting, for example, young professionals into Over The Rhine. It’s both a new identity for the visual arts, as well as an enormous generator of income for artists and the city; ArtWorks generates more income for artists here than any other venue.
Urban planning itself is wrapped around the kinds of projects ArtWorks creates, and, we believe, Cincinnati’s new growth and emergence into the 21st century, as a great place to live and work within the city, has much to do with ArtWorks’ ongoing vision and creativity.
ArtWorks’ first essay appears as our first piece. We hope to have a quarterly report/essay/idea column from them. ArtWorks has literally changed our lives, and we expect that they will continue to do so in as yet unknown ways, though many, such as the ‘tattoo’ project, are in the works now.
Aeqai also received a letter from Arts Ambassador Susan Byrnes, and we are including a letter she wrote to Mayor Cranley , in the hopes that the City of Cincinnati will find ways to continue the Arts Ambassador program. The letter just came to us as we are posting aeqai, and it seems to complement the ArtWorks vision. If we remember that the Fine Arts Fund changed its name to ArtsWave because their extensively documented report on the arts shows an incredible ‘ripple effect’ from the arts economically throughout this region, aeqai sees a change in the direction of how the arts may be perceived here, as a dynamic generator of both income and aesthetic delight. Area institutions such as The Contemporary Arts Center and The Cincinnati Art Museum, and certainly the recent FotoFocus, are bringing art more and more into the community, outside the walls of these institutions, further enriching the community and indicating a new direction for both the visual and performing arts. Aeqai finds these developments extremely exciting, as well as timely, and will continue to generate articles about these directions in our own future.
—Daniel Brown, Editor
It’s hard to believe 20 years have passed since ArtWorks first set out to make a positive impact in Cincinnati through the creation of public art. Ours is a visual tale beginning with our desire to create brighter futures for our city’s youth through arts-based job opportunities. We’ve grown from an optimistic social experiment to become the largest employer of visual artists in the region today. Since 1996, we’ve provided paying jobs for more than 2,500 youth (ages 14 to 21) and hundreds of professional artists—the economic impact of which represents more than $8MM in wages alone.
But the impact ArtWorks creates with public art initiatives extends far beyond pay checks. We believe public art is an economic engine that has the power to unite and transform communities. Public art shapes a city’s identity and serves as a source of pride for all of its citizens. Truly, public art is what defines a society, expressing what it values and aspires to be.
Over the years, it’s been our great privilege to partner with civic leadership, community stakeholders, and fellow arts organizations to make our city a gallery. From pigs, bike racks and sculpture to 90 murals and counting, we have strived to create art that stops people in their tracks—inspiring wonder, encouraging dialogue and celebrating our uniqueness as a city.
Successful public art isn’t created in a vacuum. Community engagement is the centerpiece of the ArtWorks creative process, and our goal is to ensure that every public art project reflects, integrates and complements its environment. Our ongoing relationship with the Pendleton neighborhood illustrates this tenet. More than two years in the making, the “Pendleton Spinnradl” installation expresses a deep relationship with its location, and it demonstrates the positive outcomes of creative place-making through public art initiatives.
In partnership with the City of Cincinnati with financial support from The National Endowment for the Arts, ArtWorks formed a design review committee composed of community leaders and stakeholders. Working together, they led a nation-wide call for artists seeking proposals focused on community involvement. In summer 2012, artists Scott Constable and Ene Osteraas-Constable of Wowhaus began a series of community engagement events designed to bring the people of Pendleton together to discuss their values, interests and experiences. Events included photo safaris around the neighborhood, sessions led by a professional storyteller, block parties, and more.
The outcome of this process was the creation of two interactive, multi-sensory sculptures. Known as the Pendleton Spinnradls, these kinetic sculptures evoke the rich past and present of the neighborhood through sights, sounds and movement. Whimsical and full of meaning, this installation has quickly become an icon to those living in and around the neighborhood. As Tabatha Anderson, President of the Pendleton Neighborhood Council states, “this is our Statue of Liberty.”
Compelling public art is also rooted in institutional partnerships. Cincinnati is particularly fortunate to have so many outstanding arts institutions that are eager to support and collaborate with one another. Consider projects such as Luminosity or The Taft Museum of Art’s 2012 initiative, Art for All. These innovative events created city-wide impact, celebrated shared cultural treasures, and inspired civic pride. Partnerships such as these can also produce art that interrupts the landscape in a manner that makes way for curiosity, conversation and presence.
CAMPGROUND, the current collaboration between the Cincinnati Art Museum and ArtWorks is an animated, neon-based installation mounted prominently on the west-facing wall of the Museum. Created by artist Anthony Luensman, CAMPGROUND is visible from numerous vantage points throughout downtown Cincinnati and the surrounding neighborhoods. Its striking white light is elegant and hypnotic, inviting viewers to stop and watch or perhaps venture up the hill to the Museum’s location atop Eden Park. Through this activation, ArtWorks and the Cincinnati Art Museum aim to extend artistic experiences beyond interior spaces for people to encounter and interact with spontaneously. This enigmatic work of public art is the first in a series of what we think will be light-based installations that will rotate every 18 months and feature a different artist.
With projects like CAMPGROUND, there’s always a tenuous balance between risk and trust. As partners in this endeavor, the Cincinnati Art Museum and ArtWorks worked together to share something challenging, cutting edge and original with Cincinnati. We selected Anthony Luensman to fulfill this tall order, and we trusted his vision. With great risks come great rewards, and the realm of public art is no exception. As the positive reaction to CAMPGROUND attests, public art feeds our need to explore different thoughts and experiences. It presents an opportunity to step out of the comfort zone and into something new and beautiful.
In cities, public art also has the real potential to be an economic driver. Investments in art add to the collective stories a city tells, and art installations can become distinct destinations. Cincinnati is lucky to have believers who can make public art possible. Over the next several years, ArtWorks will add new art to the streets in partnership with the Haile Foundation and with support from the Office of Mayor Cranley and other city departments. Our first location is slated to be Findlay Market. A national call for entries closes soon. As with the Pendleton Project, we are hoping to promote new work that becomes an icon of place, in this case, our historic market.
Public art also involves broad-based community support, and that comes with its own unique set of variables. Often times when projects are planned years in advance, it can be challenging to shift courses, even when a new direction arises and success depends on veering from the original plan. In this regard, ArtWorks has an advantage. We are a nimble organization, willing and able to change the strategy or execution of project when new opportunities come to light.
This is the case with the ArtWorks project, CincyInk. Over the course of the past year, CincyInk has evolved from a project focused on the words of a single commissioned poet to a citywide public art endeavor. By encouraging people to “ink their love” for the Queen City on postcards and via online submissions, an unprecedented crowd-sourced poem has emerged from the words of more than 1,000 individuals. These words were given to Chase Public, a collective of poets, who had the difficult challenge crafting the poem. In January 2015 they delivered something of sublime beauty, a poem they call, “7 hills and a queen to name them.”
At its core, CincyInk is about love of place, but how this love is explored and manifested has led to many shifts throughout the project’s execution. Without the ability to make quick revisions to the original artistic plan, CincyInk would not have achieved the level of impact it now has—and it continues to grow. In addition to 1,000+ contributions of words, stories and poems about Cincinnati, the project is also supporting an unconventional public art event known as the Cincinnati Tattoo Project. Initially conceived by Lexington-based artists Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova, the Cincinnati Tattoo Project has engaged 260 participants who want to become a permanent part of this artistic expression by receiving a tattoo of a word or phrase from the crowd-sourced poem. Through this level of participation, there is an inherent sense of connection, and it enables people throughout Cincinnati to express their devotion in a new and profound way.
CincyInk continues to expand. This summer, as we welcome thousands of visitors during MLB’s All-Star game, we plan to “illuminate” the poem with multiple activations throughout Cincinnati featuring lines and stanzas projected on buildings, displayed on downtown windows, and wheatpasted onto walls. The poem will become a ubiquitous shared experience that people can interact with on multiple levels. The project’s final culmination remains open to possibility. It’s never easy to let go and allow a project take on a life of its own, but CincyInk’s overwhelming popularity and groundbreaking manifestations remind us that surrendering to the unknown is a key part of making meaningful art. After all, predictable outcomes are just that–predictable.
We are a city filled with dynamic thinkers, creators and disrupters that continually challenge the boundaries of art as we know it. Pam Kravetz is one such local artist. She’s a fierce and prolific creative force in the Queen City whose art spans a range of mediums, sizes and locales. Our community is her muse, and she celebrates our connections and commonalities in ever new and inspiring ways. Her work is fun, interesting and highly interactive, and if you’re game, there’s always an open invitation to join her latest creative adventure. Pam’s art is also hopeful, and there is power in that optimism. Her experience-based installations impact entire communities by raising awareness (and funding) for initiatives that enhance and improve quality of life.
What will Pam do next? Who knows, but we want to be a part of it—and therein lies the future of public art. As long as we are open and inclusive, new and engaging, evolving and unresolved, public art has the potential to remain a meaningful part of our daily experiences in Cincinnati and beyond. We believe the best is yet to come. Stay tuned.
Christine Carli is the Director of Communications for ArtWorks. Tamara Harkavy is the founder, CEO and Artistic Director for ArtWorks.