CINCINNATI - You could say the city of Cincinnati is the heart of the Tri-State, but the arts are the soul.
So when we decided to look at Cincinnati Ten Years Later, I chose to focus on the arts community and its crucial and historic role in Over-the-Rhine.
The new school for Creative and Performing Arts overflows with music, energy and the dreams of young artists.
Eighteen-year-old Joi McNeil plays piano in the jazz ensemble, and plans to study music and composing in college.
As young as she was 10 years ago, she vividly remembers the unrest following the death of Timothy Thomas, mostly through the eyes of her older siblings.
"When I was 8, the riots occurred and I remember my brother A.J. He went to West High and he was the same age as the young man killed,” said Joi. “My family was kind of in a mourning state, we prayed for the family of the young man and talked about it. My brother was like, it hit so close to home for him, he was like, I could have known him, I could have been him."
"Do you think race relations have changed since then?” I asked her.
“Yes, it's better, but slower than I'd hoped," Joi said. "I know that in certain neighborhoods, I don't feel as comfortable being there, as welcome."
"Is it different at SCPA?” I asked.
“Definitely, yes, it's such a diverse place," Joi responded.
Joi loves that SCPA is downtown, near Music Hall, and she loves making her own music.
"When I play my piano, I'm communicating at a higher level, especially playing black music; music originated by my people, I feel empowered by it," Joi said.
Building SCPA near Music Hall was the late maestro Erich Kunzel's dream, linking the historic home of the Symphony to the artists of the future.
|Ten Years Later/Special section: A changed city?|
|• Ten Years Later: A changed city?|
|• What is the Ten Years Later project?|
|• Ten Years Later video section|
|• Ten Years Later: Tell us your story|
The arts have anchored Over-the-Rhine through the last 10 years, even leading the way. The Art Academy opened its doors on Jackson Street in 2005. I took my daughter here for lessons shortly after that. And I have to say, I thought it was a little scary then, but now it's amazing how it's changed.
When the Art Academy moved there from Mt. Adams, architects transformed two old industrial buildings into spacious LEED-certified art studios.
"I love all the windows in this building," says Emma Williams. She's a senior from Dayton, Ohio.
Emma is working on her senior thesis in photography. It's about how personal devices, like cell phones, are taking over our lives. She has photographed people together but alone, communicating with people somewhere else.
Anthony Elech, also a senior, has developed an interesting painting technique involving paint, solvent and his own windpower.
"It's not something you can control, you have to almost choreograph everything. I'm not totally in charge of the effects that happen," said Anthony.
Anthony grew up on the West Side, but feels at home here.
Emma says you have to use common sense about safety.
"I don't really know if it's gotten safer, I feel like they 'say' it has, but then I hear things," Emma said of OTR. "But I don't feel unsafe very often."
The Art Academy's relationship to the neighborhood is an important one, highlighted by the numerous art galleries on Main Street, where Emma and her friends like to go.
The Know Theater, billing itself as "Left of Off-Broadway," joined the Art Academy on Jackson Street in 2007. It was at Gabriel's Corner, at Sycamore and Liberty, during the riots.
"We canceled rehearsals a couple of days, but weren’t even thinking of closing,” said the founder of the Know Theater, Jay B, Kalagayan. "The neighborhood, Over-the-Rhine, has been really good to us, we really wanted to continue that good feeling and give back to the neighborhood."
Jay believes more people now take pride in Over-the-Rhine.
And now more than ever, the arts are bringing people here, attracting more business, creating a sense of community.
"We're here in the midst of everything new going on and as artists, we want to be part of that, kind of part of changing the world," Emma says.
"I never feel like I'm alone and everybody's an artist," says Joi. "The arts, If they don't do anything, they pull people together."
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