CINCINNATI -- Two young girls come bounding into Visionaries + Voices in Oakley on this late afternoon.
They immediately take stock -- and their response is overwhelmingly enthusiastic.
They ask endless questions about every piece within their view -- works of art, like handmade necklaces, DIY mobiles and ring dishes made in the shape of Ohio. But their mom poses the most pressing query of all.
"What is this place?"
V+V, for short, is part retail store and part education center. An art gallery, of sorts, that's also a learning studio. Oakley's newest favorite creative space.
"It's like the living room that can get messy," said Julia Lipovsky, V+V education coordinator.
But much more.
Since opening its doors in recent weeks, there's already been brisk foot traffic at this Madison Road address, the former Blue Manatee bookstore, which migrated just a few doors down this spring. V+V is in a very soft opening phase, but aims to be fully operational by early December.
The art nonprofit is the new kid on the block -- and faced a little competition in securing the space -- but complements the strip's existing family-friendly vibe, said Casey Gries, education director at Visionaries + Voices. Neighboring businesses include Aglamesis Brothers ice cream, King Arthur's toy store and The Spotted Goose, a children's boutique.
Visionaries + Voices is located at 3054 Madison Road in Cincinnati. Hours are 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday and noon-4 p.m. Sunday. For more information, visit https://visionariesandvoices.com .
Its mission from the beginning has been to serve as a space for artists with disabilities. Not only will the new storefront showcase their work, but it will provide increasing educational opportunities for a broad-reaching audience.
"We are something that's going to benefit the community," Gries said. "We'll take you however you come here -- all ethnicities, all ages, all abilities. It's about as damn inclusive as you could possibly be. I think that's what made this a good fit."
It's also a first. The nonprofit has studios in Northside -- its headquarters -- and Tri-County, but the Visionarium, as its called, is different.
V+V has always merchandised items -- work was largely sold during five yearly exhibitions in Northside. But this makes it a more prominent and everyday focus. And its education program, considered groundbreaking; comprised of V+V artists, has been around since 2011. But it's been more "art on a cart," Gries said. Lessons were routinely taken on the road: at schools and museums, community centers and more. That's a lot of work for a one-hour class, and not the most fiscally responsible way to run a program, she admits.
"It's totally new for us to be doing this on a home turf," she said. "It's completely uncharted territory. It will be a better way to generate income."
And an opportunity to level the playing field. V+V has 120 practicing artists, Gries said, who work in studio one to five days a week. All have some form of disability , but she hopes the Visionarium can help remove the stigma.
"I would like for it to become a nonissue," she said. "People sometimes think they're doing a good deed by buying a piece of artwork (from us). But we're trying to create a place where they're not seen as artists with disabilities. They're seen as artists. Everyone can become a little more autonomous, and the work can be appreciated simply for the talent that it showcases."
Retail wise, various works will be sold, from paintings to ceramics to home goods, jewelry and tees. It's a little like "going to Chicago or New York," Gries said, "and walking into an eclectic gift shop."
Monthly classes, which target tots up to teens, are mostly led by V+V artists who have gone through an in-house teaching program, but community artists are also welcome to instruct -- and sell work at the space. They receive a $25 stipend for their time. Cost ranges from $5 to $10 per student.
"We want to teach kids that you don’t have to want to be an artist for art to be relevant to your education," Gries added. "You can be creative, and it can be a lot of fun. They think they're just doing a cool art lesson, but they're really learning a lot."
V+V will also offer a portfolio preparation course for high schoolers who want to pursue art in college. Classes, additionally, will be offered for adults. From noon-4 p.m. every Saturday, V+V will open the studio for "sip and sketch." There's no formal instruction during that time, but anyone is welcome to use the space and supplies. The full event calendar is available at https://visionariesandvoices.com .
"We just want to create a space where anybody in the community can stop in and spend an hour or two," Gries said.
On Saturday, Dec. 9, the Visionarium will host its first major event. For $30, patrons get access to V+V's "bargain barn," or bag sale, a 20 percent coupon on all regularly priced merchandise, a craft, one free gift wrap, and drinks -- like spiced hot chocolate -- and food. Gries said they're making a big push to have all construction complete and inventory stocked by then.
For their part, the two girls and their mother, now with recently purchased goods in tow, promise to return. One even suggested a curated art show comprised entirely of children's artwork. Gries tells her she think it's an excellent idea.
"There's a world of opportunities here," she said.