The Talk on the Street (Part 2)


My recent visit to the Columbus Museum of Art left me with with such a positive impression of how well a museum recognizes the importance of a local artist in the community. For years, the museum has formally recognized and exhibited the work of Aminah Robinson. Street Talk is the most recent exhibition of her work currently on view as part of a celebration of the city’s bicentennial.

In my last post, I introduced the show with a short review. But most striking, Aminah Robinson’s Street Talk recalls the conversations surrounding contemporary urban planning in Cincinnati. Like Columbus’s near East side, Cincinnati’s Over the Rhine is undergoing development projects some fear risk the community’s history. With each building that is altered, preserved, or demolished, there is a culture shift. In Cincinnati, there appears to be an effort to preserve the cultural history. A very lively discussion takes place with each building slated for demolition or rehabitation. Debates about the migration of young professionals moving into OTR and the active displacement of people who have lived there continue (but shh! don’t say “gentrification”). The concerns Aminah Robinson shares in her “Memory Maps” are the same concerns we have here in Cincinnati. The difference however, is the Columbus Museum of Art sees this discussion about the conservation of their city’s cultural history as the focus of their bicentennial celebration, and they place a local living artist at the head of this discussion. The Columbus Museum of Art recognizes the role of their local artists to be the caretaker of their communities and places them in their galleries to set the parameters for these discussions about local history, culture, community, neighborhoods, as well as the arts.

So where does Cincinnati place its living artists? What role do our local artists have in this conversation of urban renewal?

We have a number of artists whose subject includes Cincinnati’s cityscapes and of these, many focus on Over the Rhine. A few of my favorites include Cedric Cox

Maya Drozdz of Visualingual

and Alan Grizzell

Like Aminah Robinson, these artists maintain a focused eye on the cultural elements making up the neighborhood. They celebrate through their works the details of OTR’s past and present. Details we, as sometimes visitors, new residents and landlords, or those who prefer to stay away from the old German neighborhood, miss. These are a few of the artists who preserve the culture of our city streets.

Yet the recent role of Cincinnati artists in the development of OTR has been little more than entertainers or window dressing for prospective real estate buyers. ArtsWave is the chief marketer of the arts in this neighborhood. Pulling local artists out of their studios to paint the street or choreograph splash dances simply constructs a culture not based in Cincinnati or grounded in the culture of the city. Events like these effectively permit us to ignore the cultural history of our city. We continue to tell ourselves we have a vibrant art community and a wonderful cultural history, but fail to see it. Worse, we allow (pay for!) a manufactured culture to “rehabit” OTR.

I think Cincinnati can learn so much from the Columbus Museum of Art’s Street Talk. Even our own Cincinnati Museum of Art, should take a cue from Columbus. The CAM’s wonderful Cincinnati Wing presents an exceptional commitment to the city’s art history and should easily provide a gateway for Cincinnati’s living artists. Yet, except for the educational programs, periodic showings of the Visionary and Voices artists on the museum’s ground floor, or the highlighting of a local artists for fundraising, the work of Cincinnati’s contemporary artists have no place in our art museum. Even the stumbling start of the 4th Floor Award reveals the inexplicable challenge the Cincinnati Art Museum has providing a venue for exhibiting our local artists.

Yes, Cincinnati has a vibrant and working community of visual artists. The city also has a number of powerfully influential institutions like the Cincinnati Art Museum and ArtsWave, which could quite easily open up art’s discussions led by the artwork of our living contemporary artists. Seeing local artists as the caretakers of the soul of our communities and allowing them to determine the parameters of the discussion about our history and culture will permit an honest discussion about preservation and community development; an honest window to our vibrant community of artists. Street Talk and Spiritual Matters is on view at the Columbus Museum of Art until September 11th. And admission to the museum is free July and August!

After your visit, you will understand why our own National Underground Railroad Freedom Center commissioned from Aminah Robinson this ‘RagGonNon”

It is through the artists’ eyes, our cultural soul is preserved.

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