In recent years, Over-the-Rhine has become a thriving neighborhood, home to a host of restaurants, bars, and shops, with arts and culture in abundance. Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, Music Hall (and its five resident companies: Cincinnati Ballet, Cincinnati May Festival, Cincinnati Opera, and the Cincinnati Pops and Symphony Orchestras), Memorial Hall, Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, Know Theatre of Cincinnati, Elementz and Cincinnati Music Accelerator are all examples of a growing set of arts organizations that call Over-the-Rhine (OTR) home. Their presence in the neighborhood and the business they bring to the area have played a crucial role in OTR's revitalization and economic vibrancy.
According to Americans for the Arts, a typical arts patron spends a little over $30 at local businesses while attending an arts event. "Every time there is a show, all sales will double compared to a regular weekday night," says Jean-Francois Flechet, owner of Taste of Belgium, a restaurant neighboring Ensemble Theatre. Combining the annual attendance, even just at Ensemble Theatre, Music Hall, Cincinnati Shakespeare Company and Memorial Hall, yields a total of 430,000 visitors. That's nearly $13 million invested in OTR's economy each year thanks to the arts.
A recent study by the Knight Foundation revealed that residents of neighborhoods with arts and cultural amenities report greater social attachment to that neighborhood. That attachment leads to a higher reported quality of life and higher levels of stability, safety, educational attainment and civic involvement.
Lynn Meyers, the Ruth Dennis Sawyer/Mary Taft Mahler producing artistic director of Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, has long been aware of the importance of arts organizations as neighborhood anchors. At the beginning of her career at Ensemble Theatre in the 1990s, she was steadfastly committed to OTR even after receiving an offer to move the organization to a "safer" neighborhood. In the years since, the neighborhood has experienced a major transformation, with the arts playing a significant part.
Longtime Cincinnati resident and Artistic Director of the School for Creative and Performing Arts (SCPA) Angela Powell Walker remembers earlier days: "I graduated in 1986 from the School for Creative and Performing Arts. Back then, [OTR] was rough. Terrible. Not safe….we didn't venture off campus much." OTR was even deemed one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the country in 2009, outranking notorious neighborhoods like Compton in Los Angeles.
Executive Director Tom Kent of Elementz, an urban arts center located near Findlay Market, describes efforts to enliven the surrounding community: "We're reaching out to neighbors and visitors to tie those two together. We work to make the street feel safe....It takes all of us together to make OTR a destination. We're conscious of that."
While it's clear the arts have played a crucial role in revitalizing OTR, a similar metamorphosis is happening in other communities throughout the region. From West Side's Price Hill neighborhood, to suburbs like Silverton, and regional cities like Hamilton, the arts are proving to be a valuable community asset.
As Cincinnati looks to how it competes for talent and investments nationally, neighborhoods that have strong and collaborative arts ecosystems in place will help to guide the region's success.