In October of 2019, The Cincinnati region was almost literally bursting with light. After months of planning, anticipation and excitement, the time had finally arrived for BLINK® 2019. Nearly 1.5 million people visited Over-the-Rhine, the Central Business District and Covington for a weekend of art, light and music. In 2020’s climate of social distancing and prolonged shutdown, it may be hard to recall or even imagine the atmosphere surrounding such a massive, vibrant community event. But one year later, BLINK is an illustration of the atmosphere that led to Greater Cincinnati’s listing, for the first time, in the top 20 listings of Southern Methodist University’s Arts Vibrancy Index.

SMU’s Arts Vibrancy Index, established in 2015, is the only evidence-based ranking system of its kind. Every year, they compile data from 900 communities across the country and rank them by arts vibrancy according to a rigorous list of criteria. They take into account the number of artists in a region as well as the number of arts organizations and people employed by them. They look at the amount of money a region invests in arts impact via donations and engagement. They also look at how much local governments invest in the arts.

The Arts Vibrancy Index defines the Cincinnati region as a large metropolitan area, including counties in Northern Kentucky and Southeastern Indiana. For this year’s list, our region ranked 20th in the nation, putting Greater Cincinnati above the Denver area. Numerous factors went into securing that spot.

According to the authors of the report, Cincinnati has “deep arts roots and a vision as an arts city by early founders and philanthropists.” That includes Charles Taft and Anna Sinton Taft, whose gift to the people of Cincinnati included their considerable collection of art, their home (which became the Taft Museum of Art) and a challenge to the community to match their financial donation. That challenge would evolve over time to become the ArtsWave Annual Campaign.

New constructions and renovations of arts venues also played a role. In the past few years, dozens of arts organizations have seen major improvements to their resident spaces, if not new spaces altogether. The restoration of Music Hall, the new home of Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, Ensemble Theatre’s renovated lobby space, Cincinnati Art Museum’s new Art Climb and the upcoming projects for Cincinnati Ballet, Playhouse in the Park and the music venue on The Banks are mentioned specifically in the report. They represent just a small part of the projects that were recently completed or are planned for the near future.

Finally, SMU’s study lauded our region for the commitment that companies and individuals have shown to the arts through $340 million in gifts to the ArtsWave Community Campaign since 1949. “Given this commitment to the arts,” the report reads, “it is no surprise that Cincinnati ranks in the top 2% on all Arts Dollars measures.”

That commitment pays off for our community in many ways. This new recognition is only one of them. Even in normal circumstances, we’ve never been the type of arts sector that simply rests on its laurels. And the circumstances we find ourselves facing now are nothing but normal. SMU’s Arts Vibrancy Index primarily used data from before the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, the arts everywhere have been hit particularly hard by widespread closures and bans on mass gatherings. It will take hard work, advocacy and determination to use the momentum this accomplishment affords us.

You can help in that effort by making a gift to ArtsWave at

BLINK is a trademark of the Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation exclusively licensed by the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber