The arts have been in the news a lot over the past two weeks. Just think: At ArtsWave, we revealed our largest community arts campaign fundraising total on record, $12,250,000 from more than 40,000 citizen donors. One day later, the Music Hall Revitalization Committee announced that much-needed restoration will be able to commence thanks to the gifts of leading philanthropists, whose gifts get the project to within 10% of the goal. Finally, the Cincinnati Symphony announced the success of a multi-year, multi-million dollar stabilization effort – along with successful and amicable union negotiations—that have essentially recapitalized and repositioned the orchestra for the future.
In response to these stories, I’ve heard more than a few times that these results are impressive for “a city our size.” As much as I understand the sentiment and our region's population size, I think we are selling ourselves short with this qualifier. Within the space of twelve days, Cincinnati has done something that other cities, large or small or in between, can only envy. We’ve shown our unique capacity for collaborative action around things that we value—namely, a thriving, innovative, and inclusive arts scene.
There’ve been a lot of heroes along the way. ArtsWave’s Community Campaign Chairman Tom Williams and his entire Cabinet worked tirelessly to push us to our goal, and then to our stretch goal. Tom jumped all in to meet the challenge of surpassing ArtsWave’s own record set in 2014—and he did it with the astute recognition that other economic development projects he has helped to drive are about the region’s “hardware,” its infrastructure. The arts, and education, Tom said, are its “software”… and just as essential for fueling the region’s growth. This articulation resonated with new donor and partners this year. It will have lasting benefits of helping the arts to have a seat at the proverbial table as civic priorities are assessed and opportunities are revealed.
Otto Budig and Mu Sinclaire persevered toward a comprehensive funding solution for revitalizing Music Hall and Union Terminal. Simultaneously, individuals and families stepped forward with transformational gifts for these iconic buildings, places “where memories are made.” Most recently the major investment announced by the Lindner family helped inspire other finish line gifts.
Much of the credit for the groundwork behind the collaborative effort to save our beloved cultural facilities goes to another hero, Kathy Merchant, whom we honor tonight as she prepares to retire as CEO of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation. Kathy will be long remembered for forming a ground-breaking Arts and Culture Partnership to begin seriously studying capital needs among Cincinnati’s institutions. Kathy knew we had a shared responsibility to protect the irreplaceable cultural assets that define our character, soul and aspirations as a city. That early work also led to the evolution of ArtsWave’s predecessor organization, the Fine Arts Fund, to becoming the broader umbrella for more and diverse arts groups focused on community impact that we are today.
As one of the resident organizations of Music Hall, the story at the Cincinnati Symphony is also one of commitment to evolving for the future. Reversing a financial crisis of six years ago, President Trey Devey guided board, staff, musicians and patrons on a path toward greater stability by increasing its endowment, while also embracing a spirit of innovation. These years of sacrifice and hard work have brought great results financially and artistically, undergirded each year by major operating support by ArtsWave. As the New York Times observed last week, the Cincinnati Symphony is “moving happily in the opposite direction of many of our nation’s financially-troubled orchestras.” This is good news not just for the Symphony, but for partner arts organizations like Cincinnati Ballet, Cincinnati Opera, Cincinnati World Piano Competition, and the May Festival Chorus. It’s also great news for our region’s residents because the Symphony will be adding more world-class performers to their ranks.
For any region, large or small, the news of the last twelve days would be extraordinary. Yet it feels like a uniquely Cincinnati story— the kind of thing that can only happen in a place where everyone feels a collective responsibility to improve the quality of life for everyone. It reminds me of the roots of our annual community campaign – a million-dollar challenge from the Taft family in 1927 to protect these major cultural assets of the time and “others yet to be imagined.” To this day, there is a book in which every donor to that campaign signed their name. The names of every donor sit side by side—regardless of the size of their contribution - each one a hero for the community. May we all continue to be so inspired as we work to build community through the arts.