148-year-old Art Academy mulls building a Cincinnati where art graduates want to stay
As local businesses continue to play an important role in Greater Cincinnati’s transformation in recent years, much of this growth – its cultural implications in particular – can be attributed to the Art Academy of Cincinnati, an unparalleled provider of arts education in the region and beyond.
Many famous artists have passed through AAC over the school’s 148-year history, shaping our scene as well as that of big cities. As an AAC instructor, famed painter Frank Duveneck taught industrial designer Russel Wright and portrait painter Mr. Jean McLane, both of whom achieved international acclaim. Later famous graduate Charley Harper would perfect his modernist style while living, working and teaching here.
Today, after decades of creative theft that for some time threatened Cincinnati’s creative identity, the AAC administration looks to a historic anniversary, a myriad of successes, and a particular point of pride: the growing number of graduates choosing to stay in Cincinnati, thanks to a re-emerging arts scene and forged institutional partnerships that have expanded the availability of sustainable local employment for visual artists.
In 2016, the Community Building Institute at Xavier University released a community impact study showing that CAA contributes approximately $1.9 million annually to the local economy. The study also showed that more than 120 local businesses currently employ AAC students and graduates, nearly double the number reported in 2005, when AAC moved from Mt. Adams to Over-the-Rhine. .
These local employers — which include art galleries, marketing agencies and a number of retail vendors — make all the difference in whether graduates choose to stay in Cincinnati, according to the AAC vice president. , Joan Kaup.
“Cincinnati has evolved creatively to the point where there’s less of a need for artists to move elsewhere,” Kaup says. “We are seeing a trend of more of our alumni choosing to stay in Cincinnati, where young people are encouraged and artists have the opportunity to make a difference with their art.”
AAC graduates gain networking skills for the gallery and beyond
AAC graduate and visual artist Kim Flora came from Baltimore to attend AAC after visiting numerous art schools across the country. She graduated in 2004 with a major in painting and art history and, finding Cincinnati a good fit for her, chose to stay.
“I’m certainly glad I stayed,” says Flora, who thinks Cincinnati’s size lends itself to a close-knit arts community where new and old talent can feel at home. “I am thrilled to have the opportunity to enjoy this revitalized city.”
Her connections to the AAC led Flora to people like Chris Williams, who helped her land her first job in the Cincinnati Art Museum’s Exhibit Design and Installation Department.
“After starting out as a preparator, I now manage the same design and installation service for which I did my internship”, explains Flora. She supports herself with gallery and museum work and will show six pieces in The return to beauty: Asian influences on the contemporary landscape at Cincinnati Art Galleries starting in March.
Jennifer Grote is another AAC graduate who has found a niche in local galleries. Grote, who graduated in 2003, operated a corporate gallery space on Pete Rose Way before shifting gears to painting and curating exhibitions. She now sits on the board of the AAC Alumni Association, working to create opportunities for students throughout the creative process and career search.
“The Art Academy has been a vital part of that environment by encouraging people to seek their voice and have the courage to share it with the community,” Grote says.
But galleries aren’t the only professional base available to Cincinnati’s growing number of young visual artists.
After graduating from AAC in 1992, Ran Mullins launched Relequint, an incoming digital B2B marketing agency located downtown. He later helped found web design studio Metaphor and agencies Cleriti and Allegori, joining larger marketing companies like Curiosity, Barefoot Proximity and Envoi Design to expand Cincinnati’s digital design footprint.
“Cincinnati continues to be a great market for those involved in branding, marketing and consumer insight, with multiple opportunities for creative career advancement compared to other cities,” says Mullins. .
Professional illustrator Jim Effler agrees that Cincinnati is a good size for young professionals looking to grow in business. “It’s big enough to provide work opportunities, but without some of the headaches of big cities,” he says.
A former teacher at AAC, University of Miami and Mount St. Joseph University, Effler is currently creating a portrait to hang in the renovated Music Hall, commemorating Robert Porco’s 25 years as manager of the Cincinnati May Festival Chorus.
Ambassador: Key to Cincinnati’s Creative Future
As more creatives choose to stay put, thanks to an era of transformation that has brought unprecedented economic growth and shifting cultural attitudes, many graduates are still drawn to opportunities in cities like Chicago and New York. Art Academy President John Sullivan says it’s a testament to the education students receive.
“We do a good job of introducing our students to the art world, especially what’s in New York, so some of them want to get out into the world to try their hand,” Sullivan says. But he admits that Cincinnati’s broader arts community could do a lot more to sing its own praises and retain talent. “We are not a city that values the visual arts like other cities do.”
Manifest Gallery executive director Jason Franz adds that Cincinnati artists need to be better advocates for one another.
During a seminar at AAC in 1998, Franz posed the question: Why do so many students leave Cincinnati after graduation? When a person replied that nothing was happening in this town, Franz replied simply, “It’s because people like you are leaving.”
Franz believes those who choose to stay here should root themselves in the culture. That’s why, since its founding in 2004, the nonprofit, community-based Manifest has shown the work of 2,283 artists from all 50 states and 40 different countries, as well as 184 different academic institutions from across the United States.
“I wanted to accept responsibility for adding the creative value I thought the world needed, where it was needed – here,” says Franz. “Not only did these results happen because someone stayed in Cincinnati and because of conversations with people who wanted to leave; they happened because people around the world were interested in the value placed and cultivated here.”