According to the 2022 Arts Vibrancy Index Report, Cincinnati scores in the top 2% on all measurements of Arts Dollars, and is ranked first on program revenue and compensation paid to arts and cultural employees among large midwestern communities.
Known as “the city that sings,” Cincinnati is home to the longest-running choral festival in the western hemisphere, the May festival; as well as a top-10 U.S. orchestra, the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra; and the second-oldest opera company in the country, Cincinnati Opera. Along with its musical accomplishments, Cincinnati has a variety of established arts institutions with trailblazing history. In many ways, this community has taken a highly collaborative approach to achieve its success.
The leadership teams of 40+ local arts institutions meet regularly to share best practices and pursue collective goals related to economic vibrancy, social connectivity, and diversity, equity, accessibility and inclusion (DEAI). This collaborative infrastructure, convened by the local arts service organization ArtsWave, was a notable asset in coping with the effects of the pandemic over the last few years.
Within weeks of venue and performance closures in early March 2020, ArtsWave accelerated $2.4 million in grant payments, expanded its Working Capital Bridge Loan program, and provided $300,000 in Emergency Arts & Culture Organization grants. By the fall of 2020, an Arts Vibrancy Recovery Fund was launched with a 2:1 challenge from ArtsWave. This generated $3 million in new resources to keep organizations afloat. Additionally, a separate emergency relief effort dedicated to independent artists in the Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky regions was created through government advocacy.
On behalf of the county and city, ArtsWave administered $3.7 million in CARES Act relief funds to arts organizations and artists; $8 million in American Rescue Plan funding from the city; and $2 million from Hamilton County. In total, nearly $14 million in relief funding in 2021. This in addition to sustained private-sector investment kept the 'pilot lights on' for a majority of arts groups and helped to fund innovation in digital technologies.
The high level of public participation and support for the arts is nothing new to Cincinnati. In 1927, local residents Charles Phelps Taft and Anna Sinton Taft challenged the community with a pledge of $1 million pledge to support local arts activity if the public would first raise $2.5 million. The challenge was met in a matter of months and the Cincinnati Institute of Fine Arts, dba ArtsWave was founded as a permanent endowment for the community. In the late 1940s, the organization evolved to become the first united arts fund in the nation and in the mid-1970s, the first organization to initiate workplace giving for the arts.
Strong funding for the arts has allowed Cincinnati’s arts and culture scene to become a national draw and regional asset, creating a wave of economic and community benefits. Each year, with the help of tens of thousands of citizen donors, ArtsWave invests more than $10 million in the work of 150+ arts organizations, school outreach programs, festivals, community centers, neighborhoods, collaborations, and independent artists through impact-based grants. These grants create thousands of concerts, shows, exhibitions, arts for school children, public art, and events; some of which are the first of their kind.
The Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati is the first professional children’s theatre in the nation and the Cincinnati Art Museum is the first encyclopedic museum west of the Alleghanies. Other notable institutions include the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, the Contemporary Arts Center of Cincinnati (housed in notable architect Zaha Hadid's first U.S. commission), and the School for Creative and Performing Arts, a K-12 performing arts magnet school.
Cincinnati is also home to the Tony-award-winning Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, which is one of the very few theaters to complete the entire Shakespeare canon. The University of Cincinnati houses the globally recognized College-Conservatory of Music, and a College of Design, Art, Architecture and Planning (DAAP), placing graduates in both the for- and non-profit sectors. The city also boasts one of the country's largest networks of community theaters and community arts centers across a 15-county, tri-state region, as well as a sector-wide focus on elevating BIPOC-led arts and artists of color.
Thank you to Alecia Kintner of ArtsWave for their thoughtful contributions to the making of this article.
ABOUT THE ARTS VIBRANCY INDEX
The Arts Vibrancy Index examines the level of supply, demand, and government support of the arts in more than 900 communities across the country. Accompanied by an interactive Arts Vibrancy Map that reveals the arts-vibrancy score of every county in the U.S., the Index lists, in alphabetical order, the 20 most arts-vibrant large cities, the 10 most arts-vibrant medium cities, and the 10 most arts-vibrant small cities. In this year’s Index, the first since 2020, four communities debut on the lists, and an additional five return after an absence of at least three years.
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