ArtVenture connects the dots between visitors and public art in downtown Cincinnati

This story is supported by a National Endowment for the Arts Our Town Technical Assistance grant supporting a partnership between Springboard for the Arts and the International Downtown Association.

If you’re in downtown Cincinnati, you might want to walk around the city. But why just go for a stroll when you can have can have an artventure?

Downtown Cincinnati Inc., the nonprofit business improvement organization responsible for the heart of the city, has made it easy to have to experience the beauty and creativity of the downtown area: their online ArtVenture database and mobile app pull together information on all of the public art pieces – murals, sculptures, and architecture – that can be found around downtown Cincinnati and the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, as well as in Cincinnati parks.

Seeing what’s right in front of you

“It came about because we have ArtWorks, which does a number of mural projects every year downtown and Over-the-Rhine, and we have these historic monuments and statues of people like Abraham Lincoln and James A. Garfield, but there was nowhere that all that information about these pieces lived,” says Downtown Cincinnati Inc. Director of Marketing Tricia Suit. “If you were walking down the street and saw a mural you would have to go on the ArtWorks website and look it up. If you saw the Lincoln statue and wanted to know more about it, you really had to go looking for it. There was no centralized database.”

Suit, who previously worked at the Taft Museum of Art, knew how people interact with public art, and that they like to be able to easily look up information on pieces they find interesting. “But there was no information on that cool statue you just saw,” she explains. “It made sense for me to make that information easy to find and easy to use for people.”

The project started in 2014 after someone asked her about a statue they had seen and she knew nothing about it.

“I was trying to find information on it and all I could find was a PDF printout on Cincinnati sculptures from 20 years ago,” she recalls. “A lot has changed in that time! I’m kind of a history nerd and a data nerd so I started researching it. I wanted to find out how we could change that. I started to assemble this database and put it in a form that works for people and is easy to find.”

Building supportive partnerships 

During her research, Suit reached out to ArtWorks, the Cincinnati-based nonprofit organization that employs and trains local youth and talent to create art and community impact, including through their mural program. ArtWorks youth apprentices have completed more than 100 murals in 36 Cincinnati neighborhoods and seven nearby cities – a massive inventory of murals to catalogue.

“ArtWorks has information on their website for all their murals, so I contacted them and said, ‘Hey, can I copy and paste this information?'”

ArtWorks said yes and allowed Suit to use their images as part of the ArtVenture database. She also reached out to the Cincinnati Parks for more information on their sculptures. These details were a little more difficult to come by (especially as Suit was still largely working off of that 20-year-old printout), as were images, so Suit took the opportunity to have photos taken of all of these sculptures.

“It was a nice opportunity for us to get photos of their sculptures so they have them now, too,” she says. “Everyone helped with this information and didn’t look at it as stepping on toes. Everyone is very collaborative here in Cincinnati; I’m always surprised when other cities aren’t like that. Everyone was really happy to have this new information and have updated artwork [and one resource where all of it can be found].”

Leveraging art interactions to support businesses

As a downtown development organization, Downtown Cincinnati Inc. also saw the potential for designing walking tours around these pieces as part of their efforts to promote downtown businesses and drive tourism.

“From a business perspective, we can integrate these tours with our business listings, including a place to get coffee or a place to take the kids to hear a concert,” Suit explains.

The website includes directions and the mobile app is GPS-enabled, so visitors not familiar with Cincinnati’s downtown can still easily find their way around and tailor their itinerary to their own interests.

“If you’re in town for a game and want a sense of baseball history you can get that too,” says Suit.

Last year for the All Star Game they developed The Old Ballgame itinerary, highlighting statues that pay homage to Cincinnati’s baseball heritage while also making suggestions for places to grab baseball-approved sustenance like a burger and beer.

This year, Cincinnati hosts the NAACP Convention in July, for which they are developing a Civil Rights history-focused itinerary. Suit says they keep an eye out for all upcoming conventions and events so that they can offer something uniquely tailored to those guests.

“We want to make sure when visitors come into town they can find something of interest to them in the city,” she says. “It’s important to us to make it a resource to see everything in the city through these routes.”

Downtown Cincinnati Inc. has also incorporated an ArtWorks mural tour that focuses on works created by Cincinnati native artists, adding some sculpture pieces also made by native Cincinnati artists, making suggestions to visit such iconic Cincinnati institutions like Izzy’s deli (go for the Reubens) and Graeter’s Ice Cream, and calling it Hometown Heroes.

There are currently 71 pieces in the database, which they will continually update, and the pieces include both ArtWorks-created murals and historic murals that have been a part of the cityscape for decades, sculptures and statues, and a recently-added category for architecture.

The whole project is designed so that people can park their cars anywhere downtown and just walk, expecting to be delighted and see the city in a new way.

“Both ArtWorks and the Parks have been really helpful in talking about it,” says Suit. “It helps everyone involved at this point for people to go out to see the works, then have lunch or dinner somewhere downtown.”

Ultimately, though, ArtVenture is a showcase of downtown Cincinnati, meant to inform visitors and locals alike and get them excited about the things they see and the city itself.

“When you’re walking though a city and see something that interests you that you can get information on, it makes you fall a little bit more in love with that city.”

For more on Downtown Cincinnati Inc.’s downtown initiatives, visit their website.

IDA