The Art Academy of Cincinnati — a well-kept secret

 Art Academy of Cincinnati — Vision and Mission

Our vision is to excel and to be recognized as a vibrant, creative community dedicated to engaging innovative visual artists who make meaningful contributions to the world. Our mission as an independent college of art and design is to provide personalized education in the visual arts.

Art is not optional

Okay, the Art Academy of Cincinnati (AAC) is not exactly a secret, but up until the last few weeks I sure didn’t know much about it. And with three children interested in design, I consider myself fairly-well educated on such matters. Although to be truthful, two of my children took summer classes there while in high school. Even so. Why don’t I know more about this incredible institution?

Now I do.

My husband Mark became involved with the Art Academy this year as a volunteer consultant from the Executive Service Corps of Cincinnati to help the college write a two-year strategy and business plan. Last week he took me on a tour of the AAC facility.

Art Academy of Cincinnati
Art Academy of Cincinnati, 1212 Jackson St. at the corner of 12th St., Cincinnati, Ohio

The AAC is one of the smaller non-profit four-year art colleges in the country, and the only one in southwest Ohio. Originally located at the Art Museum in Eden Park, five years ago AAC moved to 1212 Jackson St., in the historic and dynamic Over-the-Rhine (OTR) neighborhood of downtown Cincinnati.

Art Academy store front

The AAC building contains an excellent storefront along the popular 12th Street arts corridor. The possibilities for this as-yet-unused space are limitless and exciting.

There is an open-air parking lot within a few steps, but I found a parking space on 12th Street across from the AAC beside the historic Germainia building. You might just recognize the Artworks mural designed by Amanda Checco hidden behind the tree from this angle.

Know Theatre, Cincinnati, Ohio

The alternative Know Theatre is a half a block away from the AAC.

Ensemble Theatre, Cincinnati, Ohio

The Ensemble Theatre, with the beautiful pillars and where Mark and I will be seeing Next to Normal on Thursday, is a block away on Vine Street.

Art Academy of Cincinnati

The AAC dorm building is on the corner of Vine and 12th, just a few steps away from the Ensemble Theatre and a mere block from the AAC. It looks like they’re putting in a Belgian Bistro in the first floor storefront. Students can fall out of bed, dash down the stairs, dart into the Bistro for a coffee and be in their studio at the AAC five minutes later. Not bad.

A once-downtrodden area of the city, Vine Street is enjoying a resurgence of life and vitality. Quaint restaurants, storefronts, apartments, and nice condominiums are springing up everywhere in renovated buildings behind newly painted facades.

Before we toured AAC, Mark and I met our youngest son Mark Joseph for a delicious lunch at the Lavomatic Cafe on Vine Street, a block and a half away from the AAC.

The Senate, Cincinnati, Ohio

The Senate Pub across Vine Street from the Lavomatic serves gourmet hot dogs and to-die-for lobster mac-n-cheese, among other things. Because of its popularity, the Senate is doubling its space by renovating and expanding into the neighboring building.

The AAC’s move five years ago, to the rapidly growing arts district called the Gateway Quarter, puts it in a prime location to be a force in the resurgence of a dynamic art community in a revitalized Over-the-Rhine. But the move had its risks. In Cincinnati, OTR has gained a reputation for crime over years of neglect. I suspect anytime citizens reclaim an inner-city area the challenges are the same. Along with the physical renovations, the hearts and minds of the populace need to be re-educated.

In his article for the Cincinnati Enquirer last Thursday, Academy enrollment blooms in urban OTR, Cliff Peale reported, “Six years after the bold move from next to the Art Museum in Eden Park into the heart of one of the city’s most crime-ridden neighborhoods, the new class is the latest chance for the Art Academy to prove it can make the location work long term.”

Mark in his temporary office at the AAC.

The drop in enrollment following the move to OTR, on top of the increased expenses due to renovations, created financial problems for the AAC.

Enter the Executive Service Corps of Cincinnati. Introduced to the AAC project as a volunteer and functioning now as a part-time paid consultant, my husband Mark will be working out of a temporary office in the AAC over the next several months to help develop a strategy and business plan and get the school back on solid financial footing.

The good news is that after an initial slump in enrollment following the move to OTR, AAC is enjoying an enrollment of 85 students this year, “the largest freshman class in its 142-year history” (Cinci Enquirer).

In keeping with a Cincinnati tradition, the entrance of the AAC features a decorated pig, probably from the Cincinnati Big-Pig-Gig held several years back.

The building’s interior is edgy with its concrete, and metal structure. Located in the former home of a mattress factory, the spacious AAC rises six stories.

The stairs are offset by seven degrees. I don’t know why, but it makes for an interesting photograph.

Skylights and massive windows throughout the studio and classroom spaces, fill the AAC with  bright natural daylight.

On the top floor you can see panoramic views of the hills of Cincinnati from the walls of windows.

Another perspective affords a view of AAC’s former home, the Art Museum in Eden Park, just barely visible as a light blue-green dome in the upper left corner of the photo. I’ve been told that the new location is seven degrees from the old. I’m not entirely sure what that means, or why it’s significant.

The AAC offers BFA degrees in Art History, Drawing, Illustration, Photography, Painting, Printmaking, Sculpture, and Visual Communication Design. They also have a Master of Arts in Art Education program. Large classroom studios and smaller, although still spacious, studios that house four students are located throughout the building. In fact the generous studio space for every student is one of AAC’s advantages over other institutions. Another selling point is the individualized attention students receive with the low student to teacher ratio of 10 to 1.

Here’s a view of Vine Street and the yellow dorm building from the upper floors of the AAC,

and a view of the shops and cafes on Vine Street where we had lunch earlier.

Our son Mark Joseph takes in the student work on display.

Brightly lit critique spaces are located throughout for students to display and present their work.

We ran into student Alicia Little, who was featured in the Enquirer Story, preparing for a critique.

You might want to write her name down. Famous artists have graced the halls of the AAC.

From 1904 until he died in 1919, famous painter Frank Duveneck was at the AAC helm. Other early students and faculty members include  Robert Frederick Blum, John Henry Twachtman, Joseph R. DeCamp, Edward H. Potthast, Elizabeth Nourse, and Joseph Henry Sharp. More contemporary  faculty and alumni include Josef Albers, Paul Chidlaw, Petah Coyne, Malcolm Grear, Charley Harper, John Ruthven, Thom Shaw, and Tony Tasset.

In the Enquirer story, Diane Smith, interim president and a 30-year Art Academy veteran said, “We really feel we’re at a crossroads here. There’s a lot to be excited about, and we want to be the center of creativity in this community.”

Evidence of new growth and new life is sprouting around the Art Academy, in the Gateway Quarter of Over the Rhine. I can’t wait to see what will be created here.

See more posts about Cincinnati.

The Murals of Cincinnati Artist Amanda Checco

The willowy woman bursts into a room like a beam of sunlight. Her positive energy and optimism energize the room. The artist is a powerhouse of color. Her work energizes the space. The woman and artist is Amanda Checco.

I first met Amanda several months ago when our youngest son Mark Joseph became friends with her through their shared interest in art and their Artworks connection. At the time, she had asked Mark to photograph her mural in-progress.

Find Your Soul in the City by Amanda Checco

Amanda was working on “Find your Soul in the City,” her second mural. This mural is located inside a store called Park & Vine in Over the Rhine, a section of downtown Cincinnati that is undergoing an artistic rebirth. You can see photos of the work in-progress and read about the design and commission of “Find your Soul in the City” on this link to Amanda’s blog.

“‘Find your Soul in the City’ mural is meant to be very spiritual,” Amanda writes in an e-mail. “I used sacred geometry, chakras and symbols from several different religious and spiritual groups.”

Amanda also used Metatron’s cube in her design of “Find your Soul in the City.” This link takes you to this mind-bending YouTube video about Metatron’s Cube and Consciousness. If you have ten minutes to spare, it is well worth it.
“My belief about colors,” Amanda writes, “is that they are powerful healing tools for everyone. I try really hard to wrap my head around color theory and subtle shifts in hue and saturation. And hopefully I will continue to master that. But for this mural, and for ice cream day dream too (Amanda’s first mural shown at the end), I just chose colors that make me happy in hopes that they will elicit the same reaction from other viewers.”
Amanda sent me the following two links about color theory and therapy, and video about chakras’ colors if you would like to learn more about this fascinating topic:
How do you turn a manageable design into a work of art that covers an entire wall from floor to ceiling? Amanda documents the process of transferring the mural to the wall and the first paint strokes with photos in this blog post.
After she began to paint the mural, Amanda decided to refashion some of the characters. “I was trying to figure out how to push some areas in the design as we were beginning to paint,” she writes in her blog.  I thought it would be a good opportunity to investigate something that Ive always loved- fashion.  I felt so many characters in this image were REALLY wanting to wear something awesome.” (From !Character Refashionizin! where you can see Amanda’s inspiration and sketches.)
This break-dancing “bird” character, according to Amanda, is based on my son, Mark. “I had just met him when I started designing, so I decided to put him on the wall,” Amanda writes. “Artists always make work about their life.”
According to Amanda, “Find your Soul in the City” is not finished yet. “It is really not knocking me over like I’d like it to,” she says. “I’ll be going back and adding more to make it a more intense experience.” The mural dedication will be Final Friday in August, (a local street celebration in this area of Downtown Cincinnati that occurs on the last Friday of each month).
Ice Cream Day Dream by Amanda Checco and Cincinnati Artworks

You can read Amanda’s five-part series on How to Make a Mural that she wrote while working on her first mural, “Ice Cream Day Dream.” This mural is located on the backside of the historic Germainia building at the corner of Jackson and 12th streets in Cincinnati’s rapidly growing arts district called the Gateway Quarter.  See more of Amanda’s artwork on her blog