Local Community Centers Serve Important Role

26 Jan 2011, Posted by admin in Packages, No Comments.

Local Community Centers Serve Important Role

Community arts centers fill a range of niches in Cincinnati’s cultural makeup

By Desire’ Bennett

For nearly 20 years, Annabelle Johnson has watched members of the Over-the-Rhine community grow and learn through the arts. “This is like their second home,” she said, referring to the Peaslee Neighborhood Center, one of a number of community-driven arts centers that are part of Cincinnati’s neighborhoods. “We are family. That’s what I call them.”

And she sometimes tells them this when they walk through the doors of the Peaslee Neighborhood Center to attend various arts classes. Johnson, who is a human rights activist and receptionist at Peaslee, believes having a place like this for people in her neighborhood is important because “they come in here to learn.”

Peaslee, located at 215 East 14th street, was started in 1984 when a group of local women organized it as a way use art as an instrument for educational empowerment. “Art is a tool that people can use to express their thoughts about their community,” said Peaslee co-founder Bonnie Neumeier, “but even more it’s trying to give a space for one to participate in it—it is a tool for empowerment in our neighborhood.”

“Art can [also] be used as an instrument for educational empowerment for our people,” Neumeier added. “There’s art and then there are arts centers. Nothing against [places like] Music Hall—they’re wonderful, but I believe that arts centers are more about the people’s art and rises up from the members of the community.”

Slideshow by Lauren Justice

On the other side of Over-the-Rhine, Elementz Hip Hop Youth Arts Center provides an outlet for young people between the ages of 14 and 24 to “unleash creativity and respect through hip hop,” according to center director Brother Abdullah. “We believe that the youth have respect within them,” he added, “and a lot of times it just needs to be brought out through creativity by having a place and a staff that are conducive to that.”

Elementz gives participants the opportunity to participate in various hip hop cultural artforms such as graffiti, dance and rap. Social worker Anthony Jones, who refers many of his clients to the center, sees value in this approach. “I think that this facility gives hope to inner-city kids to do different things that are positive,” he said. Jones often refers his clients to Elementz because he believes it gives them an outlet to focus on the good in their lives instead of “highlighting the things that they do wrong.”

“There are some who are starting to come out of their shell and become more creative in their dance moves, storytelling and songwriting,” Abdullah said. Through these collaborative efforts, teens that may otherwise be on the streets are in the studio working together for a common goal. “I’ve seen a lot of people, over the years, learn how to do songs together,” Abdullah said. “[They] learn how to work together or at least learn to be in the same environment without bumping heads.”

Hughes high school senior Terrence Smith, who plans on attending UC to major in pre-med, also has dreams of being a choreographer. He said he’s grateful to have found the center. “This place is helping me to stay away from drugs and the streets,” he said. “Here, I’m more in my element.”

Erin Deters, program coordinator of the Clifton Cultural Arts Center, located on the corner of Clifton and McAlpin Avenues agrees that community arts centers can foster that feeling of belongingess. “I think that there are a lot of really great, big arts organizations in Cincinnati,” Deters said. “We have a wonderful art museum and contemporary art museum, but I think it can be a little bit hard to feel ownership and participation for everyday citizens.”

“[Community centers] can be a neighborhood revitalizer [that] gives kids—and adults—something else to do so it’s a good community gathering space,” Said Cincinnati councilmember Laure Quinlivan, the head of council’s Quality of Life Committee. “It’s a way to bring the arts, especially to kids, who may not otherwise have an opportunity to experience the arts — whether it be due to transportation problems or [other circumstances]—they might not ever come downtown to where the major arts centers are.”

According to a study on public participation in the arts conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts in 2008, arts participants are more involved in their communities in a variety of other ways, including taking their children to out-of-school performances and collaborative art-making.

Happen, Inc., a non-profit arts center located in Northside, offers programs that are specifically designed for parents and children to interact with one another through the arts. Tommy Rueff, founder and director of Happen, Inc., believes it is important to foster these relationships. “Our goal is to create a bonding time and to do that through the arts,” said Rueff. “We’ve stuck to our mission from the very beginning of bringing together families through creative activities.”

Northside resident and Happen participant Jenny Rush believes that this mission is effective. “We took our son to do the egg decorating and he had a great time and there were tons of kids there,” she said. “In the first hour it seemed like a hundred people came through. It was packed.”

Happen Inc. has had much success with the programs that it offers, but like many other nonprofit organizations, this success does not come without effort. “It’s not different than any for-profit organization financially,” Rueff said. “It’s always a battle. You always have to be financially concerned about your future and what you’re doing.  “[But] outside of that, it’s always being able to keep up with the demand. If I do something, I really want to do something great [and] make sure that there’s a level of quality with all of our programs.”

Through those programs, Rueff tries to teach Happen participants that creativity is power. “Everybody’s blessed with that power and if they realize that they have it and they use it—not just for art—but in everyday life, that power of creativity can become like a super power and it can lead into so many different things within the community.”

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