Placemaking B Corp News

Giving Back: Opticos Donates CNU Charter Award Money to Cincinnati Nonprofit Public Art Group

Earlier this year, Opticos Design was awarded the CNU’s Charter Award Grand Prize for Best Planning Tool for our work on the Cincinnati Form-Based Code. As we discussed what to do with the prize money, we decided the best thing to do would be to give the money back to an organization making a difference in the City of Cincinnati. We chose ArtWorks, a nonprofit group employing local youth to transform their community through public art projects.

“One of the first things that jumped out at me when I was first getting to know Cincinnati’s urban neighborhoods was the amazing collection of urban art, and in particular the murals. They clearly have played a role in defining the unique, creative character of Cincinnati’s urban neighborhoods, and ArtWorks has and will continue to play an important role in ensuring that this creative culture continues,” said Opticos Principal Dan Parolek.

Since 1996, ArtWorks has completed 90 murals in the greater Cincinnati, OH, and northern Kentucky area, and has another 17 in progress. Projects range from Garden Party at the Taft combining a number of masterpieces from the Taft Museum of Art’s collection to Hamilton Waterways, Past and Present comprised of historic photographs and news stories to celebrate the industrial and cultural history of the Great Miami River. Every mural is different: ArtWorks projects feature a variety of artistic styles including collage, realism, trompe l’oiel, abstract, and symbolism.

Race and 13th
ArtWorks murals feature a variety of artistic styles: “The Vision of Samuel Hannaford,” left, and “The Golden Muse, at 13th and Race St. Photo courtesy of Michael Contreras/Flickr.

A professional artist leads each mural project executed by a team of paid “apprentices”—youth ages 14 to 21. The group has created jobs for more than 700 local artists and 2,500 Cincinnati youth. They say they are the largest employer of visual artists in the region, and have contributed more than $1.3 million in wages back into the local economy in the past three years alone.

“We strive to be the economic engine that empowers creatives to transform our region,” says Tamara Harkavy, CEO and artistic director of ArtWorks. “We’re so grateful to organizations like Opticos for helping us to realize this vision. Support from Opticos helps us to create high quality, engaging public art that trains and employs our youth for future career success. Supporting ArtWorks creates positive outcomes on many levels.”

Rosalind Tallmadge ArtWorks mural
Artist Rosalind Tallmadge began as an ArtWorks apprentice when she was fifteen. She designed the 2014 project “Shining Seas” for the wall of the Newport Aquarium and is currently working on her MFA in Painting at the prestigious Cranbrook Academy of Art. Photo courtesy of ArtWorks.

Apprentices come from a variety of educational, cultural, and socio-economic backgrounds—which is one of the most valuable aspects to working with the group, say participants. “It really shattered a lot of the misconceptions and stereotypes I had about different people in different communities. It’s led me in so many great directions to so many amazing people that I probably wouldn’t have ever met,” said 17-year-old Keegan in an ArtWorks promotional video.

For many young people, a job at ArtWorks is their first formal work experience and many come from low-income households. Working at ArtWorks offers apprentices an income while learning valuable artistic and professional skills like how to save money and write a resume, as well as building self-confidence and pride in a job well done.

Ruthven mural ArtWorks Cincinnati
“I’ve had the most incredible experience with ArtWorks in the three years I’ve worked here. It was my first job, and it’s helped me to not only improve my skills in the art world, but learn the basics of having a job as well,” said 19-year-old Julianna Hoffman of her work on “Martha, The Last Passenger Pigeon” designed by John A. Ruthven. Photo courtesy of ArtWorks.

ArtWorks advocates say the public art program gives the community an outlet to express themselves, offers a source of hope to community members, and serves as a conversation piece to bring people together.

“People see the fabulous art and they stop and they stare and they think, ‘I want to be here,’” said Ric Booth, general manager of the Duke Energy Convention Center, which partnered with ArtWorks to create The Hands that Build Our City, depicting the hands of the workers featured in the famous Union Terminal mosaic murals by Winold Reiss, plus those of two convention center employees and one ArtWorks apprentice.

The Singing Mural ArtWorks
“The Singing Mural” designed by C. F. Payne pays tribute to Cincinnati’s arts and cultural legacy. The full mural includes a cast of 18 well-known characters including Sesame Street’s Grover, Cincinnati Pops conductor Maestro Erich Kunzel, and the Cincinnati Reds’ Mr. Redlegs. Photo courtesy of ArtWorks.

Opticos’s donation to ArtWorks also corresponds with our B Corp goals: As a Certified B Corporation, we are committed to being a sustainable business, meeting rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. “We truly enjoyed the opportunity to work in Cincinnati, an amazingly vibrant and welcoming city. We’re thrilled to be able to give something back to that community, and support the incredible work that ArtWorks does,” said Opticos Principal Karen Parolek.

“I can say with absolute certainty that my time with ArtWorks has been nothing short of transformative,” said apprentice Tyler Dunbar. “I’ve learned so much about artistic careers, techniques, and professional skills, and on top of that, I’m using my abilities to help make Cincinnati a beautiful place. What’s not to love?”

The Cincinnati Form-Based Code (FBC), one of the largest of its kind in the country, was designed to spur neighborhood revitalization in Cincinnati’s urban neighborhoods through pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use development, while preserving the city’s historic charm and diverse culture. Opticos Design worked with the city for more than four years to bridge the parallel efforts of the FBC process with the new Comprehensive Plan in order to meet the city’s overarching goal of “Thriving Re-Urbanization.”

Watch the below video to learn more about ArtWorks, or to get involved, visit their website.

Main image courtesy of Michael Contreras/Flickr.

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