By Maria Seda-Reeder
You may know her as the cellist and music educator who co-founded MYCincinnati. But in her new role as director of creative placemaking at Price Hill Will, Laura Jekel is leveraging visual art to help transform Cincinnati.
Jekel was a 2011 Sistema Fellow at the New England Conservatory, where she received training in the Venezuelan nonprofit program that provides a free classical music education to promote what Jekel refers to as “social justice and personal transformation through music education.”
” Building on the lessons learned during the one-year El Sistema fellowship, Jekel and her partner, Isaac Selya, moved to Cincinnati to found MYCincinnati.
Performer/teacher/composer Eddy Kwon has since taken on Jekel’s role as director of the youth orchestra, allowing her to focus on an important component of visual arts these days: creative placemaking.
“The idea is to experience and learn about another culture through making art rather than hearing about it or seeing something,” Jekel said. So she is creating events and programs that get community members, as well as artists, working and making art together.
Jekel has been at her new post since September 2015. She has received support from locals in Price Hill and surrounding communities for several grant-funded community engagement visual art-focused programs and projects.
In collaboration with groups such as Santa Maria Community Services and ArtWorks, Jekel spearheaded the transformation of a long-stalled mosaic wall employing local artists and using hundreds of tiles made by community members at various events sponsored by Price Hill Will.
She organized and commissioned a traveling exhibition of five commissioned portraits of musicians of color created by local artists. She also is working with artists and craftspeople to create a series of skill-sharing classes, where participants come away with something they’ve made. Jekel and the artists she’s engaging have piloted piñata- and alfombras-making celebrations around the holidays and plan a Day of the Dead festival the last week of October.
Eli Meiners, director of museum operations at 21c Museum Hotel, fell in love with design when he returned to college at age 21.
Through chance, the Covington-raised Meiners says he found himself, at age 17, working at the Cincinnati Art Museum. He filled various jobs (security guard, front desk, operator) until he got the chance to work with Michael Brechner, who was then an exhibit designer.
“Design is like a vocation,” Meiners said, without a twinge of cynicism. “You feel a passion for it, truly.” And 21c seems to have given him a platform for leveraging art and design as great social equalizers.
After getting a degree in interior design from DAAP in 2006, Meiners served as art handler at the CAM and worked for various owner-operated architecture firms. When the economy bottomed out, it so happened that the CAM was looking for an exhibition designer. “It was a bucket list job for me ever since I’d worked under Michael,” Meiners said.
Meiners held that position more than two years before being lured away in 2012 to manage the museum at 21c – the burgeoning museum/hotel hybrid, with contemporary art on public view 24/7/365 – which had just opened in Cincinnati.
Four years later, his responsibilities have increased to include helping the multi-venue museum open several additional locations: Bentonville, Arkansas; Lexington, Kentucky; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; and Kansas City, Missouri.
“Every nonprofit has to deal with the concerns and initiatives of their donors, advertisers and board members,” Meiners said.
But that’s not the case with 21c. And that otherwise ubiquitous influence obviously affects what artworks galleries museums are able to show – not to mention acquire.
At 21c, he said, “we focus on and discuss issues that are incredibly challenging.” He gives all credit to 21c’s chief curator, Alice Gray Stites, who works directly with the Museum Hotel’s founders – philanthropists and art collectors Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson – to acquire and exhibit work that focuses on the art of today.
Artist, designer and curator Jonathan Sears has worked under the PAR (Professional Artistic Research) Projects name since 2010.
The Virginia Beach, Virginia, native attended and taught at the University of Maryland before moving to Cincinnati. He has worked for years to get a building made in Northside from recycled shipping containers. After years of meetings, proposals and deadlines, his vision is coming to fruition.
Two years ago, PAR-Projects purchased a triangular lot at the corners of Hoffner, Vandalia and Apple streets, just off of Hamilton Avenue. The building was an old lumber-drying facility, just a few blocks from a lumber mill. One side of the building is open so air could flow through, and initially Sears and his board planned to tear it down and start over.
But when they took their structural engineer to see the building and discuss razing it, Sears said, “He was like, ‘You will NOT tear this building down.’”
Despite a ceiling that desperately needed to be replaced, the rectangular-shaped overbuilt structure was made to last – with posts that seem to be as big as trees and designed to hold a ton of weight.
So they replaced the crumbling roof and are working to combat the effects of overgrown vines and decaying walls in this 100-year-old, long-vacant structure. They are getting bids on building out the electric and security system, as well as deciding where the office and overall footprint of the building will be.
Last month, the unfinished lot space in front of the building became a beer garden during the PAR-Projects-organized Northside Summer Market.
But at least one-sixth of the building will need to be completed before Oct. 1. That’s opening day for PAR-Projects’ first exhibition, an installation by Lisa Walcott entitled “Making Space.”
If you could see the building now, you might wonder how they’re going to pull that off. But Sears said not only is Walcott committed to having the space as “raw as possible,” the Holland, Michigan-based artist also works in facilities as a studio tech at an art school – so she’s up to the task.
In the meantime, Sears has partnerships with places such as Kennedy Heights Arts Center, where he will teach 10-week technology courses to students 16 and older who want to learn more about media arts. He also is working on an exhibition for Kennedy Heights, which will be on display this winter. Its title, “Badge of Honor,” is named for a 1992 “Murder She Wrote” TV episode.
The show will “juxtapose international and current local issues of violence and the calm that surrounds it domestically,” Sears said. The goal, he said, is to get people talking about difficult issues without being heavy-handed or telling them what they should think.
By Marie Seda-Reeder
FotoFocus Exhibition, “The Peeled Eye” – An exhibition curated by Wave Pool’s director and lead curator, Cal Cullen. The artists in this exhibition (including Bill Brown, Paolo Cirio, Mishka Henner, Will Knipscher, Andy Marko) “seek to discover and understand how we are being watched and what this surveillance produces.”
Sept. 17-Nov. 19, 2940 Colerain Ave. wavepoolgallery.org
♦21c MUSEUM HOTEL
FotoFocus Exhibition, “Shifting Coordinates” – Co-curated by Kevin Moore, artistic director and curator of FotoFocus, with Alice Gray Stites, museum director and chief curator of 21c, “Shifting Coordinates” presents works that blur the boundaries between race, gender, age, location and time, in photographic representations of identity and the environment. Artists include Slater Bradley, Elmgreen & Dragset, Pierre Gonnord and Mickalene Thomas.
Sept. 23- Jan. 2, 609 Walnut St., downtown. 21cmuseumhotels.com
Lisa Walcott “Making Space” – kinetic installations of individually lit, swarm-like sculptures. Current and future build-out for a part indoor/outdoor, gallery/performance center, with large, outdoor movie screen.
Oct. 1-Nov. 27. 1662 Hoffner St., Northside. parprojects.com
“Open Studio” Exhibition – Survey of recent graduates and MFA holders features work from the best artists graduating from local colleges, including the Art Academy of Cincinnati, DAAP, Wright State University’s film department, Northern Kentucky University, University of Dayton and more.
Sept. 9-Nov. 16, 1028 Scott Blvd., Covington, thecarnegie.com
♦PRICE HILL WILL
Musicians of Color Portraits Project – commissioned portraits by artists Lisa Tompkins, David Corns, Michele D’Cruz, Nicole Trimble and Price Hill resident Lizzy DuQuette, which will hang for a year at locations along the East Price Hill Business District. Afterward, they will be on permanent display at the MYCincinnati Firehouse Performing Arts Center.
Portrait locations: Price Hill Recreation Center, Santa Maria Community Services, St. Lawrence Bakery and Warsaw Federal. pricehillwill.org