How do you follow up an event that drew more than a million people to downtown Cincinnati and Over-the-Rhine for four days of art and light during its inaugural year?
If you’re the organizers of BLINK, you go even bigger, expanding the Oct. 10-13 event another 10 blocks and crossing the Ohio River in the process. If that’s not enough, you light up one of the city’s most beloved icons – the Roebling Suspension Bridge.
For the uninitiated, BLINK is “part street fair, part art fair, but it’s all moving and dynamic,” said Alecia Kintner, president and CEO of ArtsWave, the event’s presenting sponsor.
BLINK debuted in 2017, bringing large-scale projection mapping, murals, interactive light sculptures and entertainment to an area that ran 20 blocks, from The Banks to Findlay Market. Its organizers – The Agar, ArtWorks, Brave Berlin, the Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation and the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber – billed it as the largest event of its kind in the nation.
Bridging the Ohio River
And it’s getting even larger this year, stretching across the river to incorporate Covington as its fifth “zone.” All four zones from 2017 – Findlay Market, Over-the-Rhine, the Central Business District and The Banks – will feature attractions again. In Cincinnati, BLINK is designed around the Cincinnati Bell Connector streetcar route, and there will be no charge to ride from 4 p.m. to the end of service during the festival.
“We knew instinctively that we wanted to go across the river,” said Brendon Cull, senior vice president and chief operating officer of the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber. “The very theme of BLINK is about connection and inclusion and a more vibrant region.”
BLINK will flow across the river by adding a light and sound experience to the Roebling Suspension Bridge.
“The Roebling Bridge on an ordinary Tuesday is stunning; during BLINK, it will be magnificent,” Cull said.
Once they’ve made their way to Covington, BLINK attendees – organizers are expecting a crowd as big or bigger than in 2017 – will “rediscover a neighborhood that’s one of our region’s gems,” he predicts.
For Tim Maloney, dubbed “the mastermind” behind BLINK and the president/CEO of the Haile/U.S. Bank Foundation, crossing the river has added significance.
“It was important for me to go into Northern Kentucky because it’s a principal area of giving for (the foundation),” he said. “(Ralph Haile) adopted Covington like it was his hometown. He cared very deeply for Covington and its future.”
With the Covington expansion and larger overall area – “It’s going to feel huge in its footprint,” promises Andrew Salzbrun, partner at AGAR – there will be a whole new collection of art and light experiences to see. BLINK will include 39 projection mappings, nearly double the number in 2017.
Among the 45 light installations at this year’s event will be an all-new luminarium by Architects of Air, which created the “Katena” luminarium in 2017. Architects of Air’s “Dodecalis” will make its world premiere at BLINK. Macy’s is presenting this light sculpture, which will be located in Washington Park. Tickets ($10; children 2 to 5, $5; children under 2, free) will be available at the attraction. (BLINK’s other attractions are free and do not require tickets. VIP tickets, $350, offer access to six VIP tents along the route, private restrooms, a dedicated bar and other perks.)
BLINK also will add 17 new murals to the Findlay Market area.
“By the end of BLINK in 2019 … we will have a great collection of world-class, international street artists, most of the big names in the world, in a four-block radius,” Salzbrun said.
That street art gallery will exist long after the lights of BLINK have gone out.
“It creates a vibe,” Maloney said. “It’s proven to contribute to the development of neighborhood.”
Organizers believe that’s just one way Cincinnati will feel BLINK’s impact for a long time to come.
Kintner said ArtsWave stepped up its investment in BLINK this year – organizers are describing the event as “illuminated by ArtsWave” – because BLINK touches on all of the fund’s goals around creating community through the arts.
“We’re looking at the social values, the community values, the economic values,” she said. “We know that if we can build the reputation of the region through extraordinary events like this, that only helps with workforce attraction, business and enterprise attraction, as well as cultural tourists who come and will come back to experience more arts.”
“What we do over four days changes the culture of arts in Cincinnati,” Cull agreed. “People want to live and work in a place where things like BLINK happen.”
How to BLINK
So, how should you do BLINK? First, pace yourself – and consider spending multiple evenings at the event.
“Do not try to see this whole thing in one night. You might be able to pull it off, but it won’t be fun,” Salzbrun said.
If you want to see the big kickoff, head Downtown at 7:30 p.m. Thursday for BLINK Future City Spectacular Parade, presented by Skyline Chili and curated by ArtWorks. It will travel south on Vine Street in Downtown Cincinnati, beginning at Eighth Street and ending at Rosa Parks Street and West Freedom Way at The Banks. Chef Jean-Robert de Cavel will be this year’s grand marshal, and 85 groups – some 3,200 individuals – will participate.
Other than the parade, activities will be repeated from 7 p.m.-11 p.m. each night. Hospitality areas (with food, drink, restrooms, seating and VIP tents) will open at 5 p.m., if you want to start your night earlier. Projection mapping shows are 3-10 minutes long and will be on a continuous loop, so you can arrive at any time you’d like. An entertainment schedule featuring regional and national performing artists will be announced at blinkcincinnati.com.
Wherever you go, Cull recommends taking a bus downtown so you won’t have to drive or park. After all, BLINK is a walking show, not something to drive through.
“We’re encouraging people to ‘Don’t BLINK and drive,’” he joked.
Cull suggests picking a starting point and exploring two or three zones, stopping for dinner or a drink with friends along the way.
“I keep telling people, ‘Sure, make a plan. But it’s also OK to not make a plan,’” he said. “The best part of BLINK is just discovery – being able to walk down the street, discover something and be surprised and awed.”
“My hope and my expectation is that people will be overwhelmed by how much there is to take in and the sense that the art stretches for miles,” Kintner said. “Isn’t that what we want Cincinnati to be known for: Art that stretches for miles?”
VIP tickets, map, entertainment schedule, street closures and transit information: blinkcincinnati.com