CAC to open new sixth-floor center

The Contemporary Arts Center will open Oct. 29 a new creativity center on the sixth floor of its landmark Zaha Hadid–designed building.

The center, an environmentally conscious hub for creative learning, will amplify the CAC’s commitment to fostering innovation and curiosity in audiences of all ages.

The project will transform the sixth floor of the Lois & Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art into a learning space centered around creativity and exploration connected to the art and ideas of our time.

The CAC has partnered with Chicago-based architecture firm Mir Collective to realize the learning within the museum space, which will merge interactive galleries, ample making spaces and community-centric gathering and gallery areas — with a focus on environmental sustainability.

Initial construction work on the center began in October 2021.

“As a non-collecting institution, the core of our work at the CAC revolves around the creative process of artists, performers, and makers around the globe and local artists from our region,” said Marcus Margerum, the CAC’s interim Alice & Harris Weston Director. “The creativity center not only gives us more room to expand the work we’re currently doing with visual and performing arts programming, artist residencies, learning and community-based initiatives, and hands-on intergenerational engagement, but also to reinvent the notion of the contemporary arts institution as a robust resource for creativity. We are excited to be partnering with Mir Collective on this groundbreaking project, as their creative approach to community engagement, sustainability, and inclusivity aligns closely with our own mission and values as an institution.”

In 2003, the CAC moved into the seven-story Lois & Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art, the first U.S. project designed by Pritzker Prize–winning architect Zaha Hadid and the first US museum designed by a woman. Hadid’s original design, an “urban carpet” that dynamically draws visitors from the sidewalks of one of the city’s busiest intersections into the building and up through the galleries, was visionary in establishing a critical connection to the center of urban life in Cincinnati. The CAC will celebrate the building’s 20th anniversary next year.

“Even throughout the pandemic-induced challenges of the past two years, the CAC has remained committed to championing creativity in our communities, offering virtual programs, distributing art-making kits for at-home use, and supporting local artists through grants and residencies,” said Gale Beckett, president of the CAC’s board. “Through the creativity center, the CAC hopes to instill in future generations the capacity to be hyper-creative and hyper-entrepreneurial, empathetic and curious, while remaining environmentally conscious.”

Since its opening, the sixth floor of the Lois & Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art has housed the Sara M. and Patricia A. Vance UnMuseum® and provided space for children, family programs, and tours. The redesigned sixth floor will continue to host the UnMuseum® and will also expand to incorporate a large studio and a network of pavilions for exploration and gathering. Mir Collective’s design opens up the floor to Hadid’s “urban carpet,” creating a brighter, more inviting space that is integrated physically and programmatically with the city and its communities.

With 10,000 square feet of flexible space, the new center will provide a vibrant spatial canvas for visitors to engage with art, connect with others, and use creative experimentation as a means to explore the increasingly complex issues of humanity, including environmental sustainability, global awareness, identity, health and wellbeing, and innovation. The center will allow the CAC to further extend its mission of encouraging artists and visitors alike to tap into the boundless possibilities of their own creativity, placing an even greater emphasis on the creative process as a critical tool for learning, skill development, problem solving, and fostering empathy and understanding for all ages.

Through education and outreach programs, the CAC serves over 57,000 visitors of all ages, 53 schools, and 400 artists annually. At the core of the center project is the CAC’s continued commitment to environmental sustainability, reflected in the addition of a zero-waste, upcycling art lab, and the use of sustainable and repurposed materials in the construction of the pavilions and other design elements. Art-making activities that take place in the center will focus on the use of natural materials, many of which will be sourced through the CAC’s ongoing partnerships with the Cincinnati Parks and others. These elements, along with other ongoing programs, bolster the CAC’s commitment to recycling, composting, using non-toxic materials, and achieving a 50% reduction of energy use, water consumption, and transportation emissions by the year 2030. The project will also support the CAC’s pursuit of LEED certification for Operations and Maintenance (O+M) for its entire building.

Key elements of the center include

  •  A sustainable art lab where recycling, upcycling, and other forms of zero-waste and net-positive waste systems will be explored
  • A large studio hosting intergenerational creative programs that deploy a full suite of analog and digital tools for making and creative experimentation
  • The updated UnMuseum® interactive gallery, with projects by local and national artists that engage visitors in a hands-on exploration of the complexities of our world
  • An archipelago of pod-like pavilions, offering a series of work niches for welcoming creative exploration opportunities and small gathering or comfortable observation of the studio activities
  • An experimental “town square”-type space for art-inspired discourse with city skyline views through CAC- and community-curated programming
  • An ever-changing community gallery with increased visual connection to the urban carpet and galleries below, dedicated to celebrating the creativity of CAC visitors of all ages by inviting them to display their own work

Centering Cincinnati’s own creative communities, the inaugural exhibition in the revitalized UnMuseum® will feature new interactive installations by local artists Batres Gilvin (Karla Batres and Bradly Gilvin), Michelle D’Cruz and Christopher Glenn, Garrett Goben, Terence Hammonds, Pam Kravetz, Anissa Lewis, Abby Peitsmeyer, and Karen Saunders. Installations in the UnMuseum® will rotate every one to three years to showcase a new slate of work designed to inspire, educate, and engage visitors of all ages.

The center project is the second major update to the CAC’s building since its 2003 opening, following a renovation of the lobby in 2015 that transformed it into a more welcoming, artistic, and hospitable space at the street level. Together, the lobby renovation, the implementation of free admission in 2016, and the CAC’s renewed commitments to sustainability and community engagement have tripled attendance numbers to nearly 160,000 per year, generating an even stronger demand for space and programs that the center aims to fill.

Fundraising is underway for the $4.9 million project, which includes construction costs and ongoing support. Of the $4.7 million of private and public funding that has been raised to date, generous gifts have come from Rosemary and Mark Schlachter, Alice Weston, Marilyn Scripps, Karen Meyer and Rick Michelman, Ron Bates and Randy Lasley, an anonymous foundation, Lynne Meyers Gordon, MFA, the Kroger Company, the Jacob G. Schmidlapp Trusts, Fifth Third Foundation, the Kettering Foundation, the Thomas J. Emery Memorial Fund, and from the state of Ohio and the city of Cincinnati.

Mir Collective is an architectural practice that creates positive public impact through collaborative, inclusive, and innovative design. Mir works within and beyond the traditional scope of architectural projects, helping envision, communicate, and realize big ideas that address relevant and complex issues of our time. Mir’s work on spaces for education, performance, exhibit, gathering, work, and leisure have been recognized by the AIA, SEED network, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Mir principals Kara Boyd, Jeana Ripple, and Todd Zima bring a wealth of experience to their practice to advocate for positive design impact with our clients, colleagues, and community.

Since its founding in 1939, the CAC has been a champion of emerging ideas in contemporary art, hosting one of the first Midwest exhibitions of Picasso’s Guernica in 1939; mounting an early exhibition of Pop Art in 1963; representing the United States at the São Paulo Biennial in 1975; and presenting— and successfully defending—the 1990 Mapplethorpe retrospective that became a lightning rod in the era’s culture wars and propelled the CAC into the national spotlight. Today, the CAC occupies the Lois & Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art, the first museum designed by architect Zaha Hadid and the first U.S. museum designed by a woman.

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