2011 Cincinnati Fringe Festival serves as a vehicle for collaboration

For funky and cutting edge arts events and experiences in Cincinnati, the place to be is the Cincinnati Fringe Festival, May 31 through June 11. The first Fringe Festival originated in Edinburgh, Scotland 51 years ago. The Cincinnati Fringe Festival in its eighth season, and like its forefather, showcases theater, comedy, performance art, fine art, and film that explores the weird, outrageous, and the provocative.

With 12 days and 160 performances of 35 productions showcasing both local and out-of-town performers and artists, plenty of opportunities exist to whet the appetites of audiences. Starting this year the Cincinnati Fringe Festival offers Fringe Next, a program that features performances created, produced, and performed by local high school students.

Some of the highlights from this year’s line-up include: Fire & Light – fire-based performances by Incendium Arts; The Masculinity Index – the exploration of what it means to be a man through theater, spoken word, music, movement and much more; Darker – a love story involving light bulbs; Fringe Documented – a film documentary focusing on bringing the Fringe to Cincinnati; and The Body Speaks: Calligraphic Photography – a photography exhibit created by Sean Dunn, a local Cincinnati photographer, focusing on “unifying the mediums of calligraphy and photography.”

Work created by Dunn served as inspiration for three other fringe projects that include: The Body Speaks: Movement, The Body Speaks: Scripted, and The Body Speaks: Captured. Dunn will be viewing the finished projects for the first time during the Fringe.

“I want my work to speak for itself; I did not want to interfere or impose my thoughts or criticisms and diminish any of the collectives’ innate creativity,” Dunn said. “I eagerly look forward to seeing and hearing The Body Speaks Projects in their polished state over the course of the Cincinnati Fringe Festival.”

For Dunn, the Fringe is vital because of the collaborative opportunities it affords artists from multiple platforms. “The Cincinnati Fringe Festival is important because it presents artists of all walks of life the opportunity to work together and gives well deserved attention to the Cincinnati art scene,” Dunn said. “What’s more, Fringe Fest provides artists an exceptionally welcoming and comfortable environment in which unorthodox styles of creativity and presentation are encouraged.”

Ticket prices range from $12 per performance, $60 six-show pass, and an all-access pass for $200. For more information about performances and show times you can visit the Cincinnati Fringe Festival website.

Fringe Festival picture provided by Know Theatre.

A Tavola opening soon in Gateway Quarter

A Tavola interior, photo by Emily Schneider

The guys behind A Tavola want to make their customers happy. It’s immediately evident in their menu, drinks and wine selection, and in their welcoming Over-the-Rhine space.  They even designed their open kitchen so that they could see their patrons react to the tasty food and drinks being served up starting soon (stay tuned on their Facebook page for more specifics).

A Tavola will be the third restaurant open for business on Vine Street between 12th and 13th in the Gateway Quarter district of Over-the-Rhine.  Cincinnati natives Bill Draznik, Jared Wayne, and Sam Ginocchio will primarily be serving up Neapolitan style pizza cooked in an oven that was custom crafted in Naples, Italy, which happens to be the birthplace of this style of pizza. The brick oven weighs as much as an empty school bus and can cook a pizza in 90 seconds or less depending on the fresh ingredients you order. Only about a dozen of these Stefano Ferrara-crafted ovens can be found throughout the states, and you’ll be happy one of them is right here in Over-the-Rhine.

“A Tavola” (pronounced “Ah Tahv-ahla”) is an Italian phrase that literally means “to the table”, but is used by gracious Italian hosts everywhere as a “welcome, come eat.”  The name is fitting; Bill, Jared, and Sam are seeking to create an inviting atmosphere as comfortable as going over to a friend or family member’s home for delicious food that is created with care.

Their 14” pizzas will be made with hand-mixed dough, San Marzano tomatoes, and several locally sourced ingredients.  Prices will range between $10 for a classic margarita, $11 for veggie options, $12 for meat options, and $14 for a pizza that uses a fig reduction as sauce and prosciutto and balsamic arugula salad as toppings.  While a hungry patron could probably take down one of these pizzas by himself, A Tavola recommends splitting several amongst a table of friends so that you can sample from their selection of pizzas ranging from traditional (margarita) to non-traditional (sweet pea and bacon), and maybe you’ll find a new favorite along the way.

As an example of the care being put into each of the ingredients, Bill, A Tavola’s charcuterie, will cure their slab bacon for a week and then smoke it using applewood.  The advantage of slab bacon is the ability to cut thicker slices so that, when cooked, the bacon has crispness on the outside and tenderness on the inside. The pork for A Tavola’s homemade hot Italian fennel sausage, bacon, and pork shoulder will come from the Dean Family Farm in Georgetown, Ohio, which also supplies Boca in Cincinnati.

front tables - photo by Emily Schneider

Every good pizza is made even better with drinks, and drinks are definitely not an afterthought at A Tavola.  There will be eight beer-friendly drafts and 15 bottle beers available.  Not to be outdone by the communal nature of the pizza, draft beer will also be available by the pitcher!  A slew of craft cocktails will also be featured, including classics as well as modern interpretations creatively designed by Sam, the genius behind the bar.

What is a good Italian restaurant without a fantastic wine selection?  There will be five red and five white wines available, each at $25/bottle or $7/glass.  These 10 ‘table’ wines were carefully selected with the help of level-2 sommelier Eric Faber, and are all set at the same price to make them more accessible to someone who is not exactly a wine connoisseur.

It is this thoughtful combination of personal touches throughout the restaurant, born out of passion for serving great food, that are sure to make both you and your stomach happy, and will keep you coming back to A Tavola for more.

Can Cincinnati learn from Paris’ famed Velib’ bike sharing program?

When I stepped out of the Edgar Quinet Metro station and onto the street for the first time something immediatley caught my eye in this neighborhood of Paris, France. Within just a few minutes I noticed something that I did not expect. Not only were there a ton of people riding bicycles around the neighborhood, but most of them seemed to be riding the same model bike. It was slightly different than a normal bike, and stood out in a way that made them all noticeable and different than a more normal bike on the street. I thought to myself, what is it with these Parisians and their funky bikes?

It didn’t take much time walking the streets to continually notice these bikes just about everywhere and once I came across a whole bunch of these bikes parked at a station it started to make sense. Then there was another station; and another station. No wonder these bikes were everywhere, they were available everywhere.

What I had stumbled upon was the Velib’ bicycle program which was started four years ago in 2007 and was championed by Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe. It is a bicycle sharing program that is available throughout the city of Paris and is designed to be a short term rental where riders can pick up a bike at one station and drop the bike at any of the other 1,800 stations (averaging one every 330 yards) throughout the city.

All it takes to get started is scanning a credit card at one of the stations and off you go through Paris on two wheels. A subscription is necessary which can be purchased in daily, weekly, or annual incraments and range from $2.50 for a day to $41.50 for an annual pass. The first thirty minutes of each ride is free, which of course encourages Parisians to use the bikes on short commutes, and after thirty minutes the rider must pay service fees.

The program was reportedly a wild success when it was rolled out four years ago, but it is not without its problems. There have long been reports that the program which was funded and is run by ad agency JCDecaux is too costly considering the maintenance, theft, and vandalism to the bicycles. Through the contract the advertising agency has exclusive rights to the over 1600 outdoor billboards throughout Paris, but all of the money from the fees for the program itself go back to the city of Paris.

Users of Paris Velib’ – Photographs by Dave Rolfes.

Clearly, Cincinnati is not Paris from its sheer size and even bicycle friendliness at this point, but seeing this program made me wonder what our city could learn from it. Sure we cannot support 1,800 stations and of course we do not need 20,000 bikes on the street, but is there a scalable way to do this type of program in our region?

I would propose that there is. With a focus on the urban core, stations could be set up both north and south of the river from historic Over-the-Rhine in the north, to Bellevue, Newport, and Covington in the south. Our urban core is relatively flat and allows for easy riding from one place to another.

There could be stations set up in other neighborhoods as well throughout the city, Uptown and Northside come to mind as obvious choices, and even some of the other city neighborhoods could support a program like this. It would definitely help to change the culture in Cincinnati, as it has Paris, by putting more bikes on the road and helping our citizens become healthier. Additionally, as there are few other programs like this in the United States, it would continue to further position Cincinnati as a city that can be environmentally friendly and progressive in its thinking.

State of Downtown report shows continuous improvement

Last week Downtown Cincinnati Inc. (DCI) released their annual State of Downtown Report. The report contains graphs and numbers relating to the development of Downtown. This years report suggests that Downtown Cincinnati has seen a large increase in the number of people enjoying the array of restaurants and arts in the center city.

Arlene Koth, executive president and Chief Operating Officer of DCI, said that when they looked back at the numbers in 2010, there were a few things that really jumped out to them. One such item was the amount of development happening downtown; not just the number of projects that have been completed, but also the amount of investment that has gone into the projects downtown.

According to the report, $1.4 billion in development took place in 2010. DCI says that they expect an additional $1.8 million worth of development to follow on that 2010 investment, and be completed in the next 18 to 24 months. Of those investments, cultural projects represent approximately 31 percent. Mixed-use development makes up another 23 percent. Residential (18%), office (15%) and transportation (13%)  investments then make up the rest.

DCI says that activity attendance downtown has saw a rather constant decrease from 2006 until 2009, but showed an increase in 2010. This recent increase goes follows the pattern seen recently with encouraging gains in new restaurants and residential buildings.

Downtown and its outlying neighborhoods, Over-the-Rhine and Pendleton, experienced a 35 percent population increase overall, with the majority coming in the outlying neighborhoods of the greater downtown area.

Businesses owners are trending towards buying the building in which they locate their businesses over leasing the spaces. Thus the newly renovated buildings stay intact and add value to downtown.  Koth acknowledges “though some building [renovations and leases] have stalled, other developments have helped to spark more desire in potential residents and help pull the buildings through the darkness and into the light.”

DCI is also responsible for all the people walking and biking the streets in bright orange t-shirts or electric blue jackets depending on weather conditions. These Downtown Ambassadors are employed to help keep downtown clean and safe by doing everything from walking people home to giving people directions out of downtown.

Though the increase in development and activities in downtown have affected downtown Cincinnati’s economy positively, there have been numerous battles in getting business offices sold or rented and in keeping crime low. The number of crimes has steadily decreased until 2008 when they increased by 21% from 1,153 to 1,402 in 2009. Compared to the 2001 crime rate of 2,013, the rate has decreased significantly.

Overall, downtown is blooming with even more new businesses and events that keep the core bustling and alive with activity.

Fountain Square picture for UrbanCincy by Thadd Fiala.

Architreks walking tours connect Cincinnati with history

Why was Northside called “Helltown,” and what role did local soap mogul, Andrew Jergens, have in cleaning up its image? Every Saturday and Sunday until October, the Cincinnati Walks Architreks walking tours take participants on guided, two-hour jaunts through the city’s first communities. Walk about Downtown, Over-the-Rhine, Mt Adams, Walnut Hills, Clifton or Northside and learn how these 19th century neighborhoods took shape.

“Our objective is to inspire our participants to discover Cincinnati’s history and connect to the unexpected,” says Trudy Backus, Architreks/Cincinnati Walks founder and volunteer coordinator. “Our tours explore the hidden gems and architectural landmarks of Cincinnati so that both visitors to our city and local residents walk away with a new perspective.”

This is Architreks/Cincinnati Walks’ 10th season, and as always, proceeds benefit community preservation and education. Sponsored by the Architectural Foundation of Cincinnati and the Cincinnati Preservation Association, all two-mile tours are wheel-chair accessible, and there is a wheelchair available at the Contemporary Arts Center for customers downtown.

No reservations are necessary to reserve spots on the tours, and groups and businesses may arrange custom tours by request. Tours are $5 for children, $15 for adults, and $120 for groups of 10 or more. Subscriptions are only $30. You can stay connected by becoming a fan of Architreks on Facebook.

Visit the website or the Architreks/Cincinnati Walks Facebook Page for tour schedules and other information.