Art Academy of Cincinnati celebrates OTR relocation

Anyone who reads the comments on our local paper’s stories on urban redevelopment stories or downtown and Over-the-Rhine crime stories knows that plenty of city and suburban residents are perfectly comfortable with our city core maintaining its status quo. In contrast, those dreaming bigger dreams for Cincinnati know that changes are necessary to build and maintain a positive presence of young, motivated visionaries.

The Art Academy of Cincinnati demonstrated its dedication to change on June 1, 2004, when it began a 13-month construction project culiminating in the Academy’s relocation from Eden Park to Over the Rhine in July of 2005.

Originally called the McMicken School of Design, the Art Academy of Cincinnati’s home was in Eden Park, in conjunction with the Cincinnati Art Museum, from 1884 until 2005. The relocation adventure has, unsurprisingly, united the city’s artistic vision and inured to the benefit of the city the Academy and its students.

“I think it was a pretty bold move for [the Academy] to come down to Over the Rhine,” says 2011 graduate Avril Thurman, a print-making major. “They had been in Eden Park for so many years. I think a lot of people were really hesitant about [the move.] But there is a lot more electricity and life. Kids come to the Art Academy, and it’s the first big city they’ve lived in. I think that’s a good experience for them. I think there’s a lot of opportunity to make good connections.”

Large cities define themselves by their access to culture and arts; they judge us by our access to the same. Moving the Academy into Over the Rhine plopped aspiring artists into the most inspiring artistic community our city has to offer.

Zach Stubenwoll, who graduated in the Spring of 2011 from the Academy’s Visual Communication Design program, lives in Main Street in Over the Rhine and does freelance web design and art projects out of his apartment. As a member of the Cincinnati chapter of the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA), he attends meetings in Over-the-Rhine; he loves Second Sunday on Main; he is religious about attending Final Friday. One of his professors co-owns Higher Level Art, an organization that collaborated with ArtsWave to bring us Paint the Street, spanning 6 blocks of 12th Street in September of 2010.

“There really is a strong connection to the community, not only with the students but also with the faculty, who are working professionals and creating their own art in the community while teaching,” Stubenwoll summarizes. “I see students, alumni, and teachers out at galleries and local bars.”

Now that these students have graduated, they are investing themselves back into the artistic revitalization of OTR and the surrounding neighborhoods. Thurman and Stubenvoll both glow when they discuss the Art Academy, their May graduations, and their most recent projects.

Thurman grew up in a log cabin in Brown County, Indiana and moved to the city as a young child with her mother, now a Forest Park resident. After a brief stint as a University of Cincinnati student, she moved downtown to join the intimate and inspiring program at the Academy. At the Academy, Thurman had opportunities to study in Brooklyn for six months; since graduation, she spent a month working on a project in Louisville before returning home.

Back in the city, Thurman has dedicated her efforts to a local project she discovered through a fellow Academy graduate. She describes her current exhibition project as being, “about the blurring or bleeding of visual arts and poetry. There will be poetry readings. The Cincinnati Gallery in Over the Rhine is working on the publication. We have mostly Cincinnati artists.”

Stubenvoll has likewise invested his talents and skills in the local art scene since graduation. A Hamilton native, he also transitioned from UC to the Academy, inspired by the school’s intimacy and opportunities. Since graduation, he has remained invested in the community, doing largely freelance graphic design and web design.

As the community has inspired and continues to inspire Academy students who invest their talents back into the city upon graduation, the Academy’s presence in Over-the-Rhine has contributed to a significant increased enrollment in the school. New enrollment this Fall is up more than 20% over last year, when the Academy boasted 4 graduates with Masters of Arts in Arts Education and 36 degrees to undergraduate students. “ACC’s class of 2011 is a dynamic, engaged group of young artists, designers, and art educators, reports Diane K. Smith, Art Academy of Cincinnati’s Academic Dean. “[It is] our largest graduating class since ACC’s move to its new campus in Over-the-Rhine.”

A greater downtown student body means more downtown residents building lasting ties to our city. “Not only do we have a growth in fall enrollment numbers but likewise a growth in student diversity,” reports Joe Fisher, Associate Director of Enrollment Management, “additionally, the Art Academy Residence Hall at Vine and 12th has been filled to capacity and we have overflow student living arrangements at Jackson Lofts and adjacent buildings-bringing new residents to the vitality of OTR.”

The Art Academy of Cincinnati is located at 1212 Jackson Street in Over-the-Rhine, Cincinnati.

Art Academy Paint the Street picture by 5chw4r7z.

  • Jake Mecklenborg

    The Art Academy only has about 200 students and at most 50 faculty and staff, so it is smaller than many state university art departments. There is a limit to how much economic and cultural influence such a small number of people can have on a neighborhood that once had 40,000 residents.

    Also, neighborhoods have little to zero influence on the type of work made by art students. Some art schools are in “bad” neighborhoods like Pratt, MICA, KCAI, etc., and others are in country club settings like Cranbrook. When Yale’s dept was #1 10 years ago it was in a converted community center on a side street in a city the size of Hamilton.

  • Schmiez


    Not sure if you are supporting or downplaying AAC. Sure there is a limit how much influence AAC can have. Same way there is a limit how much influence Senate, or Lackman, or Taco Azul can have. I’d venture to say a school, with regular full time enrollment, and students living nearby, eating nearby, drinking nearby, is a pretty big influence. given that most of them probably dont have cars, may be a bigger influence than the residents in the area.

    As for your second paragraph, you need only cite the picture attached to the article to prove otherwise. Think some culdesac in Anderson would let them do this?

  • Jake Mecklenborg

    Only the people who have seen the numbers really know why the Art Academy moved (art museum expansion? pressure to sell the St. Gregory St. building?), but to me the reasons given are the usual cover-up for the broken window fallacy at the center of most moves. OTR’s gain was Mt. Adams’ loss, and the building it now occupies wasn’t vacant before. It was for at least 10 years prior a 5/3 back office of some kind that surely employed several dozen people, if not more than the Art Academy.

    Also, many artists have made work in suburbs in the past 50 years. In the mid-90’s Gregory Crewdson made these suburban images by simply asking people to use their yards: These photographs were exhibited at the old CAC in 1999.

  • Robert

    Jake, I must confess that I share Schmiez’s reservations toward your jaundiced and sobering comments about AAC — yet, sadly to say, your observations may have unveiled truths that most of us are totally unaware of. Although most everyone probably wants AAC to succeed in OTR, it’s also important that we know the real story behind the monumental move. You’re obviously much a part of the local art world and your insights here are most valuable; what are your feelings about AAC’s growth in the near future? (I realize that you probably don’t own a crystal-ball and that my naivete in such matters begs for “answers” that may not be available.)

  • Jake Mecklenborg

    I dont know if the move was effective in attracting higher quality students and faculty, and I wouldn’t expect an honest answer from the art academy or any school in a similar situation. I do think that a very expensive private art school has a tough time selling itself to in-state residents when DAAP and a variety of other state programs are available at less than half the price, and 18 year-olds from around the country aren’t exactly begging their parents to pay for them to go to a school in Cincinnati the way they do to move to New York or LA.

    The Savannah College of Art & Design started from nothing in 1978 and has since grown to 10,000 students, most of them in living in and around Savannah’s famous historic district. The effect of so many people on a 1-2 square mile area is obvious, so again I’m quite skeptical of the tiny Art Academy’s ability to significantly influence the neighborhood.

  • Schmiez

    There it is again:

    “The effect of so many people on a 1-2 square mile area is obvious, so again I’m quite skeptical of the tiny Art Academy’s ability to significantly influence the neighborhood”

    Are the 10,000 students, who go to the coffee shops and bars NOT in the historic district and go to classes in buildings all over Savannah, not having an influence? 10,000 is not 200, but its a compelling analog.

    SCAD is renowned in the Art education field no doubt, but everyone has to start somewhere. Is Savannah a better option to live than Cincy? Im not so sure a great portion frequent the historic district or live in.

    As for DAAP: good program (used to be great), but you dont even need a portfolio to get accepted. Good grades in high school and ACT are enough. I know a handful that got in and took but 1 art class all of high school. Im not even sure its fair to compare the schools given the type of work and people they produce. Pretty sure AAC could care less on how you did in Economics and Algebra if you are passionate about your craft.

  • Jake is a skeptic about most things. Don’t mind him 😉