2021 marks ArtWorks’ 25 years of transformational impact. To celebrate, we will be sharing stories from ArtWorks alumni, who are part of an incredible legacy of transforming people and places through investments in creativity.
You may have a hard time finding a great cheese steak in Cincinnati, but you will find another Philadelphia export here: monumental murals.
How did that come to be? All you need to do is look to Cincinnati legend, Mark Mallory.
As mayor, Mallory took a 2007 trip to the City of Brotherly Love. He saw the many wonderful murals by Mural Arts Philadelphia.
“I thought, wow that looks fantastic, and we should be doing something like that here,” Mallory recalls. So he quickly contacted ArtWorks’ first director, Tamara Harkavy. “I asked ‘Can we do this here?’ And she said yes.”
Mallory was familiar with ArtWorks’ program, first visiting the organization’s arts employment program for youth at Eden Park while a member of the Ohio Senate. Since its beginning, ArtWorks has been hiring Youth Apprentices to create community and public art. The idea for the youth employment program in the arts was sparked by another former Cincinnati mayor, Roxanne Qualls, and the program launched in summer 1996.
The organization now has more than 4,000 youth apprentices and 3,500 creative professionals alumni.
“What I like about the program is it not only teaches young people art but it pays them in the process,” he said. “The program touches on many elements of the development of young people’s lives, including providing mentoring.”
Previously, ArtWorks had done murals, but nothing on the scale proposed. As for the city, leaders such as Carl Solway, Jack Boulton and others championed the Urban Walls movement to Cincinnati during the 1970s.
So a vision was hatched between ArtWorks and the City of Cincinnati. The goal was to create 52 murals in each of Cincinnati’s neighborhoods by paying professional artists leading youth apprentices to create the work. So far, 45 city neighborhoods have at least one ArtWorks mural, and the organization continues to work towards this goal.
“It’s been fantastic to see the murals evolve, and see the involvement of the communities in the process,” Mallory said.
Westwood is one such neighborhood, in which the 2010 mural, Jessie Boone’s Westwood Story, was the start of more significant community investment for the neighborhood.
“At the mural dedication, we had neighbors come out of the woodwork,” Westwood community organizer Leslie Rich says in this recent Soapbox Cincinnati story.
ArtWorks has also invested significantly in Avondale since 2011, working in partnership with the community and guided by the Avondale Quality of Life Vision Statement. Now there are several murals painted in Avondale with more in process.
For Mallory’s efforts, the United States Conference of Mayors honored Cincinnati for its partnership with ArtWorks with a 2010 City Livability Award.
Soon after receiving the award, Cincinnati hosted mayors from all around the country. “We took them on a tour of the murals, and they loved it,” Mallory said. “The national impact that has been felt with this mural program. It’s been tremendously impactful for our area, so I’m really proud to have been a part of it.”
Just as the Mural Arts Philadelphia mentored ArtWorks for its mural program, ArtWorks has been able to mentor a few cities on the ways of creating a youth-centric mural program, including in Waco, Texas, and Huntington, West Virginia.
“When we originally announced this program (in 2007), I don’t think any of us could envision a day when we have 200 murals,” Mallory said. The former mayor was on-hand for the celebration of our 200th mural, Time Saved vs. Time Served in 2020.
While it is hard for Mallory to choose favorites among the murals, he mentioned Jonathan Queen’s Fresh Harvest, which was commissioned in 2012 by Kroger and painted on its headquarters at Central Parkway and Walnut Street.
“The fruits and vegetables are just jumping off of the wall,” Mallory said. “I love the scale of it. There so many people that that interact with this mural and see this on a daily basis, whether they are locals or choose to come here.” It is the favorite mural of his mother, Fannie, as well. “It stands out in a in a grand way, showcasing the power of these murals.”
Mallory enjoys finding new murals he hasn’t yet seen around the region.
“They are a fantastic expression of our culture, all throughout town.” he said. “I just love it.”
We thank Mallory for his continued support of ArtWorks and its mission by recently joining the board of directors.
ArtWorks is an award-winning Greater Cincinnati nonprofit that transforms people and places through investments in creativity. The organization collaborates with community organizations and residents, businesses, governments, foundations and nonprofits to build creative works of art that bolster the region’s global reputation as an arts destination. ArtWorks employs professional artists who inspire and mentor diverse teams of youth, ages 14-21, helping them build 21st century career-readiness skills. These teams have completed more than 14,000 public and private art projects in its 25 years, including more than 200 permanent outdoor murals. Learn more at ArtWorksCincinnati.org.