Northern Kentucky actively building engaging experiences for all levels of arts enthusiasts

By Kathie Stamps

Northern Kentuckians enjoy artistic amenities not only in their own towns but also in iconic venues just across the river, like the downtown Cincinnati Aronoff Center – better known as The Aronoff. (Cincinnati Arts Association photo)

Northern Kentucky is an area steeped in Germanic culture, from the storybook look and feel of Covington’s MainStrasse Village to the rich detail in the German stained-glass windows at the stunning Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption.

One of the most awe-inspiring works of art in all of Northern Kentucky is the gothic architecture of the church itself. Construction of St. Mary’s Cathedral in Kenton County began in 1894 and included the gradual installation of 82 stained-glass windows crafted by a company in Munich, Germany, and installed over a period of a dozen years, ending just after WWI.

Promoting the basilica and the rest of the region’s arts and culture scene brings great food and art, interesting history, and illustrious and passionate people.

In the 1920s, the Cincinnati Institute of Fine Arts, a nonprofit now known as ArtsWave, began promoting the arts on both sides of the Ohio River, in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. A recent partnership between ArtsWave and Cincinnati USA Regional Tourism Network (RTN) involved a three-year, $1.2 million cultural tourism marketing campaign.

The promotion of arts and culture under the umbrella of tourism has succeeded in bringing in $116 million in new revenues for the region, according to Smith Travel Research and Tourism Economics, a division of Oxford Economics. While the peak travel season for leisure tourists is May through August, ArtsWave marketing efforts have focused on the “shoulder travel” season of September through December by targeting travelers within 500 miles of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky to visit and take part in cultural arts experiences in the fall.

“In the past several years we’ve watched our arts and culture sector (of tourism) have a demand growth of three percent,” said Linda Antus, president and CEO of RTN.

Holiday-based exhibits and performances at galleries, theaters and other arts venues are a big draw for tourists to the area in November and December. In other months of the year, organizations come up with ways to refresh people’s appreciation for artistic and cultural talent in the area. The Kentucky Department of Tourism announced a culinary tourism initiative in May called Better in the Bluegrass along the newly created Kentucky State Parks Culinary Trail. It highlights local recipes and ingredients, and the signature meal for the Northern Kentucky River Region featured an entrée of goetta – a meat and grain sausage of German origins – along with tomato pie, potato cakes and transparent pie, served at Blue Licks Battlefield State Park in Carlisle.

Easier to see the region

Eric Summe, president/CEO of meetNKY, cites new modes of transportation such as electric scooters and bikes for rent, and the new GEST golf cart service, as changing the landscape to make it easier for people to experience cultural destinations.

“It all adds up to river cities transforming, becoming urban-centric,” Summe said.

GEST is an acronym for “green easy safe transportation.” The Cincinnati-based business provides free rides in golf carts for residents and tourists in downtown Cincinnati, Covington and Newport. Local business advertising on the carts funds operations.

Established in 2003, Renaissance Covington is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit focused on revitalizing the urban core of Covington by embracing local culture, historic preservation, independent businesses and creativity. The city is a certified Creative District by the Kentucky Arts Council and is accredited with both the Kentucky and National Main Street Programs. Renaissance Covington won a 2017 Great America Main Street award.

Because creativity and technology often work hand in hand, Renaissance Covington partnered with Cincinnati Bell in summer 2018 to bring downtown Covington free public wi-fi to encourages walkability while helping community members and shopkeepers to stay connected.

Renaissance Covington’s flagship program is the Covington Farmers Market, featuring vendors of local goods and foods, live music and local beer and spirits. The market goes year-round in 2019. Local artists and crafters hold an outdoor Covington Night Bazaar on Shop Small Saturday (Thanksgiving weekend), and Renaissance Covington launched a monthly Pike Street Stroll in 2018 for outdoor arts gallery showing and shopping.

And of course access to more arts is as easy as hopping across the river to places like Aronoff Center for the Arts. The Cincinnati Arts Association’s 2018-19 season includes such Broadway hits as “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” the 20th anniversary tour of “Rent,” “Fiddler on the Roof” and the blockbuster “Hamilton.”

Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal, a 1933 Art Deco train station, has undergone a two-year $224 million renovation. Structural and aesthetic restorations to the iconic building included its inhabitants: Cincinnati History Museum, Duke Energy Children’s Museum, Museum of Natural History and Science, and Omnimax Theater.

Union Terminal “is an iconic building that houses multiple experiences. It is important for architectural and performance and cultural reasons,” Antus said. “There are all kinds of relevant exhibitions. They’ve worked at creating interaction. They really get you involved.”

Year-round throughout Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati, locals and visitors can experience the fine arts, performance and visual arts, and the culture of the region.

“The definition of cultural tourism is embracing and connecting a lot of opportunistic categories,” Antus said. “We are presenting opportunities for people who are outside of our 50-mile loop to come and enjoy our region for arts and culture, and to take a look at the renaissance that has gone on. I love to call it Destination 360.”

2019 Festivals

February

• Big Cheese Festival, Fairfield, Ohio

• Cincinnati Home & Garden Show, Duke Energy Convention Center

• Cincy Beerfest, Duke Energy Convention Center

March

• Bockfest, Bockfest Hall in Cincinnati

• Cincinnati International Wine Festival, Duke Energy Convention Center

• Mardi Gras for Homeless Children, Northern Kentucky Convention Center

• Universal Energy Expo, Northern Kentucky Convention Center

May

• Bunbury Music Festival, Sawyer Point

• NKY International Festival, Northern Kentucky Convention Center

• Taste of Cincinnati, Fifth Street

June

• Cincinnati Juneteenth Festival, Eden Park

• Country Fest, Alexandria

• Italianfest, Newport

• SummerFair, Coney Island Amusement Park

• Taste of Newport, downtown Newport

July

• Bacon, Bourbon & Brew Festival, Newport Riverfront

• Cincinnati Music Festival, Paul Brown Stadium

August

• Glier’s Goettafest, Newport on the Levee

• Great Inland Seafood Festival, Newport

• Ohio River Paddlefest, Cincinnati

September

• Cincinnati Comic Expo, Duke Energy Convention Center

• Oktoberfest-Zinzinnati, downtown Cincinnati

• Riverfest, Newport Riverfront

October

• BLINK Illuminated, Covington and Cincinnati

• Burlington Fall Antique Show, Burlington

• Roebling Reserve Bourbon Festival and Conference, Covington and Newport

• Walton Craft Show, Walton

November

• Cincideutsch Christkindlmarkt, Fountain Square, Cincinnati

• Winterfair, Northern Kentucky Convention Center

December

• Christmas Saengerfest, Over-the-Rhine

• Cincinnati Reds’ Redsfest, Duke Energy Convention Center

• Covington Winter Night Bazaar, Roebling Point

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