Home » Northern Kentucky’s culture scene: ‘We rival Chicago, New York and LA’

Northern Kentucky’s culture scene: ‘We rival Chicago, New York and LA’

By Kathie Stamps

The bank of the Ohio River lends itself to prime festival locations, including popular attractions like Newport Octoberfest.
The bank of the Ohio River lends itself to prime festival locations, including popular attractions like Newport Octoberfest.

Where there are people, there is art – which then closes a virtuous circle by attracting more people.

In the arts, there are always elements of blending and harmonizing – textures and colors, sounds and movements, phrases and rhythms. And when people come together to blend and bond, communities grow stronger. Add in organizations with overlapping visions and a collaborative spirit, and the quality of life in an entire area like Northern Kentucky can explode with positivity.

“We rival Chicago, New York and Los Angeles in terms of visual arts and museums,” said Linda Antus, president/CEO of the Regional Tourism Network. “We index so high in festivals and special events.”

mrnk-cover300A 2005 collaboration between the Convention and Visitors Bureaus of Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati created, the Cincinnati USA Regional Tourism Network, which markets the area’s rich offerings in arts and culture and promotes leisure tourism with a focus on attractions and events.

In September 2016, RTN partnered on a three-year project with ArtsWave, a fine-arts fundraising entity that traces its history to 1927 supports 100-plus regional arts and community organizations. ArtsWave and RTN will conduct this new cultural tourism campaign through 2018.

While the RTN’s peak season for promoting leisure tourism is May to September for both families and business travelers, there’s also a plethora of arts events in fall and during the holidays. The RTN presented a $500,000 challenge to ArtsWave in May 2016.

“We will leverage arts and cultural tourism if you will match our investment over a three-year timeframe,” said Antus, who wants not a one-off cooperative venture for just a season but something more important and lasting. “It takes time to build momentum and success.”

Formerly known as the Fine Arts Fund, ArtsWave itself went through a strategic transformation when the name was changed in 2010, expanding beyond raising money into advocacy for the region’s arts.

“They are the prime fundraising and advocacy organization for the arts in our region,” Antus said. “It made perfect sense to work together.”

For family audiences, travelers who are on the road in spring and summer, RTN produces regional advertising within a 200- to 300-mile radius of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. RTN has a relationship with the Cincinnati Reds, for example, to advertise in the 100 radio and television markets that carry Reds baseball games. It has placed high concentration marketing in Louisville, Columbus and Indianapolis.

“This past summer we added Nashville,” Antus said. “Now, with the ArtsWave campaign we began in September, we have expanded to a 500-mile radius.”

The RTN’s marketing and advertising campaigns point to the organization’s website, CincinnatiUSA.com, which contains information and guides for locals and out-of-state travelers alike on landmarks, events, festivals, arts venues and museums.

In downtown Cincinnati, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is a museum of conscience, as well as an education center, just steps from the banks of the Ohio River that served as a divider between North and South during the mid-1800s. The museum opened in 2004 to honor all abolitionists past, present and future, with permanent exhibits and special events espousing inclusive freedom. Coming in spring 2017 is an exhibit titled “Mandela: A Living Legacy.” More than 118,000 visitors toured the Freedom Center last year.

Vent Haven Museum in Fort Mitchell is the only museum in the world dedicated to the history and art of ventriloquism. The year-round nonprofit began operation in 1973. In addition to displays of more than 800 ventriloquist dummies, Vent Haven hosts an annual international conVENTion. The 40th such event in 2016 had 681 ventriloquists from all over the world. ConVENTion 2017 is scheduled for July 12-15 at the Cincinnati Airport Marriott Hotel in Hebron.

Northern Kentucky’s largest multidisciplinary arts venue is The Carnegie, located in Covington. With the theme “gallery, education, theater” The Carnegie has 6,000 s.f. of art gallery space, the Eva G. Farris Education Center to provide art instruction for children, and a 447-seat theater for stage shows. It provided 77,275 individual art experiences in 2015. The Carnegie employs more than 125 artists and teaching artists annually, and generated $160,000 in tax revenue in 2015.

The arts are fiscally sound and sound good too. The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, founded in 1895, is the sixth oldest symphony orchestra in the country. In January 2016 the orchestra played at Lincoln Center’s prestigious “Great Performers” series in New York City, and collaborates locally with the Cincinnati Opera and Cincinnati Ballet, among others.

Branching off from classical and orchestral music into popular tunes is the definition of a “pops” orchestra. The Cincinnati Pops started in 1977, has sold 10 million recordings worldwide. Both orchestras tour across the region, nation and globe to present the talent of Northern Kentucky and Greater Cincinnati musicians.

A toast to celebrating arts and cultural events! New Riff Distilling opened in 2014 as a member of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour. Its building in Newport houses a bourbon distillery and a new event center for tours, tastings, festivals and private rentals. The first releases of New Riff’s bourbon and rye whiskey will be available in 2018.

“As a relatively young, independent distillery, we’re very proud to be connecting a centuries-old bourbon tradition in Kentucky with the urban revitalization of Cincinnati,” said Hannah Lowen, general manager of New Riff Distilling and Ei8ht Ball Brewing. “It’s fun to straddle that line and bring something unique to an area with such a rich history. We have one foot in the North and one foot in the South, one in tradition, one in innovation, and one in the past and one in the future.” 

2017 Festivals


• Cincy Beerfest, Duke Energy Convention Center

• MainStrasse Village Mardi Gras, Covington


• Costumes & Candy, Barbecue & Books, Bellevue


• Holler Festival, New Riff Distilling


• MainStrasse Village Maifest, Covington

• Taste of Cincinnati, Fountain Square


• Italianfest, Newport

• RoeblingFest, Covington


• Bacon, Bourbon & Brew Festival, Newport

• Cincinnati Music Festival, Paul Brown Stadium


• Cincy Blues Fest, Cincinnati

• Glier’s Goettafest, Newport on the Levee

• Great Inland Seafood Festival, Newport

• Wine Over Water, Purple People Bridge


• Cincy Comicon, Northern Kentucky Convention Center

• MainStrasse Village Oktoberfest, Covington

• Merchants & Music Festival, Fort Mitchell

• MidPoint Music Festival, Over-the-Rhine

• WEBN Fireworks at Riverfest, Cincinnati


• Salt Festival, Big Bone Lick State Park

• Kentucky Wool Festival, Falmouth


• Winterfair, Northern Kentucky Convention Center


• Bourbon & Bacon, New Riff Distilling

• Covington Night Bazaar, Roebling Point

• Scuba Santa’s Water Wonderland, Newport Aquarium