In Northern Kentucky, arts and culture are a bridge to a strong community and economy

By Kathie Stamps

The city of Newport hosts Gliers Goettafest,  an annual summer festival celebrating a  German dish of pinhead oats and seasoned sausage called goetta.
The city of Newport hosts Gliers Goettafest, an annual summer festival celebrating a German dish of pinhead oats and seasoned sausage called goetta.

Northern Kentucky’s friendly culture is one that knows how to have fun. Casual festivals galore and an urban center next door full of high art together reflect a region that creates and enjoys the finer points of living. And it’s all a collaborative effort among the cities of Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati.

MRNK-tag-art“The river is not a barrier when it comes to the arts,” said Alecia Kintner, president and CEO of ArtsWave, a regional arts agency and the first community arts campaign in the country.

ArtsWave was established with a $1 million endowment by the renowned Taft family in 1927 with the stipulation that the community would match it 2.5 times. Residents did, and continue to. Almost 40,000 donors contributed $12.5 million to the 2017 ArtsWave community campaign to support 40 organizations and another 60-plus grants.

“They see the connection between the arts and a more vibrant economy,” Kintner said of area corporations and employees.

The arts attract and retain talent for corporations, from new college graduates to experienced executives. Creativity fuels the future workforce by encouraging imaginative thinkers and thus innovation, the lifeblood of business productivity. The arts also contribute to bridging a cultural divide and they have the ability to “create empathy and interest among people of different backgrounds,” according to Kintner.

ArtsWave tracks data of each of its organizations to show contributors a return on their investment in the arts. One measurement relates to arts-based learning opportunities for schoolchildren. In the 2015-16 academic year, more than 50,000 arts experiences were provided to Northern Kentucky students.

A nod to German roots

Since antebellum times, there has been a strong German influence in Northern Kentucky, with an Old World charm noticeable in architecture, cuisine and entire neighborhoods, including MainStrasse Village in Covington. The city of Newport hosts Gliers Goettafest, an annual summer festival celebrating a German dish of pinhead oats and seasoned sausage called goetta. In the 1800s, four years before building the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City, civil engineer John Roebling, a native of Germany, built a suspension bridge across the Ohio River. Still referred to as “the singing bridge” by locals, the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge opened in 1866, connecting Covington and Cincinnati.

Renaissance Covington won a 2017 Great American Main Street award, one of only three given nationally. In its work to revitalize the urban core of downtown Covington, Renaissance Covington focuses on arts and culture, historic preservation and transforming public spaces.

Just over the river

Across the river, the Over The Rhine neighborhood has seen an arts renaissance and is becoming known as the “cultural and innovation quarter.” In the fourth quarter of 2017, Music Hall held a grand reopening after a major 16-month renovation; Ensemble Theatre reopened with an expanded performance space; and Cincinnati Shakespeare Co. opened a new space, the Otto M. Budig Theater. 

Music Hall is home to five Cincinnati companies: Ballet; May Festival Chorus; Opera; Pops Orchestra and Symphony Orchestra.

“Our arts organizations are stable and highly collaborative,” Kintner said. “Collaborations happen with organizations on both sides of the river.”

A four-day festival in October called Blink, spearheaded by Brave Berlin and partnerships with Hale Foundation and a number of civic organizations, attracted a million people to see murals and artscapes projected onto buildings along the streetcar route in Over The Rhine.

“Many Northern Kentuckians will go to an event like that,” said Eric Summe, president and CEO of meetNKY. “It was experiential for our part of the region as well, and another demonstration of how close the region is.”

Organizations like ArtWorks create the murals on buildings in Covington, where restoration and preservation of historic buildings is a thriving element of the local culture.

“It is a remarkable contrast of the old and new in Northern Kentucky,” Summe said, “and underscores what we have in terms of restoring older buildings, preserving attractions we have and the buildings they are in.”

History buffs have plenty to explore, like the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati. Other worthwhile entities to explore in Northern Kentucky – all supported by ArtsWave include the Augusta Art Guild, Behringer-Crawford Museum, Showbiz Players, Kentucky Symphony Orchestra and many others.

Kintner credits the partnering of ArtsWave and the Cincinnati USA Regional Tourism Network for a successful promotion of the area’s arts events. A joint 2016-18 marketing program between RTN and ArtsWave is budgeting $1 million per year to boost cultural tourism.


American Sign Museum

Cincinnati –

Behringer-Crawford Museum

Covington –

Campbell County Log Cabin Museum

The Carnegie

Covington –

Cincinnati Art Museum

Creation Museum

Petersburg –

Dinsmore Homestead

Burlington –

Fine Arts Center

Highland Heights –

James A. Ramage Civil War Museum

Fort Wright –

National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

Cincinnati –

Railway Museum of Greater Cincinnati

Covington –

Taft Museum of Art

Cincinnati –

Vent Haven Museum

Fort Mitchell –

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