Clifton Cultural Arts Center – An Indispensable Asset

April 23rd, 2016  |  Published in *, April 2016  |  1 Comment

Clifton Cultural Arts Center (CCAC) is in very real of danger of losing access to the historical building it calls home. Leased from Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS), CCAC has been notified that Cincinnati Public Schools is considering prematurely terminating their lease. Committed neighborhood residents, artists, institutions and friends of CCAC have rallied to garner support for our good friends and need the help of our city to save this cultural haven.

CCAC is a set of open doors. They are a space built for and by a group of people who believe that there is value in sharing our diverse talents with our community. It welcomes people who have something to contribute, something to share with others, and gives them a space to gather. It is made up of three employees, a dedicated neighborhood of volunteers, a passionate board, a diverse group of teachers and students, artists, dancers, musicians, writers and congregants who depend on them to continue their practices. Clifton Cultural Arts Center fosters a community culture, which values art, expression, experimentation and critical thought.

Their ability to incubate such a thriving center relies intrinsically on the building it was designed around. The historical 1906 Clifton School and the current home of Clifton Cultural Arts Center is a beautifully restored building with large windows, tall ceilings, open rooms and 57,000 square feet of space. Their sprawling front lawn which faces the classically inspired porch serves as audience and stage to ‘Wednesdays on the Green’, a free family activity which is a favorite to many in the summer months. They regularly invite artists to create installations on their lawn, giving them a space to be seen from the very busy Clifton Avenue. Their recently restored auditorium allows for large concerts and theater performances and the upstairs hall hosts weddings and celebrations. Their building is not merely a shell or container but part of their identity.

Families across Cincinnati gather in the Summer months for “Wednesdays on the Green”, Image Credit CCAC

Wednesdays on the Green, Image credit : CCAC

Clifton Cultural Arts Center was first imagined in 2004 when this historical building was scheduled to fall into disuse in 2008 as a result of imminent plans included in the Cincinnati Public Schools Master Plan. The community rallied to secure funding and manpower to transform the building into the neighborhood gem that it is today. Clifton Cultural Arts Center has taken a dilapidated building with leaking roofs, a flooded basement and decades old safety and accessibility standards and have transformed it into a usable place. One of their most recent pushes for improvement resulted in the addition of an elevator which makes the building far more accessible. 2.5 million dollars of support and countless volunteer hours have restored a dying eyesore and paid back their gift tenfold with enriching additions and future plans for growth.

Newly added elevator to the historical 1906 Clifton School, Image credit Sean Mullaney

Cincinnati is growing a thriving arts community with ever more regional interest and national attention. We as a city value the unique qualities each individual artist and institution contributes to the larger culture of our town. Clifton Cultural Arts Center fills a specific niche in our arts landscape which we need  in order to thrive. The CCAC is a respected institution which showcases contemporary art and experimental work and acts as a bridge between higher institutions and artists emerging into their careers. Operating out of their current building allows them to offer artists large areas of space to explore and gives them the freedom to take chances. Their annual exhibition which showcases multiple galleries of multi media work, ’The Golden Ticket’, is highly regarded and juried by curators from across Cincinnati. In the last 8 years they have hosted 74 major exhibitions, featuring 1,021 artists. Clifton Cultural Arts Center helps to incubate young talent and provides a platform for all types of work. Connections made there often lead to jobs, commissions and further opportunities. Spaces like this keep artists in Cincinnati.

Knee Play, a multi media musical performance group, performs “Yellow – Red” at CCAC, April, 2016 Image credit Amy Smethurst

Kinetic installation by Sean Mullaney at CCAC, 2012, Image credit: Sean Mullaney

CCAC is an accessible venue for children and families and serves as an intersection of arts and learning – making fine art more accessible to a broad group of people. They are a wonderfully unique partner in the arts education of nearby schools and communities and have more than 9,000 children pass through their doors annually for arts education. Field trips to the CCAC have allowed for broadened opportunities for learning, putting students in direct contact with community oriented art pieces and projects. The current Young Artists exhibit at CCAC, attended by 160 at the opening reception, helps children become comfortable and confident in exhibiting their work and expressions of themselves to their peers and parents. Clifton Cultural Arts Center has engaged the families of surrounding communities and has worked extensively with Rockdale School, Fairview School, and the Clifton and Madisonville communities, raising money specifically to provide art experiences and transportation free of charge when it was not available elsewhere. Their role as a supplement to the ever shrinking art departments of our schools is crucial to the future of our city’s children.

Beyond the arts education they provide, CCAC is at its core a space. A space for people to gather. Their rentable classrooms and event spaces give a home to teachers who would not otherwise have a venue. From ‘Beginning West African Dance’ to ‘Marketing Your Art’, people from all across Cincinnati visit to learn. The size of their building allows them to host large fairs and is relied on by many organizations for their annual sales. Crafty Supermarket utilizes this service for their bi-annual fair, this year featuring nearly 50 local vendors and anticipating 2,000 in attendance. These types of events enrich the community, spread knowledge and bring outside residents to Clifton returning fiscal benefits for the neighborhood.

Beginning West African Dance, taught at CCAC, Image credit Instagram @CCACCincinnati

You may be wondering why this thriving institution is suddenly in jeopardy? Well, the answer is not clear. Cincinnati Public Schools originally announced several months ago that it planned to expand the over populated Fairview Elementary into the CCAC building (which stands directly across the street) to allow for 3 additional classrooms. Willing to compromise, Clifton Cultural Arts Center presented a plan which accommodated CPS’s needs for additional space. Quickly through negotiations, however, it became clear that they have their eye on more than just 3 rooms- they want the whole building. CPS owns the building and has the right to terminate their lease as stated in a clause of their agreement. But why would CPS need an entire new building, which just 8 years ago they were going to allow to fall into disrepair? Their answer- a neighborhood school.

As an arts educator, I want every child to receive a high quality education and would value a plan which would solve some of the problems our school system faces and give kids in failing schools a better education. No one in this fight wants children who need a good school to be left behind. What this proposition lacks however is a plan. How does CPS plan to fund converting the building back into a school? Where are the children who need this school? How will another neighborhood school affect failing schools in the area? How will it affect the thriving Fairview Elementary? What will this mean to the neighborhood as a whole? How does the community feel about a neighborhood school? How will this affect the already maddening traffic situation on Clifton Avenue during drop off and pick up times? Clifton Recreation Center is at capacity- where will these children go after school? All these questions are yet to be answered.

As a community of people who rely on Clifton Cultural Arts Center, we want answers. We want an open and honest discussion with Cincinnati Public Schools. We want to feel considered in this conversation and we want to know that this vital institution will not be dismantled due to bureaucratic hand wringing. We refuse to see the fiscal and emotional resources we poured into this building wasted due to poor planning. CPS may own this building but CCAC has made it what it is today and that should not be ignored.

Cincinnati Public Schools looks at this sprawling building and sees empty classrooms- unused space. This became evident when they suggested, at the last CPS Board meeting on April 11, that CCAC move into the adjacent Carriage House (which CCAC also acquired in 2008 for the purposes of expanding the CCAC campus and saving a historical building). Also in disrepair, this space is merely 4,000 square feet, compared to the 56,000 square feet of the main campus building. What CPS doesn’t understand: What may look like an empty or unused space is exactly what makes CCAC so valuable. Space is a commodity for artists, space is a resource. When artists look at space, they see possibilities. And this is exactly what the CCAC provides for Cincinnati- possibilities. Possibilities for not only artists but dancers, musicians, educators, students and families to gather and share their ideas and talents. To share what they see as valuable to others and as a platform to share their gifts and expertise. When we look at the open rooms of CCAC we see leaping dancers, practicing musicians, sweeping sound installations, praying congregants, inquisitive children, theatrical performances, dedicated volunteers, and endless possibilities for community growth. Space is valuable to artists and community- this cannot be underestimated.

Photo courtesy of CCAC

Photo courtesy of CCAC

Photo courtesy of CCAC

I encourage readers to spread the word. To learn more and form an opinion. To weigh the value of our arts institutions and to carefully consider the detrimental consequences to the broader community of dismantling this organization. I ask all of you to consider the volume of programming this institution provides and how many different people it impacts and if there is value in a community meeting space of shared ideas. I ask you to stand up if you feel this institution is vital to our community. I ask you to stand with me and many other supporters and tell CPS exactly what Clifton Cultural Arts Center means to you. We are asking CPS to work with us to find a solution, which allows CCAC to continue to utilize this building to its greatest extent, 12 months of the year, and grow and thrive in the space it has been built around. We welcome the opportunity to discuss how we can together provide the best programming and education for our city’s communities.

Ultimately, Cincinnati Public Schools can do what they want with this building, they own it. It is up to us to make them understand that although they own it, it is not inherently theirs. It is ours. It belongs to the artists, dancers, musicians, writers, children, families, and teachers who call it home. It doesn’t belong to anyone, it belongs to everyone.

How you can help:

-Sign our petition of support of the CCAC here.

-Write a letter of support to CPS and send it to Phyllis Davis at

-Talk about this. Talk with your community. Learn the other sides of the conversation and work with your neighbors on creative solutions.

Chelsea Borgman is an artist and writing working in Cincinnati.


  1. KARL PAYNE says:

    April 23rd, 2016at 5:55 pm(#)

    I was a student at Clifton School many, many years ago, and have attended many wonderful events at CCAC. I think this institution is a great resource for Clifton, AND for the whole city! The building itself, as well as its location are ideally suited to its new function, and I hope CPS will make every effort to allow CCAC to continue in its present location.