Art Academy of Cincinnati’s SITE 1212 – in the former BarrelHouse space in Over-the-Rhine – aims to expand the school’s social impact


SITE 1212Photo: provided by the Cincinnati Academy of Fine Arts

The Art Academy of Cincinnati (AAC) has expanded into a nearby space while simultaneously hoping to expand the school’s mission.

The recently opened SITE 1212 is AAC’s “new community impact center”.

Located at 1212 Jackson St. in the former BarrelHouse – a popular concert venue and one of the city’s first waves of modern microbreweries – the place remained vacant since the brewery closed in 2010 until AAC begins renovations to expand its campus in 2019. Along with Elevar Design Group, AAC has transformed the space into a community gathering place for artistic work and urban problem solving.

SITE 1212 opened with a “1212 House Party” on August 27-28 on the Jackson Street block across from the AAC. The festivities included live music from local independent bands Young Heirlooms and Wussy Duo; a fashion show by Lindsey Whittle; and OTR wall tours through ArtWorks. Craftsmen sold handmade work, clothing, and crafts. Taste of Belgium, Banging Brothers and Hoff’s Pretzel Company sold branded cookware.

According to AAC President and CEO Joe Girandola, SITE 1212 is the conclusion of years of conversations between faculty, staff, alumni and school administrators.

“Freezing all of these ideas into one is a very difficult task,” Girandola said in a presentation on space. “I said, ‘Why can’t this just be a blank canvas for the most amazing work to be highlighted by our professors, our students, our alumni? To get people through the doors to see what is possible when you allow this amazing art and design college to show off in the community? “

In the same presentation, Greg Otis of Elevar Design Group and a member of the AAC Board of Directors recalled having mapped out the future of the school five years ago. He engaged the community to learn what they knew from college.

“Many of them said, ‘Who? The art museum? What?’ It was disheartening – and a lot of pressure on us to figure that out, ”he said. Those conversations, Otis explained, revealed just how key relevance was. They defined AAC’s vision for the future by strengthening the student experience, engaging the community, and turning the old BarrelHouse space into everything the school needed.

514184573450b75f9dfe0C1212 Home partyPhoto: provided by the Cincinnati Academy of Fine Arts

Fast forward to 2021, on a hot summer day at the start of a new school year, the 1212 House Party offered a glimpse of that vision. More than that, perhaps, he reintroduced AAC to the Cincinnati creative class and the general public. Attendees purchased original artwork by AAC students and alumni, toured a gallery of works by Cincinnati painter and AAC alumnus Jim Effler, and sipped micro-made vanilla stout created by original BarrelHouse brew masters Rick Debar and Brian Sprance.

Bringing together the creatives of Cincinnati is just the start. To summarize the mission at its simplest, Girandola tells CityBeat that SITE 1212 aims to make a difference in the region. He sees artists as uniquely positioned to use their talents to collaborate with organizations and imagine solutions beyond the studio to have social impact.

“The artists not only have an aesthetic vision, but they could collaborate with community partners – like the Homeless Coalition of Cincinnati, Freestore Foodbank, many different programs in the city trying to make a difference,” says Girandola, who considers the SITE 1212 as a laboratory for such ideas. “Why not allow artists to be around the table when issues are discussed? “

To illustrate the potential power of including artists in such conversations, Girandola describes the work of his mentor, artist Mel Chin. Chin’s experimental art project Awakening field aimed to “clean up industrial contamination from the affected soil with plants,” according to its website. The project involved reusing plants at a specific site to act as “toxic sponges” to extract heavy metals from the soil. Chin’s website explains that the project “calls for collaboration between the artist, the scholar and the environmentally conscious community.”

“What the creatives do at the table is say, ‘Throw away these solutions. Here’s something no one has thought of, ”says Girandola.

Although the AAC has a 152-year history, Girandola says the program has evolved to enable students to engage with their environment through their artistic skills. How can they translate still life into community activism? How does animation apply to social engagement? The creative processes at play in the classroom are not only skill-based, but also solution-based.

One such example is a program called HATS (“Higher Art Time Saved”), a collaboration between AAC and the Ohio Justice & Policy Center. HATS was scheduled to start before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been postponed until spring 2022. The program gives incarcerated women the opportunity to learn digital literacy skills that ease their transition from prison to release on the job. labor market. Girandola says that HATS provides tools that allow them to be the storytellers of their own lives and to communicate their experiences effectively when looking for a job.

“Allowing individuals while they are in prison to exist as human beings when they are released is the least we can do,” says Girandola. “There is no better program than what we are able to do as storytellers ourselves, as creators, than to collaborate with this type of program. “

AC21Site1212Provided by Art AcademyInside SITE 1212Photo: provided by the Cincinnati Academy of Fine Arts

Last summer, AAC launched The Leaders Academy, a STEAM program that invites select area high school students to spend a week on campus and participate in workshops led by local leaders. The overall goal is to provide knowledge and inspiration to students – especially from black and brown communities – to harness the powers of entrepreneurship and creativity so that they can solve real-world problems with the artistic thought.

One of the speakers at the recent AAC Leaders Academy was Kick Lee, Executive Director of the Cincinnati Music Accelerator (CMA). The non-profit organization educates and develops musicians towards a business-oriented artistic career. Their goal is to make Cincinnati a musical city where artists thrive. AAFC and CMA have partnered on many initiatives, and SITE 1212 promises to continue this relationship.

“Both entities are really focused on being more inclusive in the arts as a whole, not just music and the fine arts,” Lee said. CityBeat. “Through this partnership, we are working harder and harder to be more inclusive in the arts. “

While the AAC offers undergraduate degrees such as design, illustration, painting, and drawing, the school currently does not offer music instruction. Lee says they are working together to introduce the CMA Music Business program into the curriculum after receiving a $ 25,000 grant from Black Empowerment Works. He also plans to host performance workshops, fundraisers and other community events at SITE 1212.

Alazandrea Townsend, senior at AAC and president of the Black Student Union, sees opportunities for artistic and social engagement.

“I envision seeing my work in the 1212 Suite space, being admired with my peers, family, friends, faculty and staff,” Townsend said. CityBeat.

She says the space can also “encourage our fellow citizens of color and their allies to come together, exhibit their art and discuss any injustices or discriminatory topics that have arisen during their studies or throughout their lives.”

AAC sophomore Keith Wallick, who is vice president of the Black Student Union, echoes Townsend.

“I create art to heal, spread joy, and create a conversation about how to love yourself, how to love yourself and the world around you,” he says. “With SITE 1212 as a space where the community and the Academy of Arts can forge a radiant relationship, I hope to reach at least one person. Healing is contagious, and like a Pothos plant, it can be spread and shared with others.

Learn more about SITE 1212 at

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