So this past weekend, I was in Ohio visiting my family! I had a big audition, and we also took our family Christmas card photo! So it was blast an a half — I got to play with my adorable nieces, enjoy the 77 degree October weather, and soak up some much needed family time.
But this trip home, we did something a little bit different, that was incredibly eye opening. We explored the city of Cincinnati.
We went to the Blink Cincinnati event — which is this incredible architectural art and lights display that went throughout downtown Cincinnati. As well as just walked around the markets and shops after my audition one afternoon.
You see, as a little background, I grew up in the suburbs, and have never really spent much time in downtown Cincinnati, aside from when I was in shows downtown at the professional theaters and Music Hall.
But growing up, the downtown area was not safe. Crime rates were through the roof, and the drug market ruled the streets. The neighborhood known as “Over-the-Rhine” was considered one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the country. In fact, Reason magazine referred to it as “ground zero for inner-city decline.” Cincinnati, sadly, had a history of race riots that began in the 1860s, and extended all the way into the late 1990s and early 2000s. A heartbreaking and devastating past.
But as a result, growing up, the downtown area was not a family friendly place to say the least.
But since I left for college ten years ago, the city has been absolutely transformed. It is now a bustling, safe, lively area with innovative restaurants, boutiques, parks, and fun and interesting things to do — including this past weekend’s event: Blink.
Cincinnati truly did a 180. The crime rates are way down. Race relations have been repaired. Property value is up. And “Over-the-Rhine” – is now the hottest place for nightlife and chic restaurants. It’s been a remarkable transformation that can be boiled down to one thing….art.
During the late ’90s, the company — ArtWorks — (not sponsored) — began this herculean effort to transform the city and community of Cincinnati.
Their motto is: “transforming people and places through investments in creativity.”
It’s a development and job training program that uses art to change the lives of both people, and the community.
If you drive through Cincinnati, you’d be blown away by the incredible artwork that is painted on the sides of buildings — not grafitti — intricate, magnificent murals that were “mapped out” by professional artists, and then painted by the 3,300 youth Artworks employs and invests in.
It is truly a site to behold.
And walking around that evening at Blink, and seeing the city literally dazzling in illuminated beauty, I couldn’t help but think about this total transformation that the city has seen.
How could art turn this city from a dangerous no-man’s-land, to a miniature Greenwich Village?
It’s because there is power in beauty.
You know, sometimes I think people don’t want to talk about beauty. People will talk about beauty standards and how people want to say, “Screw You” to “conventional beauty.” But I think in the cultural war against beauty standards, we’ve forgotten that beauty is a good thing.
Why? Because God is beautiful. And God created beautiful things.
Why are we captivated by a gorgeous sunset with the pinks and oranges playing with the glowing clouds? Or why are we in awe of a majestic mountain with its jagged snow-capped peaks? Why are we so moved with beautiful symphonies? Or taken breathless when a fantastic monarch butterfly floats through our path?
It’s because their beauty points to He who created it.
We’re reminded of that beautiful, life-giving love that God has for each one of us. Big love – that made God want to delight us with beautiful things, beautiful people, beautiful foods and music. Beauty is a divine language, no matter which way you slice it. It’s universal. And it’s an outpouring of His love.
And art is the same way. Art gives us that escape to something beautiful — something greater than ourselves. Something God-breathed, and love-born.
It’s a literal light in the dark. And by installing these spectacular artworks on all the street corners of the city, it has changed a community that was once plagued by darkness and crime, into one that is a beacon of beauty and hope.
Artworks not only planted those murals of beauty, but also created opportunities for job development, and personal enrichment. It introduced creative outlets, and possibilities to ignite passions in youth that may otherwise not have had that exposure.
Coupled with the city’s massive financial efforts to restore the buildings, and clean up the streets, art has been the catalyst for change that has truly turned the city around.
Makes you think about how inviting beauty into our own lives, might just be a catalyst for growth and change, too.
Now if we could just get the Cincinnati Bengals to do some transforming as well. 🙂
“This is what the Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.” Ez 37:5
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