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Northside Artists as Developers // The Final Hurdle

The future of PAR-Projects' facility at 1662 Hoffner Street in Northside
Photo rendered by: Team B Architecture & Design

They said…

How do these crazy dreamers expect they’ll be able to build an art and education space from nothing… in a city they’re still finding their voice in, with no huge donors lined up, no financial planners on board, and no experience in land development?


We were in our 20s, so our approach may very well have seemed overly-ambitious or even silly. But one thing most have realized by now is that we weren’t concerned. No risk, no reward. We knew we had a worthy mission. We knew we had good reason. And quite frankly, we now know we were some of the most determined artists, connected to some of the strongest artists, and unafraid to reach out to the more established artists to help us make things happen. This was to be an experiment on a grand scale, led by a tiny team of talent and determination.

Of course there were some questions. Who would respect artists trying to build community? Who would take a chance to work with creatives doing place-making projects, in 2010, before place-making was the “big thing” to do? And particularly in a racially divided town, how in the Sam Hill does a black artist think he’s going to lead this effort ... especially if it has even the slightest scent of flower children — peace, love, bringing folks together. Blah, blah.

What’s that gonna take, like ten years?


“Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop!” was and still is the mentality … and to any artist in any discipline doing any thing they’re passionate about, PLEASE KNOW that you already have the secret recipe. If you believe in yourself and have something worth living for, just don’t stop! And if you're a parent, friend, or educator of a voice like this, follow suit.

A plan helps.

And to make things clear, I'm simply speaking of a plan that you believe in and can articulate clearly. Don’t be fooled. In most cases you don’t need a particularly polished and shiny business plan until you’re looking for investors that need to see that you’ve done your homework. Because, well, data is still king.

That said, a great idea can be a Frog Prince just as easily. Bounce around a bit. And who knows, if it’s real, you may get that first peck on the cheek. You may progress an idea. You may even find yourself in a position where you can help others. Many industries would agree, good talent is hard to find. So devise a plan that fits you, and be that talent. Artist. Musician. Writer. Plumber. Electrician. If you have a hidden or secret something worth sharing and pursuing, do it.

Just do it with confidence. Don’t enter debates you don’t plan to win, especially if related to your thing. Set a few goals and milestones to remind yourself of your path forward. Believe and keep pushing.

But, of course, things happen.

Don’t forget it’s hard out here. Some people will intentionally trip you up, laws and policies can change unexpectedly, and municipalities can even get in the way … even by accident at times.

And for full disclosure, that’s what’s inspired this writing at the moment. It’s currently 2:54AM. Last night’s democratic debates are well in the rear view.  And after many successes over the past nine years treating community as a canvas — and approaching our fifth year as a 501(c)3 non profit with a mission to empower diverse communities of people who believe in the arts — our organization finds itself in a bit of a rut.

It's my fault. As a rookie land developer, I personally made the mistake of basing a full round of construction on a diagram that was given to me by Cincinnati Water Works in late 2017 (pictured above) and now we’re paying the price. In short, based on what we thought was reality, we set our sails, then abruptly learned that our “perfect” plan to open our community movie theater in short order could not happen as it was mapped out… “WHAM!” … go time ended up not-so-go time.

Our troubles began when we learned our connection to the water main (represented above by a brown line heading north) had been misplaced, redirected, or simply not updated in the city’s system correctly. This added the cost of tapping new water lines (and new sewer lines) to our project. Plus we now had the need to completely redesign a fairly major piece of construction in order to move forward. And sadly, there was more.

Some people blame the rest of our woes on “America First” policies and some say we’re just the unintended victim of steel lobbying. Regardless, to add insult to injury, construction laws in Ohio — specifically related to shipping-container-based projects — changed after we set our path forward. So at permit time we also learned that we now have to buy “American Made” shipping containers ... as foreign-made steel apparently can’t be trusted any longer?!?

Thankfully, as we now have a bit of history (and led with full transparency), a few folks in the city's permit office have decided to help us find a way to navigate through these new circumstances.

Failing forward and staying the course.

Lucky for us our original plan included ownership. Because frankly, owning our property outright (yes, free and clear) has allowed us to better deal with temporarily closing our space to make these major site improvements. This cannot be stated enough. If possible, especially if working on/in a creative space, PLEASE find a way to own your space, even if you’re just starting with partial or planned ownership via a joint LLC venture or a lease to own type of agreement.

In our case, this first big step of ownership has allowed us to continue dreaming and just refocus our energy on outreach, while we work through the muck. We aren’t strapped to paying rent or a mortgage note, so onward we go! We’ve lead a few community surveys. We’ve done a series of pop-up exhibitions at Northside Farmers Market (pictured above). We’ve continued to teach photography and digital media classes in Kennedy Heights. But maybe the biggest win is that we’ve begun planning the rebirth of #MakersMobile — the mobile shipping container art gallery we launched in 2013, that was originally scheduled to be part of our construction plans (prior to the law change).

During this down time, we've also grown our Board of Directors, begun planning some major projects for 2020, and have managed to keep the dream moving forward with little interruption.

Walk with us.

Still, after all is said, our time is finally here. So as we continue down this winding path, we’d like to welcome you to join our little engine that could.

Even if it’s just joining our email list, by clicking here, the key to our success has always been rooted in the people we’ve been lucky enough to come in contact with, so why not you? From cookout conversations that led to unexpected projects like our Mill Creek corn maze, to local encouragement that led us to launch the region’s first ever mobile shipping container art space in 2013, it’s always been for and about our people.

Of course, if you’re financially able (and willing) we’d love to see your name pop up as a supporter! And yes, it’s been a long, wild ride. But now that we can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel, we hope you’ll join our movement …because, well, we need some help as we continue strengthening our new foundation, figuratively and literally.

Five, fifty, a hundred dollars or more…
The following link will help you help us get there.

Thanks in advance,

- -

Jonathan Sears
Executive Director
Professional Artistic
Research Projects


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