Cincinnati Museum Center Leads the Next Wave Of New and Restored Venues

Union Terminal

Photograph courtesy Cincinnati Museum Center

The arts certainly are flourishing in Cincinnati, which The New York Times confirmed after a visit to the Queen City earlier this year. This fall marks the one-year anniversary of Music Hall and Ensemble Theater renovations and the debut of Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s Otto M. Budig Theater, which travel columnist Jada Yuan—whom The Times sent to Cincinnati after naming it No. 8 among its top 52 places to explore in 2018—called “the performance triangle.” Venerable Music Hall saw a complete overhaul, including a thrust stage that brought audiences closer to the action. Cincy Shakes moved from its somewhat cramped location on Race Street, meaning more leg room with cleaner views. And ETC features a gorgeous new lobby that will make you forget you’re in a former bank.

Come November, another of the city’s historic cultural landmarks will unveil a much-anticipated facelift: Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal. After more than 85 years, the Art Deco building and former railroad station was in seriously bad shape. The Museum Center’s Cody Hefner says the $224-million renovation was meant to highlight its existing architecture and features, so museum-goers shouldn’t expect a completely new experience.

Union Terminal’s Rotunda

Photograph courtesy Cincinnati Museum Center

The team agonized over Union Terminal’s original blueprints and historical photos. “The building itself is a time capsule,” says Hefner, where families said goodbye to their loved ones on train platforms and would later have tearful reunions. Parents who first experienced cutting-edge Natural History Museum exhibits as kids now bring their own kids. Respecting the building’s original features meant that light fixtures and metal in the rotunda had to be cleaned with dry ice so as to not damage the aluminum, and materials to restore the murals’ mosaic glass tiles and custom pieces of terrazzo were sourced from Italy. The entire exterior was cleaned, and 6.5 miles of silicone were replaced with mortar that will last another 85 years—and then some.

The Museum of Natural History and Science, Cincinnati History Museum, and OMNIMAX Theater will remain closed until November, but the Children’s Museum is fully operational. Visitors can also expect sneak peaks at the rotunda and historic mosaics as the temporary lobby’s walls come down, as well as—for a few weeks this month—the newly restored fountain out front.

Another renowned name at the intersection of arts and learning, Madcap Puppets is establishing roots in Westwood this fall with the help of Cincinnati Landmark Productions, the folks behind Warsaw Federal Incline Theater in Price Hill and Covedale Center for the Performing Arts. About five years after the initial purchase of a 1920s era Cincinnati Bell switching station on Harrison Avenue, Madcap and CLP are creating a new homebase there with a 130-seat performance space, classrooms, and studio spaces, including a distance learning center.

Other venues on the move in 2018—including the Clifton Cultural Arts Center, which closed earlier this summer while planning a new home, and urban arts refuge Elementz, which recently expanded to a new location near Findlay Market—are taking advantage of transitions to create spaces for the community by the community. “An arts organization can provide an anchor that almost all neighborhoods need in order to take that next step,” says Rodger Pille, Cincinnati Landmark Productions project manager. “They need that ‘thing’ to draw people in.”

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