Saving The Emery Theatre – Raising Questions & Awareness

So a couple Friday nights ago, I was in Over The Rhine and happened to drive past The Emery Theatre. I snapped a quick photo of the quiet exterior,  nothing happening there that evening. Just one block over on Vine Street, business was booming, people enjoying a beautiful night out in Over The Rhine’s Gateway Quarter that has been enjoying a wonderful renewal, even in an otherwise tough economy.  As usual, people were spilling out of Senate, and a vibrant business was being done at Bakersfield OTR, Abigail Street, A Tavola and more. These past three years have seen a remarkable transition as a neighborhood came back to life. As this has continued to spread with the reopening of Washington Park and the addition of numerous retail, art, fine dining and bars throughout the area. The Emery Theatre was in a position to be a part of this renewal, but now individuals and both non-profit and for-profit organizations stand in its way.

Emery-Dark-Darrin-Ballman-Photography

The Emery is unique and beautiful. Acoustically perfect.  A sister to Carnegie Hall. I’m not going to  delve into the history of the Emery. You can do that here and here.

Emery_Theatre_Benefit_Cincinnati-2692

I’m also not going to detail the situation that has come about. Explanations can be found here  and in additional links at the bottom of this post.

What I do want to explore is some observations I’ve had and questions I would love to ask those involved in shutting The Emery’s doors again.

The University of Cincinnati owns the building and sub-leased to two different organizations (one for profit who run the apartments in the building and one non-profit who were supposed to take on the task of reopening The Emery). The University of Cincinnati, in their own words has “become a lightning rod” as the recipient of the public’s displeasure in seeing The Emery closed again.

For more than 9 years, during which The Emery was supposedly supposed to start to be renovated and reopened, there was only one event held. One…in more than ten years. Let that sink in a little bit. One. Last I checked that’s not considered to be a lot in much of anything….unless you’re counting heart attacks.

The Requiem Project, the non-profit now being blocked from continuing efforts to revive The Emery,  was formed as a single, site specific non-profit with the sole purpose of seeing the Emery reopened and renovated. Their goal was not only to see The Emery as a wonderful hall for music and theatre, but also a wide variety of art and art projects.

Emery_Theatre_Benefit_Cincinnati-2473The Requiem Project’s “11-11-11” event featuring Over The Rhine and Exhale Dance Tribe

The Requiem Project’s first event was the well received “11-11-11”. Since then there have been more than 35 events in less than 20 months. Not including numerous individual art project uses. I don’t think you have to be too brilliant to figure out that The Requiem Project , in less than 20 months, has completely out performed groups that took more than 9 years to do essentially nothing. In reality, less than nothing since the “…renovation of the apartments left the theatre without running water, adequate heat, working bathrooms and fire escapes…”

http://darrinballman.com  Darrin Ballman PhotographyBill Frisell’s Disfarmer Project

You don’t have to be around the Requiem Project’s co-founders, Tina Manchise and Tara Gordon  long to feel their passion for The Emery. These two have completely sold out to the vision of seeing the Emery come back to full life…and to top it off they actually have a track record of success. I would say that the University of Cincinnati, ECC, and ECALP don’t have a track record of success, but in reality they don’t even have a track record of action.

Emery_Theatre_Benefit_Cincinnati-2664

Tara Gordon & Tina Manchise

Below I have a few questions I would personally be asking to these groups. I also have a few things I would like you to do if you could. At least at a minimum, sign the Petition. Second, if you’re willing, please share this with people you know who love the arts, music, theatre, historic properties. Lastly, some of you out there know people that could bring some real attention to this situation. Maybe it’s people in the media, bloggers, writers, musicians, theatre groups or organizations in the arts. They don’t have to be in the Cincinnati area. I know there are people out there throughout the country that would lend their voice if they only knew about this situation. I’d say we have a good start in Cincinnati, but there are people in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles and beyond that would jump on board too.

I personally believe the single biggest thing we can do is light a grassroots fire of awareness that spreads far beyond Cincinnati.

My personal questions and thoughts….

If the University of Cincinnati, as owners of The Emery, entrusted an organization to oversee the renovation, don’t you think they would be asking questions when not seeing progress – especially over the course of nine years?

Why would you wait that long? I’m no legal analyst, but with no results to show, might there be a breach of contract?

Then, after The Requiem Project comes in and actually begins to show results, why wouldn’t you encourage the continuation of The Requiem Projects efforts?

If ECC and ECALP are the issue, why would they be hesitant to continue to let the one group (Requiem Project) that actually started to bring The Emery back to life continue to do so?

Even though the University of Cincinnati is trying to completely absolve themselves from this – it was the University of Cincinnati that “…decreed in early 2013 that there could be no programming without its permission (which it refused to give except for one weekend of events)…”. They did however raise over 1 billion dollars in their recent Proudly Cincinnati capital campaign. I know, given these tough economic times a billion dollars doesn’t go as far as it used to. Not that the University needs to allocate the approximately 3 million dollar initial investment or the 20 million plus needed for complete restoration, but how about at least a little bit of mental elbow grease and accountability?

Check out the videos that became The Emery Sessions for some incredible music:  Emery Sessions

Daniel Martin Moore & Joan Shelly

Over The Rhine

There is no contest when it comes to which organization has a track record of operating in The Emery’s best interest. Why the University of Cincinnati, ECC and ECALP continue to stand in the way makes no sense to me. Their lack of a track record and then continued blocking of genuine efforts is at a minimum incompetence. At it’s worst, it has a much more insidious smell.

Please take the time to follow some of the links. Please share this, please Tweet this with the #savetheemery hashtag.

….and hopefully I will one night run into you at an Emery event in the future and be able to thank you then. There is much art to be seen, heard and created yet at The Emery.

Additional links….

Requiem Project’s Open Letter to Community about The Emery

Lawsuit FAQ’s

WCPO article – Lawsuit: University of Cincinnati Blocking Emery Theater Revival

History of The Emery Theatre

The Emery Theatre on Facebook – Follow for updates

Over The Rhine Blog – The Emery Theatre, A Requiem Project

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One thought on “Saving The Emery Theatre – Raising Questions & Awareness

  1. Absolutely agree with everything you have said.Don’t forget the Requiem raised over a million dollars,over the past two years ,in grants,donations and in kind contributions to bring life to the Emery Theatre.Also don’t forget the 100’s of volunteers who washed walls,painted ,took tickets and offered tours so that over 10,000 people could enjoy the history,the sound,the creativity and the beauty of a local icon.
    Peter Gordon
    Boston

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