In 2008, a restaurant explosion began in Over-the-Rhine’s Gateway Quarter on Vine Street with Lavomatic, which has been replaced by Krueger’s Tavern (from the owners of Bakersfield and The Eagle), while Daniel Wright’s dining empire blossomed to include Senate, Abigail Street and Pontiac Bourbon & BBQ. A Tavola, Taste of Belgium and others have filled the remaining Vine Street slots.
The scene’s overflow has made OTR a nationally recognized foodie destination, yet the amateur urban planner in me can’t help but wonder what this sector would look like with a film center to serve as a creative anchor.
It should come as no surprise that, as a film critic, I see cinema as the most democratic art form in terms of its ability to attract the broadest audience at its price point. There is a solid economic argument to be made for the impact of an art house theater or film center in the OTR core.
In 2006, the Sundance Institute’s Art House Project included a special gathering of exhibitors who, for two consecutive years, met to discuss the state of independent film and its exhibition. By 2008, the group decided to host a conference (Art House Convergence) in Salt Lake City.
That initial year, there were 25 attendees. The now-annual gathering expanded and moved locations to the Zermatt and Homestead Resorts in Midway, Utah. Within five years, the conference boosted attendance up to more than 350 participants, including delegations from international art houses.
Along the way, the need for regional conferences emerged, with San Rafael, Calif., and Boston serving as homes.
Last year, more than 500 exhibitors, film festivals and allied organization representatives took part in the annual conference at Midway. (Cincinnati is not represented at the conferences.)
From their website, they address their goals: “The organization strives to reflect its core intention, community-based, mission-driven, in all its programs, seminars and conference.”
The overall mission is “to increase the quantity and quality of Art House cinemas in North America.”
A 2014 National Audience Survey sponsored by Art House Convergence addressed several key dynamics in respect to art house cinemas on their communities, such as the impact on related spending in urban sectors.
Beyond the purchase of concessions (42.1 percent), slightly more than 25 percent of audiences spend money in restaurants outside the theater. Parking (12 percent) and public transportation (8.7 percent) factor into the economic equation as well.
These are important considerations, especially for a city like Cincinnati, which doesn’t yet have an art house in its urban core but has seen what other diversified redevelopment has meant to its downtown corridor in less than a decade.
There are lessons for Cincinnati in these numbers. The focus of the Convergence group’s mission has a significant economic effect in the urban communities served by those art houses, film festivals and the (related) allied organizations.
In late September, Art House Convergence recognized its first class of Sundance Institute Art House Project theaters, an elite group of 23 honorees. Ohio’s Gateway Film Center in Columbus earned one of the coveted spots, thanks to its innovative approach to offering engaging experiences for all ages.
The point here goes far beyond attempting to hit the grand slam with festivals and major events.
The Gateway succeeds because its ongoing programming (a Book to Film family series, Green Screen film series dedicated to eco-friendly movies and an annual screening of Ohio-made horror shorts, to name a few) has their independent theater peers and others taking note.
Imagine the impact of a Queen City film center in OTR, where beer, food and film could spark a new cultural revolution. (tt stern-enzi)