Image: Cincinnati Museum Center

Since day one of this column I have adhered to the “no blowing smoke up my audience’s snoopy” policy. As such, I tell you that this month’s column was one of the harder ones to pen (or type…we are in 2018 after all).

The reason being that by the fact that you, gentlemen, are reading this means you enjoy the finer things in life. Therefore, I have always written this column from the assumption that you all come to it from a cultured point-of-view.

Thinking then of the content this month as been like asking ‘what do you get for the person that has everything’? Or in this case ‘what culture do you recommend for the completely cultured gentlemen’?

But after a lot of thinking – and a little bit of soul-searching – I have something for you gentlemen this month. And it’s a gem of this city that most don’t think about: the museum scene!

One of probably the most overlooked parts of culture in this city are the incredible museums. The CSO and The Pops are internationally known. The Playhouse in the Park, Ensemble Theatre, and others have won numerous regional and national acclaim. And the local music scene is well-documented (while still under supported).

But the museum scene? Very few times does that come up in conversation, unless we are hearing an update on the ongoing Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal renovation.

I’m spending this month to try and change that.

From your typical version of art museum (paintings and sculptures) to specific/niche topics (lucky cats and ventriloquism) the museum scene in this region has you covered. And one of the best parts? They are all ridiculously affordable!

TYPICAL ART (PAINTING, SCULPTURE, HISTORY)

Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal: The aforementioned museum center is currently undergoing renovation. Unless you’re new to town or have been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard this. But Union Terminal is like the swiss army knife of museums. History museum? Check. Children’s museum? Check. Omnimax theater? Check! It even still functions as a working train station for Amtrak.

To be honest though, you may want to wait until the renovation is complete before tackling the awesomeness, as some things are still closed. Renovation is scheduled to be completed later this Fall.

Everything you need to know if you want to visit can be found by clicking the link above.

Cincinnati Art Museum: If the CMC is the swiss army knife of the local museum scene, then the Art Museum is the Queen. Standing in Eden Park since 1886, it offers the greatest in traditional art culture. Paintings, sculpture, and historical artifacts can be found on permanent display year-round.

And talk about not breaking the bank? All of the goodness can be had for FREE! You read that right; FREE! Not just for one day per week either. But six days per week (they are closed on Mondays).

Special traveling exhibits however may require a charge. Their permanent collection never does.

Taft Museum of Art: Not to be outdone in the history file the building that houses the Taft Museum of Art was actually constructed BEFORE the Art Museum. It was erected in 1820. However, it was originally built as a residence for Martin Baum. Later, the Taft’s (Anna and Charles Phelps Taft) took residence there. And it was the 1927 bequeathing of the residence and their private collection of 690 paintings that the structure officially became a museum.

Unlike most museums, it still very much has a feel that you are touring through a home. And every year they put out their display of antique Christmas ornaments and toys to decorate the museum. It’s an annual holiday stop for me and my family.

The Taft specializes in exhibits that are painting/photography/drawings related. Sundays are always free admission for everyone.

Full visitation, pricing, and parking information can be found here.

National Underground Railroad Freedom Center: In truth this could have gone either one of the other two delineations of museums as well. But ultimately, slavery has been a part of our culture as long as we have been a country. Therefore, it IS history. One could even argue it’s living history as some exhibits chronicle direct links to things occurring today.

Some exhibits I’ve seen might be hard to experience with your kids, especially if they are young. Take that into consideration before visiting. But they are conversations that need to be had.

Behringer Crawford Museum: All things history of Northern Kentucky and the Ohio River Valley can be found here. Paintings, artifacts, sculpture, re-enactments, and even performing arts. Originally opened in 1950 (relatively young by museum standards), it began with artifacts that were collected by William Behringer-Crawford from his travels throughout the region and abroad. Today it includes documented Civil War battery sites as well as an amphitheater that hosts a summer concert series and the freshART auction.

Located in beautiful Devou Park, admission is free for members and a reasonable $9 for adults and $5 for kids ages 3-17. Full information here.

EDGIER/CONTEMPORARY

Weston Art Gallery: Yet another free admission museum in our fair city (sensing a trend here, gentlemen?) the thing that separates the Weston from others is that A) It’s much smaller and therefore easier to navigate, B) It doesn’t have a permanent collection per se, but rather focuses more on exhibit- based showings and C) The exhibits tend to be more sculptural works, as opposed to paintings/drawings.

Located at the back portion of the Aronoff Center for the Arts in the heart of downtown, it’s perfect to walk through on your lunch hour (Hint: I used to do all the time when I worked in the business district).

21c Art Gallery: This gallery might be the most unique of all the museums in the city. First, it’s part of a working hotel. Can’t say that about any other museum on this list. Second, you don’t have to book a room to gain entrance to the gallery. Most people think you do; but not true. The gallery is open for FREE to the public 365 days a year, including holidays. Again, can’t say that about any other gallery/museum in town. And finally, the exhibits are not only edgy and contemporary but are usually somewhat ethereal.

I’ve been in to visit many times. And each time I end up say “wow”, “umm….okay”, and “what the f**k” all within in one visit. Variety is the spice of life gentlemen.

The Carnegie: When most people in this town think of The Carnegie in Covington, they think theatre. While it is true they operate a very good live theater venue, they operate an equally as good gallery year-round as well.

Incorporating both permanent and special exhibits, you can leisurely stroll through the large room, as well as the theater halls, and see some of the best local artists in the area. And that’s what their primary focus is upon: local artists.

The gallery is free to the public, as most on this list have been. It is closed on Sundays and Fridays. And if you haven’t experienced their annual Art of Food exhibit and event, you NEED to experience that once in your lifetime.   Full information on the gallery, including current and upcoming exhibits can be found here.

Contemporary Arts Center: If Greek and Roman relics or French impressionists aren’t your thing, then the CAC is your place. Focusing on only the best contemporary artists of today, the CAC contains exhibits from cinema/film art, to avant garde performance art, to mixed multimedia artwork. Current exhibitions include some very interesting architecture with a Cincinnati tie-in and carpentry as art.

In addition to the multiple floors of exhibits, the CAC also boasts one of the best museum experiences (in my opinion) for the kiddos. The UnMuseum is a load of fun, for kids and kids at heart. I’ve taken my daughter multiple times and have yet to come away with a bad experience.

The CAC keeps the trend of free admission alive in this city. And their café is a partnership with Wellman Brands (as in cocktail maker extraordinaire Molly Wellman). So it might actually serve the best adult beverages of any museum you’ll ever visit too.

SPECIFIC TOPIC/NICHE

Now we get to the really fun stuff. For those that say museums are boring and stale, they have never been to some of these very specific/niche museums.

American Sign Museum: We pass by them every day. Most, let’s be honest, are unremarkable. But back in the day, signs were the equivalent of today’s logos. Instantly recognizable they glowed, lit up, and twirled light beacons in the night calling you to fill-up your vehicle, grab an unexpectedly good diner meal or catch the bus out of town.

Today the museum as a concert series known as “Signs and Songs” and a special area that the kids will enjoy. It’s not free, as most these days are, but it’s not going to bust your wallet either. Admission is only $15 for adults.

While signs are not thought of as art in most cases, a trip to this museum will have you changing your mind about that.

Fire Museum of Greater Cincinnati and Cincinnati Police Museum: I think both of these are pretty self-explanatory from the names alone. If you love fire and police history and artifacts, get yourself down the both of these.

Ohio’s Lucky Cat Museum: One of the more interesting niche museums in our city is the Lucky Cat Museum. For those of you not familiar with lucky cat (truth be told I wasn’t until about a year ago), they are the Japanese cat dolls (?)…toys (?)…art (?)…that have the cat with paw that bobbles up-and-down and appears to wave at you. In Japanese they are known at Maneki Neko. Started by an avid collector whose collection outgrew her home, the museum was born in 2012. Since then it has only continued to grow at their space in Essex Studios. If cat videos and memes are your thing, then this is the museum for you. 

Vent Haven Museum: Alright gentlemen. This niche museum creeps me the hell out. This niche museum is dedicated solely to the craft of ventriloquism. While I have always found really good ventriloquists entertaining (I may or may not have seen every Jeff Dunham stand up he’s made), the idea of touring through a building with 900+ lifelike dummies staring back at me is something akin to a horror flick in my mind. But if you’re fascinated by them then click the link above and place a call to visit. Visitation is by appointment only. And quite frankly, that’s probably how it should be.

Until next time, gentlemen…