Just one year ago, the Emery Theatre, one of the nation's top acoustic concert halls, sat empty in Over the Rhine. For decades, its once-sumptuous spaces were neglected. They eroded. They crumbled. They gathered more than their share of dust.
Since last November, more than 6,000 guests have seen art shows, watched dancers perform, heard beautiful music and witnessed a dream unfold in the spaces Mary Emery had built to serve the people of Cincinnati.
That dream, known as the Requiem Project, continues to build this fall with a five-event series called "Art Moves Here," which debuts Sept. 30 with a FotoFocus
-affiliated exhibit called "Handsome" by Chris Hoeting.
Hoeting built "Handsome" specific to the Emery's nooks and crannies, knowing that his show would run in tandem with Midpoint Music Festival
performances at the site as well as a showing of Mike Disfarmer's
beautiful and sometimes unsettling portraits, set to be on display starting .
Like so many other endeavors over the past year, "Handsome" reflects the power and the potential of the Emery to occupy an emerging space in the local arts scene—to bring together art forms, artists and neighbors and together, to build a stronger, vibrant and diverse community.
"All of these things live together," says Requiem Project co-founder Tara Lindsey Gordon. She and partner Tina Manchise lead the all-volunteer effort to restore the Emery, which publicly kicked off on 11.11.11.
Since then, the two have built a non-profit business dedicated to the idea that Cincinnati needs the Emery. The idea that the space gives something powerful to the community, from guests at performances and fundraisers to the four neighborhood kids who "work" at the Emery after school.
Their fall season is filled with partnerships that bring something new to the city, from multimedia shows in conjunction with FotoFocus and independent artists, to a show with the Contemporary Arts Center
that features Andy Warhol screen tests that will be projected on stage during a music performance.
"This is a huge endeavor," says Manchise. She could be talking about the complex programming line-up that involves Requiem's five major events this fall or the massive renovation work the Emery needs. The building sat empty for years, she notes, because keeping its doors open requires near-constant work.
She and Lindsey Gordon, who average between 40 and 80 hours a week doing Requiem Project work, take no salaries. They admit the task before them can feel daunting. But unlike last year, when some looked at the Emery as "the Tina and Tara show," now they know there are far more people involved, and invested in the theater's success.
First, there's the core of more than a dozen dedicated volunteers who help with everything from volunteer coordination to site logistics. Then, there are the neighbors, from fellow business owners to the fire marshall (who checks in weekly) to neighbors who find support and respite at the Emery.
Manchise and Lindsey Gordon take the "open door" policy seriously, partnering with groups large and small to offer spaces, time and support to independent artists, groups like the YPCC
, Exhale Dance Tribe
and even the Starfire Council
, who look to the Emery as a safe place for practice and experimentation.
"We're not only a venue," says Manchise, who notes that one of the "Art Moves Here" events takes place outside of the historic theater.
"Contained," a collection of 11 shipping containers filled with different artists' works, will be set in the Grammer's parking lot on Walnut Street. The Oct. 20 event illustrates the Requiem Project's goal to connect with the community both inside and outside of the Emery.
Manchise and Lindsey Gordon know the stakes are high. It will take $25 million to revive the Emery. For now, the partners are in a sense performing perpetual CPR on the site, keeping it alive, making improvements as they can and building a community of supporters who aren't afraid to get their hands dirty, literally.
They work with partners who accept the extra challenges inherent in a space with a temporary certificate of occupancy. (Manchise and Lindsey Gordon will apply for another next year.) They work with weekend volunteers who clean under every seat in the auditorium because maintenance doesn't come cheap. They head home with green hands and way too much information about Port-o-lets and water supplies.
They stress over taking on too many projects. They squabble over printer jams and QuickBooks. They joke that they spend so much time together that it's like they are sharing tight quarters on a ship.
And still, they couldn't be more proud of the space where they have invested their money, their time and their lives.
"The theater is doing exactly what it is meant to do," Manchise says. "A buiding like this can do so much good."
Find out more about the Requiem Project's fall season as well as the fall line-up of events at the Emery on the newly re-launced website, built by Mower + Associates.
By Elissa Yancey
Follow Elissa on Twitter.