Brighton: Working on the edge
People make things in Brighton.
Nestled in the northern tip of the West End, and bordered by Central Parkway on the east and Spring Grove Avenue on the west, Brighton’s demographics defy easy explanation.
Slaughterhouses and manufacturing plants dot one stretch of the neighborhood, while experimental and fringe-friendly artists find refuge in historic warehouse spaces nearby. Bound together by a combination of cheap rent, central location and lots of space to be inspired by hard work, these disparate communities not only co-exist, they co-mingle.
Renowned Kentucky-born and Cincinnati-based artist Jay Bolotin
, who just finished a residency at the Smith College of Art, has long kept a studio in Brighton, a welcome haven for artists who are better known outside than inside the city. The Brush Factory
fashion and woodworking house started in and then returned to the neighborhood.
That rare combination appeals to Sheida Solomani
, a University of Cincinnati’s Design, Art, Architecture, and planning program (DAAP) graduate who founded Third Party Gallery
, located on Central Avenue in Brighton.
“I think of Brighton as a sleepy neighborhood,” Solomani says. “During the daytime, you’ll see people just doing their own thing, having barbeques. But then on the first Saturdays of the month, people are out, and the galleries are open to everyone.”
Solomani created her space to show good art of all kinds, with a specific focus on “all kinds.”
“I’ve always loved downtown for the people and places, but sometimes I can’t handle it,” she says. “It’s something I like to call ‘Gentrification Station.’”
The outsider sentiment runs deep in Brighton. Residents want to keep the neighborhood as it is, tinged with the grit of the nearby slaughterhouses and factories. Imbued with the outlaw history of the Cincinnati Highwaymen Motorcycle club, which once made the neighborhood synonymous with crime and violence. Just far enough off the beaten path to stay purposefully out of the mainstream.
Today, the neighborhood bar Rake’s End occupies the former notorious biker hangout. Mopeds are more common than Harleys, and neighbors gather to share stories and beverages on a regular basis. Solomani approves.
“It’s super low key,” she says. “[Rake’s End] serves all of the neighborhood, and you’re not going to have to wait for 45 minutes to be served.”
In Brighton, artists take risks. While the success of the neighborhood stalwart Semantics Gallery
reaffirms an artistic community on the edge and proud of it, the loss of the Mockbee stands as a testament to the challenges of sustaining viable businesses that combine life, work and art.
Their efforts echo the determination, and mixed success, of the German immigrants who settled in the area near the Miami–Erie Canal, which reminded them of their European homes alongside the Rhine River. Those newcomers established slaughterhouses and breweries and even a German national bank to help their peers start businesses.
Then, the unsavory smells and sounds of the area hindered significant population growth and only the hearty industrial workers called Brighton “home.”
Now, regulars like Solomani not only see benefits in the neighborhood’s past, but plenty of hope for its future.
Jack Ellenberger is a freelance writer and photographer who studies Journalism at the University of Cincinnati.