Cincinnati Art Academy’s SITE 1212 – in the former BarrelHouse space in Over-the-Rhine – aims to expand the school’s social impact

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Photo: courtesy of the Cincinnati Academy of Fine Arts


The Cincinnati Academy of Art (AAC) has expanded into neighboring space while simultaneously hoping to expand the school’s mission.

The newly opened SITE 1212 is AAC’s “new Community Impact Center”.

Located at 1212 Jackson St. in the former BarrelHouse — a popular live music venue and one of the city’s first modern microbreweries — the location sat vacant from the brewery’s closure in 2010 until AAC begins renovations to expand its campus in 2019. Along with Elevar Design Group, AAC transformed the space into a community gathering place for artistic work and urban problem solving.

SITE 1212 was unveiled with a “1212 House Party” on August 27-28 on the Jackson Street block in front of the AAC. The festivities included live music from local indie bands, the Young Heirlooms and Wussy Duo; a Lindsey Whittle fashion show; and OTR mural tours through ArtWorks. Artisans sold handicrafts, clothing and crafts. Taste of Belgium, Banging Brothers and Hoff’s Pretzel Company sold branded cookware.

According to AAC President and CEO Joe Girandola, SITE 1212 is the conclusion of years-long conversations between faculty, staff, alumni, and school administrators.

“To freeze all these ideas into one is a very difficult task,” Girandola said in a space presentation. “I say: ……………. Bring people in through the doors to see what is possible when you allow this incredible university of art and design to expose to the community? »

In the same presentation, Greg Otis of Elevar Design Group and member of the AAC Board of Trustees, recalled charting the school’s future five years ago. He asked the community to learn what they knew about the college.

“A lot of them said, ‘Who? The art museum? What?’ It was disheartening – and a lot of pressure on us to figure that out,” he said. Those conversations, Otis explained, revealed how critical relevance was. They defined the vision for the future of AAC as strengthening the student experience, engaging the community, and transforming the former BarrelHouse space into everything the school needed.


Photo: courtesy of the Cincinnati Academy of Fine Arts

1212 House party

Fast forward to 2021, on a hot summer day at the start of a new school year, the 1212 House Party offered a glimpse of that vision. More than that, perhaps, he reintroduced CAA to Cincinnati’s creative class and the general public. Attendees purchased original works by AAC students and alumni, toured a gallery of work by Cincinnati painter and AAC alumnus Jim Effler, and sipped micro-crafted vanilla stout created by original BarrelHouse brewmasters Rick Debar and Brian Sprance.

Bringing Cincinnati creatives together is just the beginning. To sum up the mission in its most basic form, Girandola recounts CityBeat that SITE 1212 aims to make a difference in the region. He sees artists as uniquely positioned to use their talents to collaborate with organizations and imagine solutions beyond the studio to have social impact.

“Artists not only have an aesthetic vision, but could collaborate with community partners — like the Homeless Coalition of Cincinnati, Freestore Foodbank, many different programs around the city trying to make a difference,” says Girandola, who considers SITE 1212 a laboratory for such ideas. “Why not allow artists to be at the table when issues are discussed?”

To illustrate the potential power of including artists in such conversations, Girandola describes the work of his mentor, artist Mel Chin. Chin’s Experimental Art Project clock field aimed “to clean up industrial contamination from affected soil with plants,” according to its website. The project consisted of re-using plants on a specific site to act as “toxic sponges” to extract heavy metals from the soil. Chin’s website explains that the project “calls for collaboration between the artist, the scholar, and the environmentally conscious community.”

“What creative people do at the table is say, ‘Throw these solutions away. Here’s something that nobody thought of,'” Girandola says.

Although the AAC has a 152-year history, Girandola says the program has evolved to allow students to engage with their surroundings through their artistic skills. How can they translate still life into community activism? How does animation apply to social engagement? The creative processes at play in the classroom are not only skill-based, but also solution-based.

One such example is a program called HATS (“Higher Art Time Saved”), a collaboration between AAC and the Ohio Justice & Policy Center. HATS was scheduled to begin before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been postponed to spring 2022. The program gives incarcerated women the opportunity to learn digital literacy skills that ease their transition from prison to release to the work market. Girandola says HATS provides tools that allow them to be storytellers of their own lives and effectively communicate their experiences when seeking employment.

“Allowing individuals while they are in prison to have a basic program so that they can exist as human beings when released is the least we can do,” Girandola says. “There’s no better program than what we’re able to do as storytellers ourselves, as creatives, than collaborating with this type of program.”


Photo: courtesy of the Cincinnati Academy of Fine Arts

Inside SITE 1212

Last summer, AAFC launched The Leaders Academy – a STEAM program that invites select area high school students to spend a week on campus and participate in workshops led by local leaders. The overarching goal is to provide knowledge and inspiration to students – especially from black and brown communities – to harness the powers of entrepreneurship and creativity so they can solve real-world problems with the artistic thought.

One of the speakers at the recent AAC Leaders Academy was Kick Lee, executive director of the Cincinnati Music Accelerator (CMA). The non-profit organization educates and develops musicians towards artistic and business-oriented careers. Their goal is to make Cincinnati a music city where artists thrive. AAC and CMA have partnered on many initiatives, and SITE 1212 promises to continue this relationship.

“Both entities are really about greater inclusion in the arts as a whole, not just music and fine art,” Lee said. CityBeat. “Through this partnership, we are working harder and harder to be more inclusive in the arts.”

While AAC offers undergraduate degrees like design, illustration, painting, and drawing, the school does not currently offer music education. Lee says they are working together to bring the CMA music business program into the program, after receiving a $25,000 grant from Black Empowerment Works. He also plans to hold performance workshops, fundraisers, and other community events at SITE 1212.

Alazandrea Townsend, a senior at AAC and president of the Black Student Union, sees opportunities for artistic and social engagement.

“I envision seeing my work in the Suite 1212 space, being admired with my peers, family, friends, faculty and staff,” Townsend said. CityBeat.

She says the space can also “encourage our fellow citizens of color and allies to come together, display their art, and discuss any injustice or discriminatory topics that have occurred in school or throughout their life”.

AAC sophomore Keith Wallick, who serves as vice president of the Black Student Union, echoes Townsend.

“I create art to heal, spread joy, and create conversation about how to love yourself, others, and the world around us,” he says. “With SITE 1212 as a space where the community and the Academy of the Arts can have a radiant relationship, I hope to touch at least one person. Healing is contagious, and like a Pothos plant, it can spread and be shared with others.

Learn more about SITE 1212 at

Mildred D. Field