“Cincinnati has more festivals than weekends” was one of the first things I heard when I moved to the Queen City. The success of this week’s historic All-Star Game underscores just how good Cincy is at throwing a big-ole party for the world – especially those of us lucky enough to live here – to enjoy. 

Festivals require a continual renewal of volunteer energy and passionate advocates (think about the high-impact Community Organizing Committee responsible for so many of the activities surrounding this week’s games), but they are also a defining part of the region’s history and gestalt, something clearly rooted in the DNA of this place. We can boast the second largest Oktoberfest in the world outside of Munich, and it’s been going on for 39 years. But did you know that along with baseball and beer, Cincinnati’s festival tradition is clearly rooted in the arts? 

You can trace our festival roots at least as far back to 1873 and the May Festival, which is in fact the oldest continuous choral festival in the Western Hemisphere. In fact, Music Hall was actually built to accommodate this festival of voices. Just think: 140 years later, this iconic building, constructed for the enjoyment of the arts, is still acting as an anchor in revitalizing Cincinnati’s urban core!

opera in park from the stage

Then consider this: in 1920, the Cincinnati Opera was founded, again following the festival model. To this day it is one of our region’s quintessential summer experiences –in full swing right now-- drawing crowds from outside Cincinnati as well as fans of all ages. You can catch a world premiere production of Morning Star this weekend (reviewed by the Chicago Tribune here) and a rousing rendition of Turandot the last weekend in July.

Festivals are emerging as a key part of many economic and community cultural development strategies across the country.  In Cincinnati, we have tons of these vital building blocks all ready to leverage in a bigger way.  I’ve counted as many as 34 arts-related festivals currently active, in all twelve months of the year.  They cover not only opera and song, but dance, theater, film, visual arts, crafts, literary arts and culinary arts. 

A new kind of festival is kicking off next week, as well, tapping into Cincinati’s burgeoning start-up scene. NewCo. Cincinnati, organized by Cintrifuse, will celebrate 75+  entrepreneurial, innovative companies in a variety of industries – including the arts! Festival organizers have a goal of 1,000 registrants, who will experience the workplaces and learn the cutting-edge ideas of New.Co hosts. In the arts, those hosts include Cincinnati Shakespeare, which will provide insight on how to innovate by building an ensemble. Elementz will showcase how creative expression is unlocking unlimited potential in youth. The Art Academy… the Symphony… the Ballet.. the list of arts organizations participating is impressive.

Why did NewCo. invite the arts to be part of their festival? Cintrifuse CEO Wendy Lea says the arts keep people, especially entrepreneurs, engaged. “It gives them something between the white spaces of work to think about,” she told the Business Courier. In contrast to prior generations that were focused on making a living, Lea sees this generation as focused on making a difference.  “I think this generation of entrepreneurs sees the world more broadly,” she said.  The arts can help fill in those blanks and provide meaning, inspiration.

Cincinnati knows how to throw a festive party whether it’s all about baseball, music, beer, or innovation. It’s time to invite more of the world to our party, not just for the national spotlight and tourist revenue that these events provide, but also for the infusion of energy and exchange of new ideas that they inspire among our creative workforce. The more, the merrier… and the stronger our region becomes.

What’s your favorite Cincinnati arts festival? Share your experiences with us: #ArtsRipple on Twitter and Facebook.