Not only did Cincinnati attract large crowds over the last week, but it also took steps forward as an inclusive future city.

Somewhere between 1.25 and 1.5 million people attended BLINK®, Illuminated by ArtsWave, last weekend. This attendance figure is the largest our region has experienced for any event ever, and it’s significant that it was a cultural event that become the magnet for the community. The unique art + light festival brought us together for four days on the streets of 30 city blocks, across two states and via an iconic bridge.

The bridge heralded the festival’s intentional expansion to include the entire Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky region, but also had a story of its own. The piece was envisioned five years ago by festival organizers. The outcome was breathtaking, including 520 lights synchronized to music and scored in orchestration to an original composition that combined excerpts from Cincinnati Boychoir with sound sampled from driving across the bridge. The piece, "Johanna’s Hymn," was dedicated to Roebling’s wife.

BLINK was inclusive in its incorporation of women artists, exemplifying the POWER OF HER, an 18-month initiative that ArtsWave and the arts sector are implementing now through the end of next year. Specifically, half of BLINK’s projection mapping installations were either led or produced by female artists. Forty-two percent of the interactive installations were produced by female artists and 39% of the festival’s mural projects were led by women. These women who lit up our region through BLINK were also breaking stereotypical gender roles associated with street art forms.

The New York Daily News reported on BLINK for its inclusivity as evidenced by the Rainbow Bridge: "It’s a bright celebration for LGBTQ equality somewhere over — and around — the rainbow in Cincinnati."

The BLINK Future City Parade was like a big, warm hug — 3,200 community participants — and heartwarming with the pride that radiated from parade watchers as they lined the streets hours in advance. School marching bands, church groups, students from UC’s DAAP program, professional artists and hundreds of volunteer enthusiasts set out to make the parade a miles-long display of glowing creativity.

ArtsWave congratulates BLINK’s organizers: Agar, ArtWorks, Brave Berlin, Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber and the Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation. As well, our enormous thanks to the City of Cincinnati and City of Covington and their public safety and transportation officials.

We thank ArtsWave Pride co-founder Kathy Nardiello for leading the charge to incorporate the Rainbow Bridge traveling sculpture in this year’s festival. (You can still help fund the costs involved with this particular effort by clicking here).

BLINK 2019 may now be in the rear-view mirror, but its impacts aren’t over. "Culture is a long game," said Adam Erickson of ArtPlace America, who was visiting from Brooklyn during BLINK for the concurrent Midwest Summit of leaders in Creative Placemaking.

That’s a great reminder that Cincinnati’s future as a culturally vibrant destination is lifted and propelled by its many rooted arts institutions. They’ve been shaping our identity as a city that celebrates the arts since the 1800s, when founders declared that Cincinnati be "the Paris of the West." But, they are evolving programming and practices as clear partners in our region’s relevant, diverse and welcoming future vision.

In some cases, they are even changing their physical spaces to be more inclusive — yesterday, the Cincinnati Art Museum celebrated the completion of a new, fully accessible front entrance. This considerate and appropriate re-design, enabled by generous funders, also foreshadows that the impacts of the arts will be felt by this community for generations to come.

"I’m a big fan of art-o-nomics," Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley said at the museum’s ribbon-cutting event as he also reflected on the weekend. "The arts are an essential part of Cincinnati’s revitalization."

​BLINK is a trademark of the Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr.,/U.S. Bank Foundation exclusively licensed by the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber.