Artists and residents share a public display of community creativity with an outdoor rolling roster of exhibitions.
What started as a pet project by Camp Washington resident and artist Sean Mullaney became a full community effort to showcase public art while simultaneously activating a once-vacant space. Mullaney, a designer and inventor, was using his property, an empty lot that used to hold two now-demolished buildings, to showcase his own outdoor sculpture works. He and resident artist Lacey Haslam, a staffer at the Art Academy of Cincinnati and director of the Archive of Creative Culture, cooked up a way to make the lot available to the neighborhood as a gallery and community space.
The result is CampSITE Sculpture Park, an ongoing arts project inspired by the philosophy of 20th-century German artist and teacher Joseph Beuys, who promoted free arts education for all and the concept that “every human being is an artist.” In the spirit of those ideals, Haslam and Mullaney carved out space in their own neighborhood for a free outdoor sculpture park filled with works designed by local residents, which they are activating with works of photography, video, and light culled from an open call for entries they review each month.
Set in a sliver of land between Mill Creek to the west and Interstate 75 to the east, Camp Washington seems a bit like an island in a city of more than 50 other closely integrated neighborhoods. This isolation has kept the place a kind of open secret for decades. Manufacturing has dominated the district’s industry profile and Camp Washington has deep roots both as a place to work and a place to live. “Many residents are multi-generational,” Haslam says. “My neighbor has lived here for 64 years.”
Layered onto this history is an emerging art scene, anchored by institutions such as the American Sign Museum, the contemporary art gallery Wave Pool, and the Archive of Creative Culture. This scene is leveled up by high-profile individual works such as artist Marc de Jong’s ‘Swing House’ (which debuted at the Contemporary Arts Center) and Artworks’ impossible-to-miss mural ‘Campy Washington,’ a Technicolor fever dream overlooking Colerain Avenue.
These bursts of creativity in Camp Washington are more than the sum of their parts: They represent a dedication to starting this new-old neighborhood off on the right foot—of re-launching it as a desirable place to live while paying homage to those characteristics, locations, and personalities that have always made it special.
And while CampSITE participation is open to any person, it was designed with Camp Washington residents especially in mind. Haslam hopes that people who live around the CampSITE Sculpture park will contribute to the rolling roster of exhibiting artists and will continue to use the space as a kind of de facto community center. CampSITE hosts Second Saturday events in the sculpture park to give people a chance to interact with the art and to enjoy their own neighborhood in a safely distanced outdoor setting.
If indeed every human is an artist, then if follows that any setting (even a humble parking lot) can become a gallery. Better still, such a freely available public setting can ensure access to art and all the rich community engagement and growth that comes along with it.
There’s still time to submit to the upcoming season, which is open for entries until May 21, 2021. Priority is given to photography, video, and light installation.
FotoFocus collaborates—locally, nationally, and internationally—to present and support photography and lens-based projects that are accessible, enriching, and engaging to a diverse public. FotoFocus inspires conversations about the world through the art of photography and film, via its partnerships and signature programming including the FotoFocus Biennial, FotoFocus Symposium, FotoFocus Film Program, and FotoFocus Lecture and Visiting Artist Series.
As the Covid-19 pandemic reshaped our world, FotoFocus had to pivot. First, by pledging part of its 2020 Biennial budget to financially support more than 100 Participating Venues and Partners in the region’s art community through FotoFocus Emergency Art Grants, and further, by enhancing other pathways to support lens-based art and engage the public in accordance with its mission. The Lens—the FotoFocus editorial arm—is one such avenue.