Helping Transform Neighborhoods One Mural at a Time
Photography by Catie Viox
As an associate in the Thompson Hine law firm’s corporate transactions practice, Emma Off spends her days helping clients buy and sell companies. This involves a good deal of creative problem solving. She tries to help them make the most of their business investments and execute on their strategies.
As the new vice president of the Board of Trustees of ArtWorks, an award-winning non-profit organization, Off helps another group of constituents make the most of their environments and assets – communities. Through employment, apprenticeships, education, community partnerships and civic engagement, ArtWorks is transforming our communities and betting big on creativity.
It’s a labor of love on both counts, says Off. “Cincinnati has experienced a rebirth in the past decade. Our businesses are thriving, money is being spent here, and people are traveling to Cincinnati to witness this rebirth firsthand,” she says. “We’re really becoming a competitive city, and ArtWorks is growing up right alongside Cincinnati.”
ArtWorks employs and trains local youth and professional artists to create art and make a community impact through three strategic programming areas: Public Art, including an extensive mural program; ArtRx, an art therapy division; and Creative Enterprise, its entrepreneurial arm. ArtWorks is the largest visual arts employer in the region: the organization has hired more than 3,000 area youth and 2,000 local professional artists and has trained about 300 creative entrepreneurs.
“We hire ArtWorks youth apprentices, ages 14 to 21, from diverse educational and socioeconomic backgrounds, with about 62 percent of the new hires coming from low-income neighborhoods,” says Off, who has always had a penchant for visual arts. “What I feel so passionately about are the youth apprentices we hire. We give them something meaningful to do and a job of which to be proud – kids who otherwise may not have had the opportunity to realize their immense self-worth and be provided with an avenue to express themselves artistically.”
With many area schools cutting art programs, youth apprentices share their gratitude for the opportunity to express their artistic abilities, to hone their creative hobby and be paid while doing so.
Drive through neighborhoods throughout Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky and it is impossible to miss ArtWorks’ stamp. Whether it is Annie “Little Sure Shot” Oakley in Oakley or former world heavyweight boxing champion Ezzard Charles in Over-the-Rhine, ArtWorks’ murals memorialize the greats. ArtWorks, in partnership with Thompson Hine, offers walking mural tours of the art gallery our city has become – great art on a grand scale.
“We’re beautifying city neighborhoods that would otherwise have blank walls and stagnant economies,” says Off. “We recently had to say goodbye to a mural that had been in Covington for years. We painted the mural at a time when there was nothing much going on in the area, but had to eventually tear it down because, happily, the local economy grew.” This is a sign of success for ArtWorks.
ArtWorks is, however, about much more than murals. Behold the healing power of ArtRx where apprentices transform healthcare environments for patients, families and staff. ArtWorks’ Hero Design Company project, in partnership with Ronald McDonald House and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, empowers children facing medical hardships through the co-creation of their very own superhero insignias and capes.
“It’s amazing watching the kids’ faces light up,” says Off.
Its Creative Enterprise division fosters what Off describes as a sustainable creative community by providing local creatives with training and assistance through education and social capital.
Off, who is slated to become president of the board after serving her year as vice president, says she plans to encourage more board engagement, inviting members to “come on down” and paint with the kids and the professional artists.
Where is ArtWorks headed?
“We are continuing to hone our mission and find transformative projects that challenge the creative environment in the Greater Cincinnati area, perhaps on a bigger scale. Be on the lookout for BLINK – a four-day light and art festival in downtown Cincinnati. But we will always go back to our roots – hiring youth apprentices,” says Off.
Her legal profession and her commitment to ArtWorks will always go hand in hand, she adds.
“Giving back and being part of the community expands my professional perspective. Working with a non-profit like ArtWorks enhances my creative problem-solving abilities, making me a more well-rounded legal practitioner. It enables me to better serve my clients, to bring what I learn from working with a creative driver and put it into action in the business setting. And those same clients also tend to share my passion for communities and giving back. I will be forever indebted to the amazing team at ArtWorks and people we reach– they teach me more than I will ever teach them.”
Thompson Hine LLP is located at 312 Walnut Street, 14th Floor, Cincinnati, OH 45202. For more information, call 513.352.6700, email info@ThompsonHine.com or visit www.thompsonhine.com.