Gallery’s Mission Includes Art as Economic Accelerant

Cincinnati Business Courier, 17 May 2018
By Maya Drozdz
Courier contributor

Anyone looking for evidence of how the arts can help jump-start the economy of a business district could find a good case study in Manifest Gallery and East Walnut Hills.

Established in the mid-1800s, the neighborhood is considered Cincinnati’s first suburb. Its DeSales Corner business district is walkable and quaint, anchored on the northern end of Woodburn Avenue and Madison Road by St. Francis De Sales Catholic Church and the seven-story San Marco Apartment Building.

But by the early 2000s, the area was in economic decline, with many of its historical storefronts sitting vacant. Around that time, a group of local students, artists and professors were forming a nonprofit called Manifest, whose mission in part was to use the visual arts as a vehicle for community revitalization. In 2004, Manifest secured an affordable storefront at 2727 Woodburn Ave.

As a nonprofit, Manifest’s primary aim is about education. Proceeds from sales benefit the artists, the operation of the gallery and the community. Co-founder and executive director Jason Franz said that from the beginning, Manifest Gallery has been open until 7 p.m. Tuesday through Friday because the founders “always felt the gallery needed to have hours that would make the exhibits accessible to real-life working people.”

Fast forward 13 years after Manifest presented its first exhibition to the public, and you’ll see DeSales Corner is a vibrant place with diverse businesses and new development in the works. Some business owners who’ve recently located in the neighborhood say they were attracted by the energy and sense of community that the gallery has helped to foster.

“The vibe of the neighborhood was a major factor, and a huge part of the vibe was Manifest,” said Louis Ginocchio, general manager of the restaurant O Pie O, which opened in 2015 at 1527 Madison Rd., just two blocks from Manifest.

Diane Christian-Budd, owner of Indigenous, a shop dedicated to local and regional fine craft, echoed those sentiments. She chose to move her shop last summer to 1609 Madison Road  after more than a decade in neighboring O’Bryonville.
“We were definitely drawn to the East Walnut Hills business district because of the eclectic mix of current businesses, including the well-established and highly regarded Manifest Gallery,” Christian-Budd said.

A signature, recurring event for the East Walnut Hills Business District is Walk on Woodburn,  which coincides with Manifest Gallery openings. The website for the event lists 21 participating businesses, which stay open late or offer discounts. Partner activities – such as free concerts by teen members of the nearby Music Resource Center – make the event truly a community effort.

As Franz explains, Walk on Woodburn was “established by community members and businesses for the purposes of using Manifest’s considerable public attraction at its opening events to help catalyze districtwide involvement.”

Business owners say the event raises the neighborhood’s profile and draws an increased number of potential customers.

“Indigenous is fortunate enough to have four to six times the foot traffic on those nights as compared to a regular Friday night,” said Christian-Budd. As part of Walk on Woodburn, the shop hosts trunk shows or craft demonstrations, bolstering the amount of activity and the mix of visitors.

Likewise, Ginocchio said that O Pie O sees “about 30 percent more visitors and 20 percent higher revenue during Walk on Woodburn.”

The synergy of the  event works both ways, Franz said. For instance, this past January the gallery’s attendance was 112 percent greater than the same time year, which he attributes in part to “coordination and collegiality among participating businesses” during Walk on Woodburn.

As Seth Maney, a local urban real estate agent and developer, sums it up: “A thriving street is more than an entertainment district. A thriving street has cultural capital. Manifest Gallery is a great example of a well-run and well-respected art space that contributes to the cultural and economic vitality of its neighborhood.”

Closer look
Manifest Gallery is located at 2727 Woodburn Ave. and open noon-7pm Tue-Fri and noon-5pm Sat. The next Walk on Woodburn takes place 6-9 p.m., June 1. For  more information, go to