CAMPAIGNS: Art center hopes to paint Cincinnati in a whole new light

PR Team: Contemporary Arts Center (Cincinnati), Resnicow Schroeder Associates (New York) Campaign: Opening of the Richard & Lois Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art Time Frame: June 2002 to June 2003 Budget: Approx. $150,000

PR Team: Contemporary Arts Center (Cincinnati), Resnicow Schroeder Associates (New York) Campaign: Opening of the Richard & Lois Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art Time Frame: June 2002 to June 2003 Budget: Approx. $150,000

The Richard & Lois Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art (CCA) recently moved into a new building that, because of its unique design and exhibitions on display, was more or less guaranteed to draw global attention. But to draw visitors, funding, and new membership, the museum would need to do more than focus on its new home. "We knew there would be interest in the building because it is extraordinary, but we wanted it to be seen as an expression of the institution's core values: innovation, diversity, and free inquiry," says Charles Desmarais, director of the CCA. "Cincinnati is often seen as conservative. The message is that this is a forward-looking city that does investigate the new and embrace diversity." Strategy The objectives were to celebrate internationally renowned architect Zaha Hadid's design, position the building as an expression of the CCA's programs, showcase the CCA as a local cultural and economic leader, and emphasize its importance in the international arts community. "The long-term health of this project is tied to people perceiving Cincinnati as a destination," says Laura Bradley, SAE at Resnicow Schroeder Associates (RSA). "The CCA wanted the message to go beyond its own project because it is part of a tight-knit art-community effort." "We didn't just want coverage at the opening," says RSA president David Resnicow. "We wanted to break through media perceptions and provide ongoing coverage of Cincinnati's cultural life. The CCA, as an anchor, helped us get broader coverage." Tactics In August 2001, a project overview was released to more than 700 US and international media outlets covering art, design, architecture, travel, business, and lifestyle. The CCA's leadership "firsts" in the art world were highlighted: being the first institution in the region to present Pablo Picasso, Juan Gris, Nancy Graves, John Cage, Amadeo Modigliani, and others; the building being the first US art museum designed by a woman; and it being Hadid's first US commission. The center partnered with the convention and visitors bureau to collect economic-impact data of the CCA and other Cincinnati development projects. The information was used to promote the city as a tourist destination. Media events were coordinated during the fall and winter, including a press briefing and luncheon in New York City. Other Cincinnati arts and cultural institutions were invited because Resnicow felt it was important to introduce the city's lesser-known institutions to the press. "Many in the media had never been to Cincinnati," says Bradley. "We had to educate them about what makes it unique, deal with preconceived notions of conservatism, and contextualize Cincinnati geographically and in terms of the CCA's mission. We deliberately highlighted other architectural projects in the area, as well as the art and culture that exists beyond the CCA because we didn't want it to be perceived as a lone catalyst in this market." Results The grand-opening preview party on May 31 drew a crowd of nearly 11,000 visitors. The CCA attracted more than 4,000 new members, giving it the US' second-largest contemporary-art membership base (behind LA). Almost $36 million has been raised to date (exceeding the CCA's original goal of $27.5 million), which covered building costs, and swelled the endowment from about $1 million to $6 million. Local economic impact includes $20 million in construction services, and more than 20 new full-time CCA staff posts. On June 27, The New York Times called the CCA "the most important American building to be completed since the end of the Cold War." Other coverage included Time, Newsweek, Vanity Fair, Conde Nast Traveler, Travel & Leisure, The Wall Street Journal (Europe and US), The New Yorker, The Washington Post, the LA Times, the Financial Times, The Boston Globe, and the Chicago Tribune. Future "I don't think we ever could have raised the kind of money we did had we not gotten the kind of international press response we have had," says Desmarais. "The fact that the rest of the world was looking at this was a catalyst for a lot of donors." RSA will help manage communications through October. The Financial Times, Vanity Fair, Vogue, Art in America, ARTnews, Architectural Record, and Architecture Magazine have features scheduled.

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