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Friday, June 7, 2019

It Started with Paul Bartel: The Wyoming Fine Arts Center Turns 25

By Cynthia Smith
When Paul Bartel, owner of the Baroque Violin Shop on North Bend Road, bought the building that became the Wyoming Fine Arts Center 25 years ago, he actually had something much smaller in mind. “Suzuki teachers had come to me saying they were having a hard time finding places to teach,” he explains. “Since I am a builder/remodeler, I was trying to help them.  
“I had made offers on a few other buildings, which were small studios. A friend said, ‘go look at the Masonic Lodge on Wyoming Avenue,’ which was for sale. Walking into the first floor, my jaw dropped. ‘This is not a studio,’ I thought. “This is a school!’ 
“The City owned the building but didn’t want to keep it. They wanted to protect it while they found the right person to do justice to the community and the building. They sold it to me for what they had paid.”

Transforming the Building
“The building had been most recently used by a dance studio, a doctor’s office, and a tenant on the third floor. Everything was a wreck.
“I hired some Wyoming Boy Scouts to clean it out, paint, etc. The work, at first, was removal. There were asbestos tiles, wiring issues, walls that had to be knocked out, and some doors had to be closed up to make studios. The drop ceiling in the hallway came down and we found the beautiful original ceiling underneath. I hired a Wyoming businessman to make curtains for the stage, and Wyoming artists to stencil the auditorium. 
“We opened in the fall of 1995 as a nonprofit called the Cincinnati String Academy. Later, we rented out space for art and dance, and it all evolved into a nonprofit organization called the Wyoming Fine Arts Center.” 

Paul Bartel in his workshop at the Baroque Violin Shop.
A Generous Donation
Bartel donated the 1850s-era building to the Wyoming Fine Arts Center in 2001. He is excited it is still serving his initial intention: to offer quality private lessons and to provide a place for teachers to make a living. 
“There are young people with so much potential,” he says, “like my 15 grandkids; they are light-years ahead of me when I was their age in terms of art. It is important to have a place where children can blossom, whether their interest is music, art, dance, or drama.” 
He is excited about the Center’s current board of directors. “They are going to get some things done,” Bartel says, “like handicapped accessibility, new carpeting, and maintenance projects that have been delayed due to lack of funds.” 
Still serving on the board, Bartel, who is 67, wants the Center to “grow past me. I want others to see it as important. I go to meetings, bring the history, construction knowledge, and a willingness to do simple tasks. I know the building’s history better than anyone else.” 

Milan Dukic, Executive Director, in front of the Wyoming Fine Arts Center.
Changed by Music
One of the reasons Bartel--who rents, repairs, and sells string instruments to musicians around the country--is so passionate about providing high quality string instruments, is that he feels music changed his life for the better. He didn’t care about school until he started playing the violin in middle school. Then everything changed. Here’s his story:

“When I was in ninth grade, I played the solo on the Vivaldi Violin Concerto in A Minor with my school orchestra on a Friday night. A 35-year-old man called me Monday, said he had bought a violin in a pawn shop over the weekend and asked me to give him lessons. 
“By the time I graduated high school I had a full-blown studio and taught through college. I had a studio in my apartment in Oxford at Miami University. Then I taught in the public schools for seven years.”
Bartel has never stopped teaching. “At the shop, I help teachers and my customers. I educate parents as well as students in simple things like the right way to bow. It is fun to see the light bulbs go off in their heads when they pull out the sound for the first time.” 
Developing the Fine Arts Center was Bartel’s way to pay back how music has blessed him. “Music gave me confidence, helped develop my brain. I wanted to work with my hands and taking care of string instruments was a perfect fit.
“A career in music is very difficult; I never encourage it, but there are so many opportunities for people to play as a hobby: chamber orchestras, churches, weddings, funerals, and parties. I have played in all of these and still play my cherished Stradivarius every day.”
In Bartel’s view, the arts enrich lives. “There are people who have great talent, and others with varying degrees of talent, but thoroughly enjoy playing or singing in a choir or making art. It may be the best thing about their lives, enjoying the arts.”

The Center Today: Art for All Ages

The Wyoming Fine Arts Center (WFAC) is, at its core, a place where 400 students take private music lessons from top-quality teachers, for whom teaching is their primary profession.  
But it is so much more. The WFAC is a nonprofit community arts organization that offers a wide range of music, dance, art, and drama programming for all ages. 
What can you find at the WFAC?
Suzuki violin, viola, cello, and piano
Traditional string (violin, viola, cello, bass, piano, harp, classical guitar) as well as electric guitar, electric bass, voice, drums, and rock band ensembles
Art classes in drawing, printmaking, painting, collage, and sculpture
Colors and Cupcakes painting parties for kids and grownups
Halloween Art Parties and other themed art parties
Art Birthday parties
Winter Break Camps
30+ distinct Summer Camps, with before- and after-program care
Saturday Family Art
Spring Preschool Camps
Family Musik Kids and Musikgarten music and movement classes for families with children ages newborn to age six
Musical theatre classes and camps
Hip-hop and Dancing with Parkinson’s classes
Peanut Butter and Jam concerts

The Wyoming Fine Arts Center offers programming for all ages. 
Some programs are provided in collaboration with organizations such as Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, Arts Connect, Linton Chamber Music, May Fete, Wyoming School Music Association, UC College-Conservatory of Music’s Preparatory Department, Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County (free art programs in Elmwood Place and College Hill), Wyoming Inclusion Neighborhood Diversity Support (WINDS), Wyoming Cultural Collaborative Committee (WCCC), and Parkinson Wellness Foundation. 
Community groups, including the Cincinnati Civic Orchestra, the Flying Cloud Academy of Vintage Dance, and the Cincinnati Contra Dancers are resident organizations at the Center. The Center is also used by families and organizations for private event rentals.

The mini-musical and musical theatre classes at the Wyoming Fine Arts Center are very popular. 
Quality Top Priority
Executive Director Milan Dukic, who began his tenure in 2007, estimates that with all the programs, students and visitors, at least 1,000 people come through the building weekly. “We are, by far, the busiest community arts center in Greater Cincinnati,” he says.
“Quality of instruction is paramount. My goal of the last 12 years has been to put us, as a teaching facility, on par with CCM and NKU’s prep departments, which we now are. Students should not have to unlearn bad habits like I did, and the key is proper instruction from day one.” 
Dukic, who originally came to the United States from Serbia to attend the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan, is an accomplished violinist and violin teacher in his own right. 
Before becoming Executive Director, he taught at WFAC and NKU. “Then, when asked to step into this leadership position, I realized the director position would allow me to multiply myself times 30,” he says. “I could set the standard for all the instruction and have a much bigger impact than as a single teacher.” Twenty-eight teachers are on the WFAC payroll, along with 10-12 contract employees for short-term programs. Once selected and hired, all stay with the organization for a long time. This stability translates into quality.

The art programs at the Wyoming Fine Arts Center are lots of fun for kids – and adults!
A Draw for Wyoming
Dukic estimates that about half the people who use the facility are residents of the 45215 zip code. “The rest are from outside, which gives our city, restaurants and shops exposure. I have heard from several of our families that the WFAC and walkability to it were deciding draws for their moving here.”

Fine Arts in the Age of Technology
The challenge today, says Dukic, “is to take people from being consumers of the arts to participants. Technology and social media make it very easy to engage with and consume the arts, which is fantastic, but learning from a YouTube video or an Instagram post takes you only so far.”
“Many also have a misunderstanding that technology replaces the creative process. Technology as a tool is great, but it is not a source (of inspiration). You need the human connection and actual learning to build skills based on your particular interest. The difficulty today arises from equating the use of social media for actual creativity.”

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