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Sunday, November 1, 2020

Take the Climb, Enjoy the Art at the Cincinnati Art Museum

The Cincinnati Art Museum’s The Art Climb spans 450 feet up the hill from the entrance to Eden Park up to the door of the art museum.

By Robin Gee

Back in May, the Cincinnati Art Museum (CAM) opened The Art Climb, a series of steps and landings that connect the museum nestled at the top of Eden Park to neighborhood of Walnut Hills below. The Art Climb staircase begins at the sidewalk near the intersection of Eden Park Drive and Gilbert Avenue and leads up to the front museum entrance, about 450 feet overall.

Cincinnati is known for its hillsides and many would argue that our many hills reflect the natural beauty of the city built along the riverside. “Picturesque” is an artful term that comes to mind. Since its opening, The Art Climb has welcomed thousands of visitors who make the climb to get out in nature and get in some exercise. 

Yet, The Art Climb has become so much more than an enjoyable hike among the Eden Park trees. It’s a celebration of the art in nature and its connection to the art housed within the museum walls.

The project managers were careful to keep as many of the trees around the stairs as possible, removing invasive honeysuckle and dead trees, and doing several more plantings. The museum worked with Emersion Design and Human Nature for architecture and landscape design for the project. Turner Construction was the construction firm. 

The Art Climb is a part of the museum’s comprehensive plan with a goal that dates back to the founding of the museum to build strong community connections between the museum and the surrounding communities of Mt. Adams, Walnut Hills, Mt. Auburn, Gilbert-Sinton, Pendleton and Downtown. Plans are to expand those connections through the addition of more trails, art spaces and a better layout for both vehicles and pedestrian traffic and access to the museum.

Already a popular destination this summer, the Cincinnati Art Museum expects 200,000 visitors will take The Art Climb each year.

The Art Climb was funded through private donations as well as $5 million through the New Market Tax Credit program. The Cincinnati Development Fund helped provide the work clearing the way. Overall, CAM’s master plan is estimated at $20 million in infrastructure, excluding long-term art acquisition. Procter & Gamble and other community partners are among the lead investors in the plan.

Lighting along the way, the stairs lead to a large pavilion at the top where visitors can enjoy a view of the city. A Cincinnati Metro bus stop is located near the start of the staircases. At present, the climb is not accessible for those in wheelchairs or to strollers but plans are underway to build an accessible ramp to ensure all visitors can experience the art and beauty along the way.

A key component will be the addition of sculptural works all along the climb, making it outdoor sculpture park. Developers studied sculpture parks around the country for ideas and inspiration including Seattle Art Museum’s Olympic Sculpture Park, New Orleans Museum of Art’s Besthoff Sculpture Garden, Walker Art Center’s Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, and more, but the hillside layout is unique to the project.

An aerial view shows the expanse of The Art Climb at the Cincinnati Art Museum.

The Art Climb is partnering with the Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park in nearby Hamilton, Ohio, Recently, the museum announced that three large-scale pieces from Pyramid Hill’s collection, including a major work by artist Chakaia Booker, will be installed along the climb this fall.

CAM plans for 200,000 visitors to use The Art Climb, and its already become a popular place to get away and enjoy some socially distanced time out in the beauty and art outside. The museum is also open now welcoming visitors.

What you’ll see and do on The Art Climb

You can climb the 164 steps that make up The Art Climb with many landings and places to stop and rest along the way. Visitors right now are practicing social distancing.

One of those landings made an excellent spot to add a musical art experience in June with a performance from the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra. Expect more live music performances as this use of the climb is explored and expanded.

The Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra played in June to celebrate The Art Climb.

This fall, Chakaia Booker’s 2014 sculpture “LBD Duty Free,” a 16-foot high twisted sculpture made of discarded rubber tires and stainless steel, will be placed in the grass at the base of the Art Climb near the intersection of Gilbert Avenue and Eden Park Drive. Booker is known for her integration of discarded construction materials into large, outdoor pieces. 

Also coming this fall are two other works from the Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park: 

Barton Rubenstein’s “Skybound,” a brushed stainless steel sculpture that stretches 30 feet high. This work will be placed on the top plaza of the Art Climb, closest to the museum’s parking lot. Rubenstein is a modernist sculptor and environmentalist who has completed more than 90 works of public art around the world, and who focuses on elements of nature including water and kinetic energy; and 

Tony Rosenthal’s “Cube,” a formidable matte blackened steel sculpture measuring nine feet across and set on its corner at a seemingly gravity defying angle. This work will be placed on the highest landing within the Art Climb steps. Rosenthal was an abstract sculptor known for creating numerous works of public art over a seven decades-long career. 

The Art Climb winds up the hill from Gilbert Avenue to the entry to the Cincinnati Art Museum. 

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