Art for Everybody: Chase Public Profile

Photo: Jesse Fox

Chase Public’s Mike Fleisch and Scott Holzman promote “empathy through creative practice.” – Photo: Jesse Fox

Five years ago, graphic facilitator Mike Fleisch and a couple of his friends were on a road trip. Headed to Chicago for a Pixies concert, as they traveled north their on-the-road brainstorming resulted in something that would notably transform the Cincinnati arts scene: Chase Public, a nonprofit collaborative space for art and assembly.

“I had an arts studio in Northside, and we would get together there now and then and talk poetry and drink some whiskey,” Fleisch says. “We decided it would be better to — instead of looking inside at ourselves — to open that up.”

So they found a space in Northside that was easy to rent and relatively inexpensive and started doing some events there. It quickly became a local gathering spot. Fleisch wanted it to be an actual entity, so he named it Chase Public because the space was located on Chase Avenue and open to the public.

“We liked the implication of ‘public’ being for everybody, and the education aspect implicit in that. So we did poetry readings and we did multidisciplinary events,” he says.

After five years, Chase Public’s events scope is wide, with everything from classes to film screenings to music performances.

While there are diverse offerings, “short-order poetry” was what initially opened Chase Public to the community at large. Fleisch says short-order poetry is a simple idea: A poet connects with someone, asks that person what they want their poem to be about and writes something based on that. The poem is very quickly completed and given to the person.

They originally hosted short-order poetry events a couple of times on the corner of Chase and Hamilton in Northside, and then at a few other Final Friday-type nights around the city starting in 2011.

“There are no barriers to entry,” Fleisch says. “You need a typewriter and you need to be willing to try it. What we found to be powerful about it is both that honesty that people are willing to share something with someone who they don’t know, and also that gift — the idea that [poets] are using their craft and knowledge and are able to write something and share that with somebody.”

Fleisch then met Scott Holzman in 2013, when Holzman was working at Collective Espresso in Over-the-Rhine and Chase presented short-order poetry there.

Holzman suggested that Chase Public get involved with the ArtWorks MidPoint Midway Box Truck Carnival at the MidPoint Music Festival.

“The next time I saw Mike, I said, ‘Hey, this is a good idea. Short-order poetry would be really awesome in this,’ ” Holzman says.  “And he agreed and asked if I wanted to help, so I did.”

On the Midway was the first time Chase Public connected immediately with hundreds of people, and it happened over the course of MidPoint Music Festival’s three days.

“I kind of did a lot of the logistical-end stuff for that, then out of that, started doing some events and just kept doing them,” Holzman says.

Since then, Chase Public has been contacted by organizations such as the Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati Art Museum, Taft Museum of Art, Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and others for collaboration.

Holzman is now the director of programming at Chase Public, advancing the organization’s vision statement, “Empathy through creative practice,” which has acted as the foundation for events.

According to Holzman, the idea is to provide artists and audiences with access to creative expression that helps people understand one another better.

“We wanted to try to balance creativity and consumption,” Fleisch says. “And we wanted to try to balance individual effort and excellence. [We wanted] people making things individually with some sort of social or collaborative aspect.”

This collaboration can be seen on a massive scale with the Cincinnati Tattoo Project and ArtWorks’ CincyInk. The Cincinnati Tattoo Project was inspired by Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova, who launched civic tattoo projects in their hometown of Lexington, Ky., and other cities. Here, locals were invited by ArtWorks to submit their various love letters to Cincinnati, which were synthesized into a poem written by Fleisch, Holzman and Chase Public board member Nathan Swartzendruber. Gohde and Todorova divided the final poem into 263 words and phrases and designed a unique tattoo for each participant.

The poem, “Seven Hills and a Queen to Name Them,” is tattooed across more than 250 Cincinnatians’ bodies and displayed on 54 buildings.

“It took a year and a half to write this poem,” Holzman says. “We used the short-order poetry model to go out to as many events as we could get to around Cincinnati, [asking] ‘Why do you love Cincinnati?’ So we wrote some absurd number of poems on that subject for people at many events. It wasn’t one or two peoples’ perspectives of Cincinnati — it was a thousand peoples’ perspectives of Cincinnati.”

It’s this kind of community collaboration that reached many, and drew now-board member Elese Daniel to Chase Public. She has performed at numerous events — poetry readings, music collaborations and more, including at Response Projects.

For Response Projects, creatives prepare and share a 10-minute response to a work of art. The popular event’s third installment takes place Aug. 21 and will spotlight Cathy Wagner, Matt McAllister, Mark Mendoza, Megan Hague, Loraine Wible and Holzman, who will reflect on the poetry of Sappho.

“In general, I’m an advocate for all things Chase Public and creative endeavors grounded in empathy and community,” Daniel says. “It’s been a great opportunity to share my work and my perspective, but to also hear the work of others, to be inspired by others, to meet new people and collectively share ideas and ambitions.”

She says she loves these events for their “connectiveness” — they break down any sort of separation between performer and audience. They create a collective effort and exchange between everyone.

“On some level, there’s something in art that can connect people and bring them together, and generate something very real,” Fleisch says. “I think people need that. That’s as much a human need as food and shelter.”

Originally written for Cincinnati CityBeat: CLICK HERE FOR THE STORY.

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