Cincinnati native continues father’s legacy bringing art to West End

Cincinnati native continues father's legacy bringing art to West End
Published: May. 25, 2023 at 4:28 PM EDT
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CINCINNATI (WXIX) - A Cincinnati native is working to restore a piece of the West End’s history and its legacy that celebrates art, culture and diversity.

Toilynn O’Neal Turner, the founding director of the Robert O’Neal Multicultural Arts Center, is working to renovate the historic Regal Theater to help revitalize the art scene in the West End.

”I’ve seen art save lives,” Turner said. “I mean, it can definitely change the dynamics of racism and conflict. Art is one of those spaces we can all come and be together and appreciate. And it can help build dialogue.”

Her father, Robert O’Neal was a prominent artist who merged his work and activism to inspire others.

While he passed in 2018, Turner is now working to continue his legacy, creating the Robert O’Neal Multicultural Arts Center, a nonprofit that highlights African American artists while also exposing more of the community to the art scene.

”So we’ve been able to start some art programs for young people, [such as] free dance classes [and] free visual art classes,” Turner explained. “We’ve had a few fundraisers and so we’re really just building capacity in our programming.”

The project Turner is working on currently with the iconic Regal Theater will soon be a new home for the arts center, which she says holds so many happy memories for her and others who grew up in the West End.

”The Regal was our babysitter our safe space,” she said. “We were able to watch African American films like Shaft and Pam Grier and we were given popcorn and a hotdog. And we thought that was everything. Our lives were simplistic, but at the same time we had a community, which I think is sometimes what we’re missing.”

Recently, Turner was able to get the Regal marked as a historical designation through the state and is raising $20 million to complete renovations.

”The kids are so inspired by the activities to the point where it’s almost like you get emotional because they’re almost like, some of those kids haven’t used scissors. Some of those kids haven’t been exposed to the symphony and the opera and there’s a great partnership in the neighborhood of us really trying to make a difference,” she explained.

Just like her father, Turner is hoping to leave an imprint on the city and continue to inspire others over the years to come.

”Working with the artists and teaching them how to be educators is important that we give that gift to someone to live beyond us. And that’s how my father lived,” she said. “There are so many artists that he touched in the community. I want to have that same impact.”

Turner says she needs about $13 million to still to complete renovations.

Her goal is to re-open the Regal Theater in 2025.

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