• Fri. Jun 9th, 2023

Retrospective Exhibit opens at the Contemporary Arts Center

By Toilynn O’Neal Turner


The Contemporary Arts Center, in partnership with the ROBERT O’NEAL MULTICULTURAL ARTS CENTER (ROMAC), will showcase the first major exhibition of the late Robert O’Neal’s more than 50-year career of creating works that represent the joys, struggles, and rich histories of Cincinnati’s Black neighborhoods beginning on April 28.  

O’Neal’s works merge art and activism, advocating for Civil Rights through socially engaged art and grassroots organizing, earning him the unofficial title of “Over-the-Rhine Mayor.” 

The exhibition highlights his vast work, including paintings, drawings, prints, and photographs.  

According to Toilynn O’Neal Turner, ROMAC Founding Director, “We are thrilled to partner with the CAC on this exciting retrospective showcasing my father’s critical contributions to the City of Cincinnati.”

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Robert O’Neal organized the United Self Expressionists, a group of local artists known as US. They created a body of work reflecting the experiences surrounding their community. During the 1960s, the Model Cities Program, an element of the Johnson Administration’s War on Poverty, originated in response to urban concerns. O’Neal became head of Cincinnati’s Culture and Recreation Task Force of the Model Cities Program. This project led to the creation of the Arts Consortium of Cincinnati in the West End. This organization cultivated hundreds of African American artists and educated the inner-city youth. 

His teaching career included stints at the Arts and Humanities Resource Center, where he worked with senior citizens, the Very Special Arts Ohio Program, and the Cincinnati Recreation Commission. For most of his life, he suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, leading to his participation in the March on Washington for disability rights. Years later, he served on the Disabilities Advisory Committee for the Ohio Arts Council. 

O’Neal’s legacy has inspired the revitalization of the Regal Theater in the West End as the ROBERT O’NEAL MULTICULTURAL ARTS CENTER (ROMAC).  Scheduled to open in 2025, the facility will preserve the rich history of Cincinnati’s Black communities, prepare artists of color for careers in the arts, and offer performance space to its five resident multicultural arts organizations. For more information about the ROMAC and our revitalization campaign, visit the ROMAC website

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The exhibition opens on April 28, and runs until  October 7. The public is invited to join a panel discussion on Thursday, May 18. Toilynn O’Neal Turner will moderate the discussion about the exhibition from 5 to 8 p.m. General admission is $10 and free for CAC members.   

The “Open to All” exhibition was curated by Stephanie Kang, independent curator and assistant professor Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design, Denver.  For more information, visit the CAC’s website