Enquirer Women of the Year 2021: Ellen Muse-Lindeman uses art to engage, connect community

Ellen Muse-Lindeman is named a 2021 Enquirer Woman of the Year for her dedication to the Kennedy Heights Arts Center, where she works to provide a safe space for artists, musicians and students in the community to learn and showcase their craft.

Ellen Muse-Lindeman says the Kennedy Heights Arts Center was more active than ever in 2020, despite the COVID-19 pandemic

“When public health orders forced the cancellation of all our programming, in some ways it was liberating,” said Muse-Lindeman, executive director of the arts center and  one of the 2021 Enquirer Women of the Year.

“It required us to think creatively and focus even more keenly on our community’s needs. Our team innovated new ways to keep residents creative and connected despite distance, to combat social isolation and to take meaningful action against racism.”

Under Muse-Lindeman’s 13-year leadership, the arts center has been more than a place to learn how to arrange flowers.

“I believe the arts are unique in their power to engage and connect people. The arts give people a creative voice, a way to express shared values, to bridge and bond and make connections with people who aren’t like you,” she said.

“Residents share common experiences, hear new perspectives and understand each other better. Kennedy Heights Arts Center creates social change through community-engaged practices that use art as a platform for human interaction and makes the arts accessible to everyone.”

So, what did the arts center do during the pandemic?

A lot.

It distributed more than 3,000 free creativity kits to youth quarantining at home; partnered with artists and residents to make a series of outdoor art installations throughout the neighborhood that shared messages of hope; and created an outdoor art gallery displaying commissioned works by local Black artists exploring issues of racial justice that people could view as a drive-thru experience or explore on foot.

It also hosted an online zine of art and writing created by teens and for teens; delivered handmade gifts created by local residents to older adults in nursing homes; and presented pop-up arts experiences on neighborhood streets with live music, performances, free food and art activities that neighbors could safely enjoy from their porches.

“As businesses and schools began to shut down, Ellen vowed to keep Kennedy Heights Arts Center open, keeps artists and teachers working and keep community members connected,” said Mary Ray, a vice president of the Kennedy Heights Community Council and a founder of the arts center.

“She secured (Paycheck Protection Program) funding, and her staff never missed a paycheck. She challenged her team to be creative and come up with ways to keep normal activity going.”

Normal activity at the Kennedy Heights Arts Center is offering a wide range of art and cultural programs for youths and adults, including exhibits, musical performances, classes, community events, summer camps and a gift shop featuring handmade items by local artists.

The arts center, which is based in the historic Kennedy mansion at 6546 Montgomery Road, also has an events venue and artist studios in an annex nearby at Montgomery Road and Kennedy Avenue.

Muse-Lindeman was named executive director of the arts center in 2008, after a 15-year career in community development at The Center for Great Neighborhoods of Covington.

Kate Elliott, co-president of the Kennedy Heights Community Council, calls Muse-Lindeman “a local treasure.”

“She acts quickly but thoughtfully and serves as a conduit for the inspiration and creativity of our community,” Elliott said.

Muse-Lindeman has a background in theater and dance.

“In my spare time, I love to go to the theater, take dance class, listen to live music, and go to museums and galleries,” she said. “The arts community in Cincinnati is so vibrant – I just wish I had more time.”

Mimi Gingold, a founder of the Kennedy Heights Arts Center, is pleased that Muse-Lindeman has devoted so much of her time to the community.

“She leads in ways that allow others to shine,” Gingold said.

“She knows that the good we can do in this world takes all of us together.”

The arts center welcomes donations and volunteers to support its programs. To help, visit online at kennedyarts.org.

About Ellen Muse-Lindeman

Birthplace: Athens, Ohio

Current residence: Kennedy Heights

Family: Children Henry, 22, and Bess, 19

Education: Bachelor’s degree in theater from the College of Wooster and master’s degree in social work from the University of Cincinnati

Occupation: Executive director of the Kennedy Heights Arts Center

What she says

What inspires you to give back? “I am privileged to have a job I’m passionate about. Every day, I see how the arts bring people together and create a sense of community, and I’m honored to hear from people about how this enriches their lives. We are all creative beings, and I love to see that creativity expressed and honored in everyone.”

What need in the community would you like to see addressed? “I believe strengthening our communities is one of our most important challenges today. Americans are increasingly isolated and the fabric of our connections with each other have unraveled. It’s essential that we create spaces where people can connect with others in meaningful ways.”

Who most influenced or inspired you to care about others? “My parents, Bill and Marlene Muse, are my biggest inspiration.”

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