Cincinnati Arts: What to See at the Contemporary Arts Center

By: Margy Waller

January 13, 2014

There’s a mass of gaze-worthy architecture all over Cincinnati – lots of it historic, Italianate, and art deco especially. But when only modern will do, Cincinnatians head to the Contemporary Arts Center, at the corner of 6th and Walnut.


The creative mastermind Zaha Hadid is the architect of this stylish space that the New York Times declared “the most important American building to be completed since the cold war.”

Lobby | What to See at the Contemporary Art Center

The Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center hosts an extensive programme of events © CAC

The CAC is the nation’s largest non-collecting contemporary art museum, which means they’re always showing off something different, from artists you know – think Shepard Fairey, Keith Haring, Patti Smith, and Andy Warhol – to some truly inspiring emerging talent. There’s an extensive programme of events on offer and a black box series of fresh, new performance pieces.

Stairs | What to See at the Contemporary Art Center

Roller coaster staircase at the Contemporary Arts Center © CAC

You’ll want to skip the elevator while exploring the building, or at least take a quick photo from the crazy steps throughout the building – built by a roller coaster company. Looking out of the windows from the staircase, you’ll see magical views of the streets surrounding the museum, and some surprising art on the buildings on view through the glass.

UnMuseum | What to See at the Contemporary Art Center

Don’t miss the interactive UnMuseum © The Pug Father

Whether or not you have kids with you, be sure to head up to the top floor for the interactive UnMuseum for all ages, where you’ll find specially commissioned works of innovative art and creativity events.


When you’re ready to go, exit through the gift shop on the main floor for design originals and limited editions. Then, it’s no problem finding a local eatery nearby. Head across 6th Street to Nada, where you can sample delicious Mexican fare – sit upstairs to catch a different view of the museum while watching the lively street scene below.


Alternatively, create your own sushi at FUSIAN and take it over to Fountain Square, on Fifth Street, between Walnut and Vine. A large open space with tables and chairs for lingering, the square is the main public plaza downtown and great for people-watching, plus you’re almost sure to catch some kind of performance in full swing.


Museum Hotel | Things to See at the Contemporary Art Center

Yellow penguin at 21C Museum Hotel © 21C

If you’re after even more art with your food, head around the corner to 21C Museum Hotel (a favourite of travellers with a laidback vibe) for food, drinks, and the hotel’s very own free contemporary art museum. Keep an eye out for the yellow penguins- they pop up in different places around the hotel every day.


Header photo: Striking buildings of the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center © Roland Halbe for CAC


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Have you been to the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati? What’s your favourite thing to do there? Share your thoughts with us below.


Written by Margy Waller


Margy Waller

Margy is a boomerang Cincinnatian: she returned to promote the city’s arts after living in Washington D.C. and Philadelphia, and loves to show off her hometown, a place where she knows all the indie shopping spots and architectural beauties. She’s a fan of the region’s surprisingly diverse performances of theatre, dance, and music in unusual spots. Follow Margy @margyartgrrl.

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