scott holzman // chase public

A writer, creative consultant, and at this point, an arts administrator and curator; Scott Holzman, the Creative Director of Chase Public is personally interested in seeing what can happen when people are put into a conversation with one another that they didn’t really expect to have. 

If you weren't familiar: Chase Public is a collaborative space for art and assembly. Their hosted events can really be anything, but it's often poetry readings. Everyone that has been involved with Chase Public has been a writer and that's where their gravitational center is. They also host concerts, film screenings, workshops, games. . . anything that makes sense to do in the space, they are interested in. Very rarely do they say no to something; more often than not we will just say, “let’s look and see how we can make that idea work”.

Chase Public's mission is to cultivate empathy through creative practice. They use the perspective and talent of artists and creative people, and the methodologies that they use to put their creativity out, and create a center for them to gather and share ideas and communicate. 

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Five-Dots: When was Chase Public established?

Scott Holzman: I was not involved with Chase Public in the beginning. The earliest artifact of Chase Public, that I’ve found, was a newsletter that they put out in April of 2010. Its' been around for a little while. 

F-D: Who were the original founders?

SH: The founders were our current Board President, Mike Fleisch and two folks that aren’t really around much any more: Dan Todd and Brad Salyers. 

F-D:. . . And how long have you been involved?

SH: I think I hopped on in the fall of 2013.

F-D: How long have you been in the same position?

SH: When I came to Chase Public, it didn’t exist in the same way that it does now. The first couple of years, Chase was only creating about four events a year, mostly poetry readings. That was something that I was interested in and gradually started showing up and then became more and more involved and present in what was going on. There weren't really any "positions" at Chase until about 2015. It was just a space that a few people utilized. For the last couple of years I’ve been, kind of, the person behind the curtain.

F-D: Who else is on your team?

SH: Currently our board is: Mike Fleisch, Elese Daniel, and Nathan Swartzendruber and also, now, we have Marcus Donaldson helping out with communications.

F-D: How does the structure of the building inform the workplace practices and philosophies of Chase, did you have a  plan when you moved in as to how you wanted to utilize the space?

SH: I’ll preface this by stating that a lot of the questions I will probably answer in a comparative way with us having just recently moved into this location.  I think one of the things that drew us to this space was how accessible it was. The opportunity to move into a ground level space was a huge plus for us. Being on the ground level does, in some way, impact the way things feel in here. Before when we were in the second floor space, it felt like this cool little clubhouse that you wouldn’t know about if you were just walking past. With this space we have these big windows and doors and everyone that drives by, especially at night, with the space all lit up. It’s nice, and perhaps because of our visibility we have formed a more public focus. I think things feel a lot more open now. Our old space had this really gross carpet and drop ceilings that weren’t great; so to come into this space with these wonderful eighteen foot ceilings and nice polished floors— it just feels a lot more open and available. 

To answer that second part of the question: I’d say forty percent, “yes” and sixty percent, “no”. Certainly our programming is informed by our experience in Northside. One of the things I’m most excited about, now that we’re settled into the space, is to see what kind of ideas people come to us with. I think so much of our identity comes from sharing. We aren’t telling people what kind of events they should be enjoying. We’re helping people who have ideas with the process of bringing those ideas out into the public. I’m excited to see who comes in with some idea and completely flips my brain out. I’m certain that it will happen, and I look forward to it.

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F-D :How many events have you had at this location?

SH: About six or seven. 

F-D: How has the reception been since the move?

SH: It’s been pretty good—better than we thought it would be, to be honest. Even being as excited and optimistic as you can be about moving into a new space, there is always that nagging question: “What if this is a huge mistake?”. But people have been really receptive and complimentary to the new thing. The crowds have been really good. It’s been a really nice welcome for us. 

Beyond  that, I was afraid that we would lose some of the intimacy of the old space—some of the magic that was in that little, old room. It was a little nerve wracking but as it turns out, the magic came from the people that participated and came here. I’m obviously very happy that that still exists.

F-D: What is this gallery’s main goal or function?

SH: Our mission is to cultivate empathy through creative practice. We use the perspective and talent of artists and creative people, and the methodologies that they use to put that out, and create a center for them to gather and share ideas and communicate. 

Another big thing that’s important to us is to think of art, curation, creativity, and attendance . . . any of those things, as a gift. Everything is always going to be free, here. It’s this nice circle of us providing a space for free, artists providing the gift of their expression, and audiences providing the gift of their attention, focus, and feedback. Being able to do all of that in non market ways feels really good, healthy, and genuine. 

F-D: Not to deter from your non capitalist ethos, but within all of your programming being free, how are you funding yourself?

SH: Generosity is what makes our funding possible.

F-D: That's a great answer. 

F-D: Has the location of the space influenced your work selection or selection process in any way?

SH: Perhaps in a more macro sense than the question implies; being in the Midwest has affected us. This is a place for things that don’t really have homes otherwise because there aren’t ten thousand poets in the region. Being a place for these people to come together is really important to us. We feel there is a need for that. 

F-D: What other poetry collectives or non delegated performance venues are you aware of in the region?

SH: I haven’t yet come across or been told about another space that has chosen to operate in the same way that we do. A lot of poetry groups exist within academic circles and galleries, coffee house open mic scenarios, and DIY venues. Those are great and they’re obviously essential to the culture. We feel as if having less structured opportunities that might not fit those formats—for example, having a flexible schedule for artists and poets that might be driving through town on a whim—works well for us. That flexibility is nice because we can be responsive to opportunities as they emerge. I don’t think that I’ve ever been scheduled out more than six weeks out. We’re just constantly responding to the people who want to use the space and let them do with it what they want. That doesn’t answer your question at all. There are poetry venues within most major cities, but for whatever reason, Cincinnati didn’t have one. 

F-D: What sort of responsibility to do you feel toward performance artists in the area?

SH: I would love, absolutely love, to support and cultivate performance art in the city. We just haven’t hit a point of sustainable endeavors into performance art. It comes in waves: we’ll get a handful of artists interested and then it will fall down again. I’d love it if I regularly had people wanting to perform works in here.

F-D: Can you describe a typical day for yourself?

SH: Does anyone ever answer this question like, “Yep! I’ve got an answer. Let me get my agenda!” [laughs]. It varies from day to day. I spend a lot of time in front of a screen. I spend a lot of time scheduling performances, getting coffee with people and talking about their ideas. I spend a lot of time moving chairs— that’s a big part of my day. If there is a performance I have to make sure the space is ready for that. I spend a lot of time making lists. I’m very often, five of the seven nights of the week, going to some event around town. The moment that I stop knowing what is going on within the creative culture of the city is the moment that I’m not very good at my job.

F-D: What kind of style or aesthetic do you think is most applicable to this space?

SH: Just referencing our furniture we have a mid-century vibe going on here. I think it’s nice that we have a lot of hand-me-down, crappy, versions of really nice stuff rather than having really nice versions of crappy stuff. I think it’s comfortable in that way. Everything in here is second hand. It’s comfortable in that nothing is too nice. I think that that applies to the building as well. It’s so nice that that drainage pipe is exposed, these outlets are off kilter, not one thing in this building is level. It would feel wrong if it was correct. 

F-D: Do you think there is an aesthetic or ethos in terms of programming?

SH: It’s hard to say because I don’t think that we curate things in a very traditional way. I’m not giving people month long runs of shows in which I hand select things based on a specific criteria. It may be someone who is traveling from Cleveland to Nashville on January 3rd and they wanna do a reading. I’ll just ask to see some of their stuff, look at it, and try to find someone locally who matches or aligns with that artist or writer. I guess the overarching theme would be people who are willing to put themselves out here. It’s flexible.

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F-D: Do you think that there is a general philosophy or mindset that is applicable to the program and how you select performers?

SH: There is a series that we run: The Response Project. About once a month we round up a group or artists, writers, and thinkers from different backgrounds and then ask them to create ten minute responses to the same piece of art. The first piece we selected, Wanderer Above a Sea Of Fog by Caspar David Friedrich, we had eight participants: artists, poets, musicians, photographers, and professors, each come up with ten minutes in response to that painting. Immediately we knew that it was a good idea. I think that I just finished creating the line up for The Response on the 28th of May. There is a commonality or preference in our perspective that has emerged through The Response Project. That is, the intense power that develops when you put things together that don’t necessarily belong  in the same place and time. That commonality is present when you have a violinist followed by an indigenous rights activist followed by a performance poet followed by a sociologist create quick slices of material that's generated for the same purpose. It’s different from highlighting a poet and artist next to each other with examples of their best, most polished work. Having in quick succession, two very different takes that were created in a month, and seeing them not totally finished, next to things that aren’t totally finished, is nice. Nate May, a composer, once stated that (and I believe he was referencing The Response Project), Chase Public is “a place where everyone cares and no body minds”. I thought that was a really nice compliment.

F-D: What other programs, non profits, or locations do you have strong ties to?

SH: Right up the block is a gallery, Wave Pool. Its been nice to be in such close proximity to them and we able to work on things together. I think we have very overlapping philosophies and very little overlapping programs. So, I don’t perceive there to be any toes being stepped on. We have a  pretty nice relationship with the Mercantile Library and the Contemporary Art Center. Sometimes I feel as if we are the little sibling to those places. They have a much more broad and national focus while we are doing similar things in a more local way. 

F-D: Does the history of the community or social issues affect reading or performance selection?

SH: We’re sensitive to the role that art organizations and non-profits have in neighborhood development and gentrification.  We’re working hard to minimize our impact in that regard, and be good, responsible members of an artistic community as well as the new geographic and cultural community we find ourselves in.  We’re trying to be good neighbors.  Now that the weather is a little nicer, we’re getting to know a lot more of our neighbors and we’re getting a sense of the sort of programming that they would like to see.  We prioritize those ideas on our calendar.

F-D: What are some of those interests?

SH: One thing we’re exploring and taking some steps toward is specific and intentional programming for children and high school aged kids.  In our old neighborhood, there were multiple amazing youth art nonprofits that did an amazing job, so we were never really focused on that.  Now we’re hearing that folks in the area see that as something they’d like to see more of, so we’re exploring what we can do to work that into our offerings.  

F-D: What influences outside of contemporary art or literature influence the programming?

SH: I think I’d say emerging design theory helps us think about the way that we are designing things. We are never trying to be restrictive, we try to be flexible and meet the needs as the needs reveal themselves. The gift theory is also really steering for us. For some ways, playfulness, is important. We aren’t trying to be some austere stereotype of artist or poet. It doesn’t have to be that serious. It can be important without being serious.

F-D: What does having a physical space to organize within your community mean to you and how do you make it a useful, productive space for everyone?

SH: I think when we decided that it was the right idea to move here, I had the realization that this space almost provides us a set of priorities. Could we do the work that we do without having our own space? Yes. We could move things around and schedule events in flux spaces. What having a space provides is a consistent presence; building that level of comfort with people in that they know what to expect and it removes a layer of anxiety in not knowing what your getting into. It lets us be steady. It’s comfortable and that’s important.

F-D: Do you see your space as relating to any current movement or direction in writing or culture? Which other organizations might your work be in conversation with?

SH: We are most certainly not alone in terms of having a community focus. The nice thing about that is it puts us in conversation with everyone. The point is to be in conversation, so I would say, that with the focus on those things that the conversation is wide open. 

F-D: Are there any organizations that you feel a kinship to but, perhaps, haven’t collaborated with?

SH: There is a creative re-use center in Over-The-Rhine called Indigo Hippo, PAR-Projects in Northside. . . it’s kind of hard to think of a group that we haven’t worked with that we feel related to because we have done some sort of collaboration with almost everyone at this point. It's basically more about if we just can’t do it for some logistical reason. It’s so hard for me to not think locally. I can think of plenty of organizations in Louisville or Indianapolis that we haven’t worked with, that perhaps we’d like to, but I just can’t get my head out of Cincinnati. 

F-D: Why do you think that is?

SH: I think we’re just so steeped here; it’s probably actually a negative that we are so hyper focused. It would probably be nice to work with groups outside of here.

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F-D: Do you have a motto or creed that as a curator you live by?

SH: Probably.  

F-D: Somewhere in there. . . 

SH: Yea, but I’m probably not going to think of something on the spot. That’s, like, a poisonous question to ask a poet.

F-D: We ask because, typically, the people that state that they don’t have one, typically explain their way into it. Those answers are always interesting because they’re kind of stumbled upon. 

SH:  I mean. . . it’s kind of like you’re asking for a catch phrase. . .and it would have to be something around accessibility: in terms of creating a culture that is kind, supportive, accepting, and being literally and financially accessible. It needs to be a place for anyone. It would be somewhere in there. 

F-D: When asked; what do you tell people you do for a living?

SH: I run an art space called Chase Public.

F-D: What risks have you taken in your work, or for your work?

SH: I have not received a regular pay check in four years. 

F-D: How’s that treating ya?

SH: It’s just fine.

F-D: Words of wisdom?

SH: Everything that’s coming to mind is just intentionally cheesy. Like, don’t say everything that comes into your mind.

F-D: Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about? 

SH: We are going to be having our first visual show. We moved into this big space that kind of begs to have something on its walls. 

F-D: Is it going to be thematic? What kind of show is it?

SH:  It’ll go up in, probably, November. We have six illustrators and six writers who are meeting here weekly for three months to play Dungeons & Dragons together.  At the end of the twelve week campaign, we will each have two months to create new work based on that experience which we will show, then put it all out as a book.  We’re excited about this as an opportunity to explore the relationship between play and creative practice, as well as the way that groups of strangers will come to know and understand one another by interacting through assumed characters and personalities.  We have a mix of new and experienced players, and for the most part people don’t really know each other.  The players: Scot Holzman, Lindsay Nehls, John Sebastian, Geoff Woolf, Anissa Pulcheon, Christina Wald, Marcus Donaldson, Gabrielle Lanza, Aiesha Little, and Jay Kalagayan.  Our Dungeon Masters are Alexa Justice and Jeb Brack.  

F-D: That sounds amazing, what other events or shows are coming up for you?

SH: We have several concerts and readings this month, as well as a discussion with Jim Bowsher; but seeing as how there are several events each week throughout the month of June, it's probably easiest for your audience to simply visit our events page. 

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chase public

In addition: Cassandra was able to visit during a Poetry Reading including but not limited to Mark Mendoza and Cathy Wagner, as are pictured.