Cincinnati Family Magazine

Your # 1 Hometown Family Resource

September 30, 2023


We checked in with four local arts hot spots to talk about how their programs keep kids engaged. Here's what we found out.

The O’Keefe Music Foundation (pictured above)

Talent? Sure. Hard work? Definitely, according to Aaron O’Keefe, founder of the O’Keefe Music Foundation, which offers kids ages 5 – 18 the chance to experience the process of professional recording, all for free or at a very low rate. In a nutshell, a group of students work together on a challenging song. With the help of volunteers and donations, the students record and film themselves performing the song in a professional studio.

“It’s really a team effort,” says O’Keefe, explaining that recordings are a major commitment for the kids and their parents, as well as a reward for the kids’ hard work. The entire process — finding the right song, learning the various parts and rehearsing — teaches discipline, hard work and perseverance.

With 18 projects in the works currently, the next few months are busy for the foundation.

Meanwhile, the kids have developed an online following on their YouTube channel (where they also learned the real-world lesson that their best work doesn’t always translate into the most-watched videos).

Regardless, the kids have something they can be proud of, says O’Keefe, and most importantly, they learn that “If you work hard, you can make it happen.”

Learn more at

Photo above: Music enthusiasts ages 5 – 18 record songs and more at the O’Keefe Music Foundation.
Kennedy Heights Arts Center

A young artist shows off her masterpiece at the Kennedy Heights Art Center. Photo by Natalie Jeanne Photography.

The Kennedy Heights Art Center

One of this year’s recipients of an ArtWorks mural is the Kennedy Heights Art Center, a home for artists of all kinds and ages. Born out of a community effort to save the historic building from demolition, the center is a resource for art appreciation and creation.

“We offer an array of different opportunities,” says Dominique Springs, events and marketing manager. Classes cover drawing and photography and camps touch on fashion, animation, musical instruments and even Spanish rhythm. The Center also displays artwork from professional artists which are inspirational to kids.

“We have some kids who come every week,” Springs says of the camps,” and that tells us that we are doing something right!” She points out that the center lets participants take a break from their tech-filled lives.

“I don’t really see kids on their phones at the center,” she says. That’s because their hands are busy with chalk, crayons, paint and other tools.

Best of all, the center’s programs are offered at affordable prices, Springs says. Camp tuition is offered on a sliding scale.

Learn more and get a look at fall and winter classes at

Happen, Inc. has several programs in art, science, nature, math and more. There’s something for everyone!

Happen, Inc. has several programs in art, science, nature, math and more. There’s something for everyone!

Happen, Inc.

Calling Happen, Inc. an “arts program” might be a bit of a misnomer. The many activities that take place at the Northside facility are really more like a “creative process program,” according to founder Tommy Rueff.

“We try to teach that everyone is born with creativity and that can be in anything — math, science, even how you deal with your little brother or sister,” he says. It’s that kind of open-ended encouragement that has made the non-profit organization a positive force in Cincinnati.

Happen, Inc. was designed to bring families and communities together through creative activities, according to Rueff, where parents and kids work together on projects that create memories to share as they grow. Classes led by characters like Cowboy Value are designed to keep parents just as engaged as children with two levels of humor going on. Classes incorporate more than art, too. A clay class will include Native American traditions, info on early cooking and more.

“There’s a wide range of content to be a part of,” says Rueff. “Art, science, nature, math, we offer tons of activities in different areas, and teach the subject matter in creative ways.”

Activities are available for all ages. There’s the Kids Film Critics group, a Teen Hall, and new programs on the horizon include ballet for toddlers.

Biz Kids (think Shark Tank, but nicer), and Happen Teen Loans, help teens find support as they hunt for after-school jobs.

Flower Garden Grill-Outs — typically on Sundays — bring people in the community out and many families learn about Happen, Inc. when they travel to offer outreach activities to other area organizations.

“Our theme is that community is not just where you live, it’s how you live with other people,” says Rueff. “Following that has opened the door to volunteers and community engagement.”

And it’s all about the creative process.

“We try to teach kids that creativity is your superpower — no one can take it away from you,” he says. “We try to encourage that creative process, and everyone can be empowered by that.”

Learn more at

Energy and Grace mural by ArtWorks’ Kim Krause. Photo by J. Miles Wolff.

Energy and Grace mural by ArtWorks’ Kim Krause. Photo by J. Miles Wolff.


Make Art. Get Paid.

That’s the slogan for ArtWorks’ popular mural program, which began as a challenge from former Mayor Mallory to create a mural in each of the city’s 52 neighborhoods. The program connects aspiring teen apprentices with professional artists who design and construct the murals that decorate the city.

“Kids get shot down when they say they want to be an artist,” says Rachel Rothstein, communications manager. “We’re letting them know they can get paid for their talent, and that’s a remarkable thing.”

Interested teens from all over the city apply in January and those who are selected participate in conversations about a proposed mural — what the community receiving the mural wants, and how the mural will reflect that neighborhood’s qualities and personality.

Additionally, some teens become part of the Hero Design Company project, in which they work with kids facing hardship to create superhero capes.

“We’re known for our murals,” says Rothstein, “but we do more.”

With the city serving as ArtWork’s gallery, the beautiful murals do double duty: encourage people to walk more or to take advantage of one of ArtWorks’ Saturday mural tours to learn the stories behind each display and the kids who were a part of it.

“We want people to appreciate art, but we also want to empower youth artists to have a role in that appreciation,” says Rothstein.

Learn more at  

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