Memoir of arts scene in Rust Belt city sparkles like a star

Addressing artistic endeavers from cave painting and basketmaking to arts in schools and swanky downtown concerts, Silent Rise educates, entertains and inspires all at once.

While telling his own story of serving as executive director of the Fitton Center for Creative Arts in Hamilton, Ohio, author Rick H. Jones also manages to make a compelling argument for the value of community arts, demonstrating “through numerous anecdotal stories woven together creating a tapestry and showing how that engagement can lead to progressive change throughout a community.”

Silent Rise: A City, the Arts, and a Blue-Collar Kid will stoke the fire in the bellies of artists and community leaders.

I love memoirs, but sometimes the stories of abuse, addiction and searing sorrow exact a toll. I needed a break, and I found it in Jones’ tale. Even he admits it’s not your typical memoir: “This is not a memoir sparked by a single, life-changing lightning strike event. I didn’t awaken from a fetal position on my bathroom floor one day deciding my addiction had to end. Sorry. … It is a story about the power of the arts to transform communities.”

Another reason I chose to pick up Silent Rise is the setting: the old Rust Belt city of Hamilton, situated on the Great Miami River in southwestern Ohio. I once lived in nearby Oxford, Ohio, and worked as a newspaper reporter in Hamilton’s Butler County sister city of Middletown, Ohio. For a time, I covered the entertainment beat.

Let me reassure potential readers that a familiarity with southwestern Ohio is not necessary to appreciate Jones’ story. Most of the story is about his executive directorship, but he provides background by summarizing the history of community arts in America (in the world, actually, when he mentions cave paintings by our primitive ancestors) and then fills us in the history of the arts specifically in Hamilton. He relies on more than just memory; his research on the subject is impressive. Here’s one enlightening snippet he unearthed: “The Hamilton City Directory of 1892-93 listed six artists, four community bands, eight performance venues, and twenty music teachers. There were also 125 saloons in the town of now twenty thousand.”

Jones then recounts in interesting detail some of the Fitton Center’s projects: artists in schools, musicians in cafes, poetry jams, pottery programs to benefit the hungry, the construction of a sculptural centerpiece in the public square and the creation of a building of artists’ apartments. His storytelling is replete with colorful characters and compelling details: a dancer who helps school children understand planetary movement and how Lifesavers candy can be used to persuade lawmakers of the value of community arts, for example.

Coincidentally, I’m also reading The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World, which is a defense of the value of creativity and of its importance in a culture increasingly governed by money and overrun with commodities. Jones’ Silent Rise about ongoing arts advocacy—making donors, funders, participants, members and elected officials aware of the non-monetary benefits of the arts—coordinates beautifully with The Gift’s message.

An illuminating and inspiring book about one man’s career and one city’s commitment to community arts, Silent Rise should be consumed and cherished by artists, community organizers and arts patrons across the nation.

I was fortunate to have received an Advanced Review Copy of Silent Rise on Reedsy Discovery, where I review independently published books, especially memoirs. Check it out.