Cincinnati arts organization may expand into historic Hamilton firehouse

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

A Cincinnati arts organization that serves artists, immigrants and its surrounding community is looking to expand into a historic firehouse in Hamilton’s East End Neighborhood, at 1224 Shuler Ave.

Artist Calcagno “Cal” Cullen, a founder of Wave Pool, said her seven-year-old organization works with that community to offer art classes and other fun opportunities people in that neighborhood want and provides jobs to artists, many of them immigrants.

Under a plan developed by Butler County residents Kate Yerigan and Heather Bernal of Primo Property Services, their company will restore the fire station with the help of Bernal’s husband, Arnulfo, a journeyman tile layer; and father Bill Duerkson, who owns Duerkson Woodworks in Hamilton. They plan to invest $60,000, plus an estimated $100,000 in sweat equity over the next two years go make it ready for the arts organization, with spaces for an “air bed & breakfast.”

Yerigan and Bernal, each a mother of four, founded their company a year ago and have been renovating local properties. By coincidence, the building that Wave Pool now occupies, in Cincinnati’s Camp Washington neighborhood, also is in a former fire station.

“We pulled up the other day to walk around and take a look, and already people in the community were asking questions, like, ‘Oh, are you buying the fire house? What are you going to do with it?’” Bernal said. “We expect to do some community outreach and see what is needed in the community, and what people would benefit the most from, and tailor our plan to that.”

The vision, subject to change, will have a large area for Wave Pool, including studios, a large kitchen and community areas that could be rented out. The upstairs may have built-in bunks with possibly separate studio bedrooms. “Our thoughts were with Spooky Nook (Sports Champion Mill) coming in, maybe we could host an entire team, upstairs, versus them having to find different hotels,” Yerigan said.

An arts, pro-immigrant group

Cullen said the two-year timeframe is good.

“Wave Pool strongly believes in a collaborative approach with communities we work with, and so it’s kind of perfect that they are going to be spending a couple of years just getting the building ready, because we’ll be able to spend that time just getting to know the neighborhood, identifying the artists and community leaders who really want to mold this project and make it a space that really is community driven and artist led, which is our motto,” Cullen said.

“Wave Pool in Hamilton is going to look different than Wave Pool in Cincinnati, because we’re all about listening to the neighbors, and developing programs and projects that are driven by the folks that live there,” she said. “So we’re excited to sink our teeth in and see what’s possible.”

Wave Pool got its name because after Cullen and her husband finished graduate school, they believed they had to move to the East Coast or West Coast to be successful in their early art careers. They went to San Francisco, where they did find success, she as a painter. They decided to move back and create an organization to foster growth that artists here need. Rather than having the enjoyment of a beach, like is on the two coasts, Cullen said they decided to create the Midwestern version — a Wave Pool.

Wave Pool has a gallery, a community wood shop where people can join inexpensively and get training from the wood-shop manager. It also has a community space where there are film screenings, yoga classes. There are summer camps, art classes, a community garden where herbs are grown that are used in cooking classes and community dinners.

Wave Pool also operates a program called The Welcome Project, which works with about 30 immigrant artists and chefs each year to empower the surrounding community, offering classes, opportunities to teach and lead programs, and also providing jobs. The organization now has a teaching kitchen, a wood shop, a market, community dinners and also offers summer camps.

One thing Wave Pool’s immigrant artists do is work with well-known artists whose works are in museums to fabricate objects they have designed for sale to collectors. Some of that work will be shown this fall at the prestigious Armory Show in New York. The artists are paid a living wage. Two people from around the world are chosen each year for the artist-in-residence program.

With Wave Pool having become integrated into the Camp Washington area, Cullen said she is interested to learn how its model can adapt to serve Hamilton and its East End neighborhood. “How can we empower an artist in Hamilton to take what we’ve done here and make it work in another city?” she said.

The organization’s website is at

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