Arts leaders ponder future of the arts scene in Columbus

By Joe Blundo
The Columbus Dispatch

Where will the arts be performed in Columbus 20 years from now?

Who will pay for them?

How will they change?

Seeking to explore the possible future of the arts in Columbus, The Dispatch posed the same six questions to 10 artists, arts administrators or arts educators, and also invited them to a panel discussion.

The participants

Adam Hernandez Visual Artist Melanie Corn President of Columbus College of Art & Design
Celeste Malvar-Stewart Fashion designer specializing in sustainable fabrics Scott Woods Poet and the organizer of Holler: 31 Days of Black Art
Tom Katzenmeyer President and CEO of the Greater Columbus Arts Council Sherri Geldin Director of the Wexner Center for the Arts
Mimi Brodsky Chenfeld
Arts educator and author
Rossen Milanov Music director of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra Nanette Maciejunes Executive director of the Columbus Museum of Art
Joey Hendrickson Musician, entertainment
consultant and founder of the Columbus
Songwriters Association

Although their opinions diverge in some areas, the participants all agreed on a central point: The arts are vital to the cultural and economic health of the city.

Several respondents mentioned a recent study by Americans for the Arts, which assessed the impact of the arts in communities throughout the United States. The organization, a nonprofit that advocates for the arts nationally, found that the arts in Columbus generates $412 million in economic activity a year.

Here are the six questions and excerpts of selected answers from the panel members. (Milanov answered the questions but was unable to attend the group discussion).

If you had the ability to add one new performance space to Columbus to prepare it for the future, what would you add and where would you put it?

Hernandez: I would love to see a public art/graffiti park in our city. I was recently in Austin, Texas, and they have a place called the Hope Outdoor Gallery. It is a lot with concrete structures scattered throughout, covered in artwork. Anyone can paint there at any time.

Woods: I’d add a small one that seats about 150-200 people that could handle live music shows and black-box events and put it Downtown. . . . Artists need accessible spaces to grow into.

Hendrickson: I’d transform a parking garage into a music venue. You put the stage on top with a roof covering that could close, depending on weather conditions. . . . When you don't have shows, you can still run the business like a parking garage.

Milanov: I would add a performing-arts center that is an architectural landmark, on par with the Sydney Opera House (in Australia). Put it right on the (Scioto) river. . . . Make it a destination.

Geldin: One type of cultural space that is missing from the Columbus arts ecosystem is what I’d loosely describe as an elaborate “shed”— a large complex, whether retrofitted from a past life or newly constructed, to accommodate large-scale, often multi-disciplinary installations and performances.

Chenfeld: I would build a new performance space, including room for workshops, classes and community events, in any of our most needing-of-enrichment (communities), like the Hilltop, West Side, Near East Side. I just did a program at the beautiful new library at Northern Lights, and it was packed. People are hungry for joyful places.

Katzenmeyer: There is a need in Columbus for a mid-size performance venue accessible to a variety of groups, particularly small and mid-size organizations. . . . Mid-size venues (500-600 seats) represent realistic houses to fill for smaller groups.

Corn: I’d like to see a performance space that offers access to innovative technologies like multimedia displays and virtual reality. A space that is flexible enough to evolve with the rapidly changing technology. And I think Franklinton is the ideal location — it’s already a nexus point for art and technology.

If you had to predict which art forms Columbus will be known for in 20 years, what would they be?

Hendrickson: I could see Columbus using human imagination to program robotics into creators of new styles of visual art that may otherwise take hundreds of years to produce by human hand.

Katzenmeyer: There are several with significant potential for positive economic impact on Columbus — music, film and fashion, particularly.

Corn: I think Columbus has the opportunity to be the Midwestern hub for digital media and entertainment — gaming, animation and film. Columbus already has the Ohio Film Group, which does production and post-production on the campus of the Columbus College of Art & Design, and, next year, we’ll have a new state-of-the-art animation facility.

Hernandez: Last year, local artist Natalia Sanchez created a body of work called Electric Paintings for a show at Sean Christopher Gallery in the Short North. When you went to the show, you were encouraged to download an app on your phone. When opened and held up in front of one of her paintings, your phone screen came alive with music and animations. . . . Things like that are happening right here in our city.

Malvar-Stewart: Fashion, photography and mural art.

Where will financial support for the arts be coming from in 20 years? Will corporate and individual donors still be providing a large portion of the support? Will government still be supporting the arts?

Geldin: I suspect that current funding from individual, corporate and public sources will remain in the mix, even if in different proportions, with direct government support appearing most vulnerable at the moment. Although arts organizations are getting more sophisticated and even aggressive when it comes to earned revenue, it’s virtually unimaginable that they would ever be entirely self-supporting.

Katzenmeyer: There is well-documented evidence of a fundamental need (for public support) that cannot be met at the box office or through corporate contributions. There are two primary reasons for this: Columbus arts endowments are small compared with those of other cities similar in size, such as Cleveland and Cincinnati, and our public-funding levels are below the national average of 10-20 percent of a nonprofit organization’s budgets.

Woods: As long as Columbus wants to keep developing the way it is in its quest to be taken seriously as a real city (and to make more money), it will keep putting money into the arts to suggest it has culture. You can’t sell a city of this size without it, or the appearance of it. At the same time, I think we’ll see an uptick in independent art collectives that don’t deal with grants or institutional development at all. They will create their own programming and lease/rent/license it out to larger organizations instead of granting up.

How will we be educating children in the arts 20 years from now? Primarily as part of a school curriculum? Through cultural programs outside of school?

Geldin: We have already seen a dramatic shift from arts education in the schools to extracurricular providers — arts institutions and libraries foremost among them. Virtually every cultural organization offers an array of programs for K–12 students, some in partnership with the schools and others completely outside school auspices.

Maciejunes: Twenty years from now, museums will play a vital role in children learning about the arts both in and out of school. The needs of our communities increasingly demand creative ways of thinking and doing, which art museums are uniquely qualified to provide.

Corn: My hope is that we are wise enough to recognize what education should be in 20 years. That includes a K-12 education system where the arts are embedded into the very fabric of instruction.

Woods: Schools will continue to strip arts out of their agenda, and students will be lucky to graduate having accessed anything that isn’t on their phones.

Chenfeld: Rediscovering the importance of the arts in the lives of our children will be more generally appreciated. . . . The realization that children in wealthier communities have more arts-rich curriculums and experiences will prod governments, private organizations and businesses to commit to helping close that very sad and widening gap.


Malvar-Stewart: The millennial generation will have added a component of “rapid change” to the arts, bringing constant modernity and progress. Recently arrived immigrants will have infused more tradition within the arts scene.

Geldin: Millennials “consume” culture differently than do prior generations, and every arts institution I know is devoting considerable energy, strategic focus and resources to engage them.

Maciejunes: Something interesting about millennials is their fascination with authenticity. Having grown up in a virtual, digital world, many are captivated by originality. They ask me, “Is that a real Monet?” and I tell them: 'Yes, the works in the museum are the original; they are not posters or screensavers or digital displays.'

How do you think such longtime arts institutions as the Columbus Symphony and the Columbus Museum of Art will have changed by 2037?

Corn: I think that, as more people move Downtown, those new residents will interact more and more with longtime arts institutions such as the Columbus Museum of Art, the Columbus Symphony, and CCAD’s Beeler Gallery. In 20 years, I think the arts will be an even-more-important part of the identity of our smart and open city.

Woods: I love both art forms, but the symphony can branch out in other, more-challenging directions. Fortunately, it has a more-or-less resilient base and has already made strides to get nonpatrons more interested by adding an engaging educational element to some performances.

CMA has a similar dilemma with relevance but is less poised to address it in the current climate. A symphony can change its season in a year; a museum needs hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars to upgrade a collection.

Maciejunes: CMA has done the work. . . . We’ve made a commitment to creativity, to being responsive to our visitors, and to being relevant to our community. ... By 2037, a generation of central Ohioans will have grown up with a museum that cares about their voices, that invests in teaching individuals and educators the value of creativity, and that nurtures the creativity within each and every one of us.

Milanov: The concert experience itself will be changed. I could see that the experience would involve a lot more sensory sensation — smell, maybe a 3-D type of experience.

There is one thing that will never change: In order to learn how to play an instrument, you always have to invest the same amount of time people have invested over the centuries. There is no shortcut. ... I think this is always going to be a fascination for people — that you can develop this superpower.

Local arts enthusiasts offer up their favorite things to see, do

Convene a panel of arts enthusiasts, and the members inevitably will mention a lot of art that impresses them.

The creative spirits who took part in a Dispatch panel discussion singled out several examples while talking about where the Columbus art world could — or should — be headed in the next 20 years. They talked about local gems, inspirational practices and ideas worth importing.

So here is a small sampling of things that have impressed, inspired or otherwise engaged the pros:

Franklinton Playhouse

Tom Katzenmeyer, president and CEO of the Greater Columbus Arts Council, cited the playhouse and its founder, Michael Herring, as an example of how artists are contributing to the development of Franklinton with their creativity and entrepreneurial spirit. The building, at 566 W. Rich St., is home to both a theater (Red Herring Productions) and a yoga studio (the Art of Yoga).

Said Herring: “We have two separate spaces designated for each business model."

“Summer Night, Riverside Drive”

For 20 years, Mimi Brodsky Chenfeld was part of a Columbus Museum of Art and Columbus Public Schools program that taught fifth-graders to engage with art.

She found that George Bellows' evocative painting of a night scene never failed to excite students with the way it rewarded close examination.

"As we stood and looked, it grew lighter and lighter and we saw more and more, and the kids always freaked out. We saw people sitting on benches, dogs, people walking, a boat," Chenfield said. "Truly one of the great times I've had with kids."

Columbus, she said, must find a way to immerse kids in such art in the next 20 years.

The Blockfort

The gallery and studio space at 162 N. 6th St. occupies an old auto-parts store near Columbus College of Art & Design.

About 30 artists and entrepreneurs rent space there.

"The artists and businesses work together to help drive business to each other, the people running the community events help each other with advice and reources, the whole of the building supports the greater community by providing exhibition opportunities," said Adam Brouilette, founder of the space.

Katzenmeyer said Columbus needs more Blockforts, established in 2016.

Pow! Wow! mural festival

Columbus artist Adam Hernandez said Pow Wow! — an exhibition of large-scale murals — began in Honolulu and has spread to several cities worldwide.

Something similar in Columbus might encourage more such art here, he said.

Mural artists run into a host of regulations, Hernandez said, when they try to pursue their work here.

Cartoon Crossroads

The Columbus festival celebrating cartoon arts held its third annual Columbus event in September.

“With hardly a penny to their names, (artists) inaugurated this thing with some of the top national and international talents” said Sherri Geldin, director of the Wexner Center for the Arts. “It has become something that I think really has the potential to expand in terms of its impact and reach beyond Columbus."

The Invention Convention

The annual competition challenges school-age children in central Ohio to devise solutions to problems.

CCAD President Melanie Corn went to her first one last year.

“It wasn’t art per se . . . but it was incredibly creative," she said. "It gave me hope for the creativity of that generation."

Summer Jam West

The grass-roots organizers of the annual art and music festival (scheduled for July 14 next year) in Westgate Park on the West Side, Katzenmeyer said, have been instrumental in getting permanent artworks, such as murals and sculptures, installed in the Hilltop neighborhood.

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