Columbus Mural Projects

October 31st, 2014  |  Published in October 2014

In Columbus Ohio we have an area of the city called the Short North, just north of downtown. Thirty years ago this area was filled with drugs, crime and lots of vacant buildings. The bones of a community existed just beyond High Street. Some people were restoring older, once grand houses, but along High Street it was scary. One developer (Sandy Wood) saw an opportunity and he restored a building that filled two thirds of a block, rented space at a really crazy low price to a few visionary people who thought they could sell art and a high end restaurant (Rigsby’s) in an area filled with drunks, drugs and crime. Today the restaurant is still there and considered one of the city’s finest and so are the art galleries. And the Short North is now also the city’s Arts District.

Over the years a few murals were painted on the sides of buildings; some were tags by street people who wanted to show their artistic talent and their masked identities. But others were really planned and helped define the area. The Mona Lisa on the side of Reality Theater, Grant Wood’s American Gothic, the side of a Jeni’s Ice Cream store, a George Bellows image, and a scene recalling the area’s train/transportation heritage all were created in the Short North. These and the growth of other restaurants and art galleries began to change the area, which began to be referred to as “The Art District”.

More recently, Ron Puzzuti (a developer and art collector) bought an ornate old insurance company building and remodeled it to become The Puzzuti Collection. The museum holds his collection of world class art. Puzzuti also started to build two new buildings which have changed the area once again. A boutique hotel called The Joseph, and an office/retail building and garage were added. These buildings were filling vacant spaces that were parking lots and murals were included on them.

It seemed to me like we were doing the right things from a community point of view, but we were also losing some of the energy and excitement that an “Arts District” must have, visible and exciting art.

At about this time the City had opened Huntington Park in the Arena District (formerly a prison and now a dynamic new development with a hockey arena, baseball stadium, offices, apartments and condos) Huntington Park abuts the Short North. At the ballpark I noticed that the ads for various things appeared to be painted on the side of the brick like a mural and then the solution for art on the streets of the Short North came to me. I discovered that the murals were temporary, and they did no damage to the buildings.

Knowing that I could not do this alone, I persuaded the head of The Short North Alliance, John Angelo, to help. Through his efforts and those of Sherrie Hawk, Michelle Brandt and Duff Lindsey (gallery owners) we were able to photo shop what the project would look like. We then went to many of our other friends who owned galleries in the Short North with the idea that they could put images on the empty walls in the neighborhood. Since anything displayed outdoors to the public needs approval by the neighborhood commissions, John and I went to these commissions and explained what we wanted to do. The commissions loved the idea, but wanted to be sure these would not be ads, and would only be art. It was also important that they would be temporary. In a two week period we had approval from the three commissions to proceed with the project. Now the only problem was how to pay for it.

Here we got very lucky: the galleries agreed to pay half, art supporters Jack and Zoe Johnstone , The Kridler Family Fund, and The Short North Alliance agreed to take care of the rest.

We were in business. The exhibit was called 10 x 10 x 10 (10 galleries, 10 artists, 10 murals).

We won the Best Public Art award in Columbus Alive’s annual contest. The works were up for the year we agreed to, and were removed without any damage to buildings.

This year I had a new partner at the Alliance, Betsy Pandora, and did not have to make any presentations to the commissions. But we got approval with just a written request. This year, we also received funding from The Short North Alliance/HighBall Halloween Party, The City of Columbus’s Create Columbus Commission, The Wexner Center for the Arts, Cardinal Health Foundation, Orange Barrel Media and the Weinland Park Community. We also included non-Short North Galleries this year. The Wexner Center, The Columbus Museum and Art Access Gallery joined eight of the Short North galleries with murals. This year’s theme was Ohio Artists under 40.

We had a big public opening, and lots of support; we noticed that people seem to enjoy the changing murals, and were bring friends to see them.

Like all arts projects next year is still in the air.

–Ralph Rosenfield ; art consultant,  art collector, retired businessman, butoh dancer

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